Not impressed. Deeply dissatisfied. But not surprised at this confrontation with the passive-aggressive; the yearning to be like him, then the abject tragedy arising when the initiative is undertaken. Harold Bloom was just the man to review Robert Crumb’s The Book of Genesis. Was it a story of the very first woman meeting the very last man? Perhaps that’s the way the tablets crumbled after all. Effectively, Crumb’s Genesis posits early individualism within the context of rage, violence, and anger at Yahweh’s lack of pride in his craftsmanship or was it artistry.
Yahweh’s emotional trajectory may have been the first instance of corrupted classicism, a precursor of the romantic age, the unleashing of the unreasonable and the mad into the realm of global animated sculpture. But, it was too late to go back to the drawing board despite the temptation to dabble in nihilism in its positive and negative aspects. So Crumb really captures the rough and tumble of frontier justice, the boundary pushing, the give and take, the haggling over how many decent souls are needed to save Sodom; the bawdy and bad as the individual gropes towards some fixation on redemption as a kind of Marcel Duchamp ready-made. Kind of a cheap afterthought to pacify the parents.
Where Bloom gets frosty is the normative undertone that Crumb takes. All that moxie and guile, a few flashes of elan only to conform to convention. It does underscore Bloom as the eternal sufferer, a cast out prodigal son mourning for a lost power. But he wears it well in all the earnestness and subtle comedy which mitigates the risk of the tragic. No, Bloom has no illusions about messianism in the Walter benjamin sense of violent revolutionary acts ushering in a messianic age through bursts of now time. No, this is long drawn out, protracted battle of attrition with yahweh that shatters the myth of the unity of disparities. Forget the straight gate of the messianic instance, this is a very cold war indeed where the outer edge of paradise spins so quickly that it appears to stand still.Bloom and Crumb share the gnostic disposition, albeit the artistic representation remains widely disparate…
None of this is to say that Bloom likes Yahweh, who he feels should be “convicted for desertion.” But present or absent, Yahweh is for Bloom inescapable, like death.Bloom calls himself a cultural Jew who does not “trust” in the covenant, trust being for him the hallmark of the normative Jew. crying out to a silent God who nevertheless “won’t go away.” What could be more normative than that?Yahweh, named like a pagan deity, has a full complement of human emotions, including reprehensible ones.
How uninteresting it is to be an atheist. I mean, you can’t make literature out of that….I think if you argue with God, or you’re angry at God, if you have a grudge against him, then that’s much more fun than just saying he’s not there at all….Well, the alternative is to entertain all of these fictions. Remembering what Uncle Wallace taught us, which is that the final belief he says is to believe in a fiction, with the nicer aspects of belief, that knowing that what you believe in is not true…
…. It’s just imaginatively much more interesting to be a Gnostic rather than an agnostic, to be fascinated by Yahweh rather than indifferent to him. Walt Whitman liked to say that the United States are in themselves the greatest poem. Alas they’re not, but it’s a nice idea. Yahweh is a great poem. [Pause.] I don’t think Jesus Christ is a great poem. [Pause.] I never quite make up my mind about Allah, though I’m fascinated by the fact that the Koran is the only book I’ve ever read in which every single phrase is spoken by God himself. It is the voice of Allah that you hear from the beginning to the end, supposedly by mediation of the angel Gabriel, being dictated to Mohammed, who however doesn’t write it down because supposedly he’s an illiterate, which baffles me, because he’s a successful merchant, and how could you have been a successful merchant if you were illiterate, and couldn’t read or write? But supposedly he memorizes it and then he dictates it—a very suspicious process of course, but then no more suspicious than the formation of Tanakh or the Greek New Testament.Read More:http://www.rc.umd.edu/praxis/bloom_hartman/bloom/bloom.html
…that God had breathing trouble and this trouble created the world. And I think I remark something like, “Try to hold in your breath for as long as possible, and then just before you can’t stand it any more, try to think something into creation, try to will or think something, and see what happens.” Which always makes me think of Kafka’s very grand remark to Max Brod, where he says, “We are one of God’s thoughts when he was having a bad day.” It seems to me he has mostly bad days. But since I don’t think there’s any distinction whatsoever between sacred and secular texts, there’s only great writing and bad writing (or good writing in between I suppose or fair writing) then it’s natural to speak of—in fact, remember what Blake says; he says religion is just choosing forms of worship from poetic tales, and then he adds—this is The Marriage of Heaven and Hell — “Thus men forgot that all Deities reside in the human breast.” But that doesn’t mean that they don’t reside there. And of course, this is now a very tricky business, because I’m not sure anybody—you’re not supposed to believe in Yahweh anyway if you are a normative Jew, you’re supposed to have Emunah, you are supposed to trust in the covenant with him, but he’s never kept the Covenant himself, and I get awfully weary of the Hebrew prophets who are always denouncing the people of Israel for violating their covenant with Yahweh when Yahweh hadn’t kept his for a moment, and always seems to be hard at work destroying his chosen people.Read More:http://www.rc.umd.edu/praxis/bloom_hartman/bloom/bloom.html
…Illustrating the Hebrew Bible has been a grand quest for painters, with Michelangelo and Tintoretto perhaps dividing the palm. A cartoon or comic book reduction of Genesis ideally should be the work of an unlikely fusion of Rembrandt and William Blake. That is not a fair criterion to invoke when considering R. Crumb’s venture into the Book of Genesis. Staring at the women and men of Crumb’s Genesis, I dimly recall someone showing me an issue of Mad magazine. To my untutored view the work of Crumb recalls that publication yet somehow also is touched with what I remember as the doughty proletarian style of Ben Shahn. At the least, Crumb’s cartoons have the initial merit of strangeness in their portrayal of the patriarchs and matriarchs of the first book of the Hebrew Bible…..
…The people of Genesis are indeed picturesque but powerfully ugly in Crumb’s vision. I do not regret the men but the women from Eve to Rachel, are so dreadful that I am made unhappy. They hardly suffice even if you try to defend Crumb’s approach as one of healthy realism. What reply could suggest itself to me if a Crumb admirer asserted : “That is what they really looked like, back then”? There was no “back then”. Genesis, like Exodus and Numbers after it, is fabulous tale-telling, and not historical fact. You can call it myth if you want to or whatever you think best fits the tale of the tribe.Read More:http://loonpond.blogspot.com/2009/12/harold-bloom-r-crumb-and-yet-another.html
Bloom:In a perfectly, I think, Kabbalistic way that Yahweh may have come into existence by this act of Zimzum, this act of contraction or withdrawal, which means that he diminished himself in order to get started. Which I find fascinatingly parallel to Walt Whitman, in which I again follow Scholem: who used to say in conversations with me, that in a secular world somehow Whitman by some miracle without knowing anything about Kabbalah had in effect reinvented his own Kabbalah, and I think that is true. Whitman throughout Song of Myself and elsewhere is always saying that he is expanding, that he is getting to contain more and more multitudes, that his sense of self is steadily increasing. But in fact he too is always contracting and withdrawing. He is endlessly elusive and evasive, and the worlds that he creates and ruins also seem to come from some process of self-withdrawal….
…Well, there are Yahwehs—just as I say there are seven versions at least of Jesus or Jesus Christ, or Jesus and Jesus Christ, in the Greek New Testament, there are innumerable versions of God in Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, but the one who interests me and always has and always will, is the original one, the first Straha, traditionally called J or the Yahwist, probably written as early as the reign of Solomon, 3,000 years ago, in which most certainly he is as I say a stern imp, up to a lot of mischief, something of a trickster God—human all too human: he’s always walking around on the ground; he isn’t flying up in the air—he’s walking around on the ground in order to make personal, you know, sort of on the job inspections of how things are going. He closes the door of the ark—of Noah’s ark with his own hands; he even more memorably buries Moses in an unmarked grave, with his own hands; he is very fond of picnics; thus at Mamre he sits beneath the terapim trees because he always likes to be in the shade rather than the sun, thus he walks we are told in Eden in the cool of the day, at Mamre, with two of the Elohim who are his angels he sits beneath the terapim trees, and he has a sumptuous rather full-scale luncheon prepared by Sarah—roast veal and whey and freshly baked sort-of cakes. And how is one to put it—he on Sinai, on the side of Sinai, he sits there and shares a meal with 73 elders of Israel. They stare at him and he stares at them and that’s it. He doesn’t say a word and they don’t say a word, but there he is. And according to Kabbalistic tradition, from the Merkavah thing on, he’s enormous, he is I say the King Kong of deities, he is of enormous size….Read More:http://www.rc.umd.edu/praxis/bloom_hartman/bloom/bloom.html