The outpouring of words after the passing of literary critic Harold Bloom on October 14th was astonishing. Who knew that an 89-year-old American academic who still muttered about things like great literary canons and dead white male Victorian-era poets could cause such a ripple in self-absorbed 21st-century space-time? However, the eulogies, obituaries, and memoirs haven’t all been launched on a sea of love and regret. They seem equally divided between affection and snark. Most of the vinegar appears to drip out of academia, or what’s left of the battered and deconstructed humanities departments where Bloom made his name in those bygone days when literary snobs looked down their noses at such vulgar faculties as science, computers and (ugh!) business studies.
It’s no surprise that the academic journals and commentators are so sniffy. When one of the tenured pack moves from writing papers that are read by five people to producing books that top the bestseller lists, the green rot of envy and disapproval spreads like bindweed. One professor commented in an article, “Lest we forget, Bloom was also a bad scholar. His Shakespeare book is written horribly and says nothing.” Meow!
“He’s a wandering Jewish scholar from the first century,” Cambridge Professor Sir Frank Kermode, the English literary critic, once wrote of Bloom. “There’s always a pack of people sitting around him to see if any bread or fishes are going to be handed out. And I think there is in him a lurking sense that when the true messiah comes, he will be very like Harold.” Kermode was once labelled “distinguished;” now he too is merely deceased and forgotten.
It’s not only humanities professors – the late physicist Stephen Hawking was regularly scorned by his peers from the day A Brief History of Time hit the pop charts. It was as if his physicist’s brain had lost ten IQ points merely by addressing the hoi polloi who bought paperbacks. Forming your bubble outside the tenured bubble inevitably invites pinpricks. Read more »
From November 17, Patricia Thornley’s work The Western, part of her series THIS IS US, is on view as part of the group exhibition “Empathy” at Smack Mellon Gallery in Brooklyn, New York. The project is the latest in a seven-year series of installation and single-channel video works consisting of interviews and performances. Previous videos of the series are An American in Bavaria (2011), Don’t Cry for Me(2013), and Sang Real (2015). As a whole, THIS IS US formulates multiple parallel inquiries into the collaborative fantasies Americans enact through popular media. In the current political climate, as the escalation of social and economic forces impacting millions of lives is cast into increasingly sharp relief, these fantasies take on new urgency and, in many cases, a new absurdity.
The Western’s cast of characters consists of these Civil War-era archetypes: Indian Scout, Beast of Burden, Frontiersman, Savage, Deserter, Justice, and Drifter. The work is conceived as a two-part installation in which the cinematic trope of the Western is used as a framework for inquiring into the American psyche. In the exhibition space, a projected “movie” is installed opposite a wall of screens playing a series of interviews with the seven participating characters.
Andrea Scrima: Patricia, a few years ago I conducted an interview with you about a previous work of yours, Sang Real (2015), for the online poetry magazine Lute & Drum. Now, with The Western, the overall structure of THIS IS US is coming more and more clearly into focus. The last time we spoke at length about your series was a year and a half before the last presidential election. How have recent changes on the political landscape affected your approach to the themes in your work?
Patricia Thornley: From the beginning in the THIS IS US series, one of the questions I asked in my interviews with the people who featured in the individual videos was “how do you feel about being an American?” Historically, there’s always been a certain political disconnect at play with Americans, due to less armed conflict on our own soil and a certain comfort level. Read more »