Saturday, January 07, 2006

Limbo may be headed for limbo...

. . . but souls fit neither for heaven nor hell can head for the Jewish Kabbalah's olam ha-tohu.

Not having grown up Catholic, I never heard much about Limbo -- though I knew about "limbo" -- until I studied English literature at Baylor University and noticed "Limbo" mentioned and briefly explained in relevant footnotes of various Norton anthologies.

I still don't know much more about it than what Norton taught me, but I see that Harold Bloom is sad to hear that Limbo is headed for limbo because -- as he admits in "Paradise Found, Limbo Lost" (New York Times, January 1, 2006) -- he had hoped to share a bottle of the Spanish brandy Fundador there with Anthony Burgess.

Wait a minute? Limbo is headed for limbo? Why?

According to Dominic Farrel, "Is Limbo In Limbo?" (, the issue follows from the Catholic Church's concern for the aborted, whose souls ended up in the limbo infantium, or "limbo of the infants." The Church would prefer to give them a better place -- though even the limbo infantium doesn't sound so bad, being a place allowing a "state of natural happiness . . . like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden."

Still, a limbo of infants doesn't sound like the sort of place where Bloom would care to share a bottle of brandy with anyone. There's always the danger that the infants might grow up reading Harry Potter, and for Bloom, that would be hell.

Perhaps Bloom was thinking of the limbo patrum, where the mature, pre-Christian good men and women would enjoy their version of natural happiness, one source of such happiness being Fundador.

I don't know if this "limbo of the fathers" is on the way out, too, but if it is, perhaps Bloom can descend to the olam ha-tohu -- or "world of chaos" -- which I only learned about today through Philologos's article, "Is 'Limbo' On Its Way Out?" in the January 6, 2006 edition of Forward:
In later kabbalistic literature . . . as well as in the Hasidic circles that were heavily influenced by it, "the world of tohu," conceived as an intermediate stage between the ultimate good of pure spirit and the ultimate evil of pure matter, became a term for a nebulous domain — not unlike the Christian Limbo, in which souls admitted to neither heaven nor hell wandered. The reason for having to lead such an existence had nothing to do with the absence of a rite of initiation like baptism. Rather, the problem was an even balance between the dead man's sins and merits, which left his soul in a no-man's land. (Hat Tip, Jim Davila)
That's interesting, but it would seem to be a difficult place for Bloom to enter, for achieving an even balance of sins and merits is no easy task -- and how would such a book as Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine balance out? A plus for Bloom's treatment of the one, a minus for the other?

Even a genius like Bloom might have difficulty factoring that one.


At 4:11 AM, Blogger Jessica said...

Wow, I had no idea Bloom disliked Rowling so much.

Can more than 35 million book buyers, and their offspring, be wrong? yes, they have been, and will continue to be for as long as they persevere with Potter.


At 6:16 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Bloom has very high standards for classifying works as "good" literature. He's famous for his defense of "the canon," and I can partly agree with his general aims.

But no matter what he says, I'm still gonna read and enjoy the Potter series.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 7:00 AM, Blogger Kate Marie said...

I enjoy the Potter series, too, but I get a guilty pleasure out of Bloom's snobbish rejection of Rowling -- probably because I'm generally on Bloom's side about the canon as well.


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