Bloom and King

May 26, 2004

I took a study break this afternoon and read the writing chapters of Stephen King's On Writing - I did not even look at the biographical chapters.

Much of what he said, I already knew but it is still good to hear again: write at the same time every day, write a lot and don't worry about quality until after you get it down, read a lot in order to write well. Other things were new to me, including the very sensible formula that 2nd draft = 1st draft -10%. I, like King, add words when revising. I need to remember to take word counts. Of course, I am also struggling with structure and evidence far more than a fiction writer has to, and this means I have gone through many more drafts than the 2 drafts plus proofreading that he recommends.

My current audiobook is Harold Bloom's How to Read Well. So far I am just into the first chapter; I disagree with almost everything he says; and I have learned a lot from it already. This is the sort of work that makes me discover things by inspiring me to shout "wrong, wrong, all WRONG" at the speaker, and then articulate what exactly is so very wrong.

What is bugging me is that Bloom assumes that one reads alone and that one reads in order to learn oneself better. It is a somewhat solipsic view of the practice, and he takes potshots along the way at the crude historicists who "assume that everything we do is predetermined by our surroundings."

What I have discovered from these few minutes of Bloom is that I do not read to discover myself, or at least not in the functionalist enlightenment way that he recommends. Instead I read so that I may talk about what it is that I have read. Knowledge, all knowledge, is social. The fun of a book is not simply in turning the pages and examining the words but in chewing on them and doing things with them - and the biggest thing we do with those words is to hash them out with other people. You can do this explicitly in a college classroom or a reading group or even a literary blog, or you can do it implicitly the next time that something you say or think or do is influenced by something that you read. But, for me, at the end of the day a book is social, not solitary. Or, more precisely, reading is a solitary pleasure with social consequences.

I will continue listening to Bloom - he crafts some fine sentences and he makes me mad enough to think. Expect to hear more rants about him over the next few weeks.

Posted by Red Ted at May 26, 2004 09:58 AM | TrackBack

Knowledge, all knowledge, is social.


Posted by: DFH at May 28, 2004 01:24 AM

Did I push a button then?

Posted by: Red Ted at May 28, 2004 09:53 AM

"All knowledge is a socially construct" is the battle cry of postmodernism, and it's bunk. Of course, so is postmodernism in general.

Posted by: DFH at May 29, 2004 12:24 PM

I did not say "construct".

In his polemical introduction, Bloom several times claims that "you can not change the world by reading." That is bunk.

He wrote that bunk while taking a strict elitist-content view against some of the more ridiculous theory folks, thus proving that arguing with an idiot turns you into an idiot.

I was simply arguing that if a person knows something and does nothing with that knowledge, then there is no point to them having learned it. To use, as an example, a certain opinionated long-haired gentleman. He hates post modern nonsense. He reads books. He talks about them - often he disagrees with them. But, even as you disagree with some of that nonsense you are not simply sitting and saying to yourself "this is wrong" - you are responding to people who repeat it and telling them, and a larger audience, exactly how and why they are wrong.

That is being social. I am making the commonsensical point -- a point that Bloom would probably accept except that he has gotten into an argument with people he can stereotype as "claiming that the environment determines everything" -- that knowledge must be communicated or at least must shape the subsequent actions of the knower.

This is tired and I am late - let me know if I made any sense.

Posted by: Red Ted at May 31, 2004 09:18 AM

You do, except I would say that you really can't change the world by reading, for the very reason you just gave: if you don't act on the knowledge you've gained, the world is no different than if you hadn't gained it at all. Reading -- learning -- is a necessary part of changing the world, but only a part.

He wrote that bunk while taking a strict elitist-content view against some of the more ridiculous theory folks, thus proving that arguing with an idiot turns you into an idiot.

"Battle ye not against dragons, lest ye become a dragon" -- some dead white European guy. But then I've always felt the world needs dragons, too. :-)

Posted by: DFH at June 1, 2004 01:22 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?