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School of Resentment

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Title: School of Resentment  
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Subject: Harold Bloom, False necessity, Literary criticism, Literary theory
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School of Resentment

School of Resentment is a term coined by critic Harold Bloom to describe related schools of literary criticism which have gained prominence in academia since the 1970s and which Bloom contends are preoccupied with political and social activism at the expense of aesthetic values.[1]

Broadly, Bloom terms "Schools of Resentment" approaches associated with Marxist critical theory, including African American Studies, Marxist literary criticism, New Historicist criticism, feminist criticism, and poststructuralism — specifically as promoted by Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. The School of Resentment is usually defined as scholars who wish to enlarge the Western Canon by adding more minority, political and/or female authors regardless of their writings' aesthetic merit; and/or who argue that the Canon promotes sexist, racist or otherwise biased values. Bloom contends that the School of Resentment threatens the nature of the canon and may lead to its eventual demise. Philosopher Richard Rorty[2] agreed that Bloom is at least partly accurate in describing the School of Resentment, writing that those identified by Bloom do in fact routinely use "subversive, oppositional discourse" to attack the Canon specifically and Western culture in general.

Bloom outlines this term in his introduction to his 1994 book, The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. Bloom stresses that he does not necessarily object to analysis and discussion of the social and political issues in books, but does object to college literature professors taking a greater interest in their own political motives than the aesthetics of literary worth. In his book, Bloom defends the Western Canon of literature from this "School of Resentment", which he believes wants to break down the Canon to insert inferior literary works for political purposes. Bloom believes that the goals of reading must be solitary aesthetic pleasure and self-insight rather than the goal held by "forces of resentment" of "improving" one's society, which he casts as an absurd aim, writing: "The idea that you benefit the insulted and injured by reading someone of their own origins rather than reading Shakespeare is one of the oddest illusions ever promoted by or in our schools." His position is that politics has no place in literary criticism: a feminist or Marxist reading of Hamlet would tell us something about feminism and Marxism, he says, but probably nothing about Hamlet itself.

Similar arguments have been made by others, without necessarily using the term "School of Resentment." American philosopher Stephen Hicks,[3] who notes that leftist academics (e.g., feminist Kate Ellis) have written extensively about post-structuralist teaching methods allegedly aimed at eroding the beliefs of young college students and replacing them with Leftist ideologies: "[R]elativistic arguments are arrayed only against the Western great books canon. If one’s deepest goals are political, one always has a major obstacle to deal with — the powerful books written by brilliant minds on the other side of the debate. [...] Deconstruction allows you to dismiss whole literary and legal traditions as built upon sexist or racist or otherwise exploitative assumptions. It provides a justification for setting them aside."


  1. ^ Bloom, Harold (1995). The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. New York: Riverhead Books. pp. 4, 7, 20, 22, 24, 25, 29, 50, 56, 93, 292, 491, 492.  
  2. ^
  3. ^ Stephen R.C. Hicks, Ph.D. (2004) Understanding Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault. Scholargy Publishing, p. 190-191.
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