School of Resentment  

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"I am not concerned with . . . the current debate between the right-wing defenders of the Canon, who wish to preserve it for its supposed (and nonexistent) moral values, and the academic-journalistic network I have dubbed the School of Resentment, who wish to overthrow the Canon in order to advance their supposed (and nonexistent) programs for social change." --The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages (1994), Harold Bloom, p. 4

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School of Resentment is a pejorative 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.

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 all scholars who wish to enlarge the Western canon by adding to it more works by authors from minority groups without regard to aesthetic merit and/or influence over time, or those who argue that some works commonly thought canonical promote sexist, racist or otherwise biased values and should therefore be removed from the canon. Bloom contends that the School of Resentment threatens the nature of the canon itself and may lead to its eventual demise. Philosopher Richard Rorty 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. Yet “this school deserves to be taken seriously—more seriously than Bloom’s trivialization of it as mere resentment” (Shifting the Scene: Shakespeare in European Culture, edited by Ladina Bezzola Lambert).


Bloom outlines the term "School of Resentment" in the introduction to his book The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages (1994). Bloom stresses that he does not necessarily object to analysis and discussion of social and political issues in literature, but expresses indignation toward college literature professors who teach their own political motives through literature more than the aesthetics of literary worth. In his book, Bloom defends the Western canon of literature from this "School of Resentment", which in his view threatens to break down the canon through the insertion of potentially inferior literary works for political purposes. Bloom believes that the goals of reading must be solitary aesthetic pleasure and self-insight rather than the "forces of resentment" or a goal 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 Shakespeare's Hamlet would reveal something about feminism or Marxism, he says, but likely nothing about Hamlet itself.


Similar arguments have been made by others, without necessarily using the term "School of Resentment". American philosopher Stephen Hicks, 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." In a 2015 interview, art critic and dissident feminist Camille Paglia defended Bloom—who was her mentor during her studies at Yale University—and said that literary canons are meant to come not from professors' wishes to "intensify their power" but from careful evaluations of which literary works have proven most influential over time. Paglia further argued that the introduction of politics into literary criticism (e.g., the view that no book which demeans women can be great literature) can enable a dangerous and Stalinist view of art wherein all art is "subordinate to a prefab political agenda".

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