Dear Dr. Bloom:
The world has turned to the point where someone you'd consider worthy only of laying your "heavy, boneless hand" upon her leg in an off moment, can analyze your career, your opinions, your position, and all you represent -- and declare you a tool. I mean that in the common sense most people understand, and in the second sense of the Oxford American Dictionary definition: a person used by others.
You wrote a very good book, Dr. Bloom, a very interesting book: Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human.
You also trashed J.K. Rowling, the single author who has done more to bring young people worldwide to reading than any other, based upon reading what I believe to be no more than five pages of her work. This is no isolated incident. This is you. This is who you are. You blithely praised Philip Roth's work -- at length in a fawning 1991 Paris Review interview meant to give you attention and praise -- and went on to say this about Alice Walker:
"Alice Walker is an extremely inadequate writer, and I think that is giving her the best of it. A book like The Color Purple is of no aesthetic interest or value whatsoever, yet it is exalted and taught in the academies. It clearly is a time in which social and cultural guilt has taken over."
I understand this interview was given prior to the publication of Mr. Roth's novel The Human Stain in 2000. That book details the misadventures of a black academic who has "passed" as white for his whole life, and contains lengthy, detailed, Philip Roth-style descriptions of the retirement-age professor Coleman Silk having sex with a mute 30-something blonde female who is not only a menial laborer, she is completely illiterate. So, what's that about, Harold?
Celie, the protagonist of The Color Purple, Alice Walker's book to which you object, well - Celie doesn't read and write so well, either, though she is far from totally illiterate. Celie is also used as a sexual object. Celie grows and changes through her relationship with another woman, Shug, as well as her relationships with men and children.
Now, I do understand that your belief is that what you say is more important than what the writer actually writes. However, simply because you believe that, does not make it true. It's fairly easy to prove that your analysis of these two authors is not only incorrect: it's about as far from the truth as it's possible to get.
Here is a random Roth paragraph (The Human Stain, 2000).
In the Roberts years all the bright younger people he recruited loved Coleman because of the room he was making for them and because of the good people he began hiring out of graduate programs at Johns Hopkins and Yale and Cornell -- "the revolution of quality," as they themselves liked to describe it. They prized him for taking the ruling elite out of their little club and threatening their self-presentation, which never fails to drive a pompous professor crazy. All the older guys who were the weakest part of the faculty had survived on the ways that they thought of themselves -- the greatest scholar of the year 100 B.C., and so forth -- and once those were challenged from above, their confidence eroded and, in a matter of a few years, they had nearly all disappeared. Heady times!
If that's an "authentic" voice for Roth's narrator: I don't want to know that guy. That guy is someone I avoid at parties. Everyone avoids that guy at parties.
Here is a random Walker series of paragraphs. One of the differences between these two books is the economy of expression of Celie's letters (in which The Color Purple is told) vs. the prolix denseness of Roth's narration:
Nettie here with us. She run way from home. She say she hate to leave our stepma, but she had to git out, maybe fine help for the other little ones. The boys be alright, she say. They can stay out his way. When they git big they gon fight him.
Maybe kill, I say.
How is it with you and Mr. _________? she ast. But she got eyes. He still like her. In the evening he come out on the porch in his Sunday best. She be sitting there with me shelling peas or helping the children with they spelling. Helping me with spelling and everything else she think I need to know. No matter what happen, Nettie steady try to teach me what go on in the world. And she a good teacher too. It nearly kill me to think she might marry somebody like Mr. ________ or wind up in some white lady kitchen. All day she read, she study, she practice her handwriting, and try to git us to think. Most days I feel too tired to think. But Patient her middle name.
So, Mr. Bloom, would you care to say why Alice Walker is such a poor writer? Because she used the diction of Celie, the character, in telling her story? She didn't replace Celie's words in her letters with more erudite, sophisticated ones? She didn't correct Celie's spelling? Erase Celie's voice?
It's interesting. Celie's talking about what she is learning from Nettie. Nettie is a good teacher. The letter shows economically exactly why, and also what Celie's concerns are at a deep level.
Roth chose to distance his story from Coleman Silk by using his narrator Nathan Zuckerman who barely knows Silk. But he didn't distance him from Philip Roth, who in the guise of the pervy old bore Zuckerman, describes the young woman with whom 71-year old Silk has an affair, Faunia Farley, thusly:
Faunia Farley: thin-legged, thin-wristed, thin-armed, with clearly discernable ribs and shoulder blades that protruded, and yet when she tensed you saw that her limbs were hard; when she reached or stretched for something you saw that her breasts were surprisingly substantial; and when, because of the flies and the gnats buzzing the herd on this close summer day, she slapped at her neck or her backside, you saw something of how frisky she could be, despite the otherwise straight-up style. You saw that her body was something more than efficiently lean and severe, that she was a firmly made woman precipitously poised at the moment when she is no longer ripening but not yet deteriorating, a woman in the prime of her prime, whose fistful of white hairs is fundamentally beguilding just because the sharp Yankee contour of her cheeks and her jaw and the long unmistakably female neck haven't yet been subject to the transformations of aging.
Mr. Bloom, I very much understand why you might want to read about Faunia Farley. I can imagine why you'd enjoy reading Mr. Roth's descriptions of 71-year old Coleman Silk taking Viagra so he can "do" Faunia Farley. I can even understand how you might find it difficult to relate to Celie in The Color Purple.
But what I cannot understand is why you'd want to invest half a century of your life in using your position of influence and power to, about 95% of the time, tell people what to think, what to read, how to think, and "what was good" when really ...
I would say you were like Falstaff. But that would be such an insult to the old jester. Don't you agree?
Amy Sterling Casil
PS: My wrists are thin, my limbs well-formed, my jaw firm. I have reached that point in life where I have ripened, but not yet begun to deteriorate. I would wager I have an even better body than Faunia Farley.
But ... also ... I can write. I can think. So can Alice Walker. So can Celie. So can ... we all.
You know what else occurs to me? You, Bloom, posited that Shakespeare "invented" the modern human in the form of Falstaff and Hamlet. These were fully-rounded people, with their own imaginations, their own motivations, their own feelings.
Basically Philip Roth, whom you so admire, writes about his penis. At all ages, from Portnoy to Silk and on and on.
Alice Walker. She invented Celie. She gave her a voice. She voiced her hopes, dreams, hurts and wishes. She made her world. Celie's a woman. A black woman.
I told my friend last night, "I have this huge inner reserve of rage. I have no idea where it comes from." Oh, but I do. See I'm Faunia Farley. She didn't want to talk to Coleman Silk but she let him screw her as far as that went. Philip Roth could not even BEGIN to tell word one of Faunia's true story. From my perspective, Alice Walker did it. She made Celie real. She made millions love and understand Celie. She made her human. And she is. Even though you can't see that, she's as human as you -- and far more compassionate and insightful. And true and fair. And real.