The second half of Harold Bloom’s Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine, his meditation on the figure of Yahweh, has as one of its touchstones Bloom’s insight that the title character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet is the only character in Western literature that we can believe is capable of writing the work in which he appears. This is a strange, or at least strange-sounding, insight, but some reflection would seem to confirm it. Leopold Bloom, as complete a character as he is, couldn’t write Ulysses, nor could Stephen Dedalus, despite the character’s genesis as James Joyce’s pen name. And though the Don is writing his own adventures in Don Quixote de la Mancha, neither he nor Sancho Panza could have written Cervantes‘s novel. Even Marcel, the narrator of Proust‘s largely autobiographical In Search of Lost Time, doesn’t become capable of writing the 3,500 pages across which he has developed until the last of those pages.
Prince Hamlet, on the other hand, possesses cognitive and imaginative capacities beyond those of any of the play’s other characters, and hints at insights beyond even those of the author. It’s not only that Hamlet rewrites and then has The Mousetrap staged in the third act of Hamlet, thereby determining the action of the last two acts of that play. This does allow Shakespeare a voice within the play to speak on matters of theater craft and the like, but the character he created to speak his thoughts actually knows more than Shakespeare himself does, as emerges at the play’s bloody climax. Stephen Dedalus plays with the idea of Shakespeare as Hamlet in the “Scylla and Charybdis” chapter of Ulysses (unintentionally revealing the comparative weakness of Dedalus as Joyce), but it’s Harold Bloom, in Ruin the Sacred Truths, who fully grasps the way in which Hamlet transcends even his author. And it’s that insight, among many others, upon which Bloom bases the “Yahweh” half of Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine.
Bloom veers between Yahweh as a character created by the first writer of the Jewish Bible (to whom he refers, alternately, as the Yahwist or the J writer) and Yahweh as the author of the creation that contains the Yahwist and of the Torah that contains her work. He vacillates between aesthetic awe of the Yahwist and religious awe of Yahweh. But at neither end of the spectrum of his reactions does he ever entirely abandon either Yahweh’s divinity or his humanity. Yahweh is as powerful, imaginative, and capricious as reality itself, and yet he’s also the basis of our understanding of what it is to be human (which is yet another blow to the claims of Christ’s originality). This can all become a little disorienting for the reader, and the impulse to be reductive can be overwhelming. To his credit, Bloom forestalls all such attempts. He will brook no nonsense about Yahweh being simply an anthropomorphization of the forces of nature or reality, at least in part because Yahweh is compellingly more human than we are. He keeps the discussion from collapsing into simplicity by examining the diminishment inherent in creation (or zimzum in Kabbalistic terms).
To create anything that was not himself, Yahweh had to contract to allow space for his creation. This could be taken spatially to mean the opening of a void or abyss within which the creation described in Genesis (or the creation posited by the Big Bang theory, for that matter) occurred, but it could also be taken metaphysically. With the creation of man, Yahweh became a self in relation to others. Yahweh was no longer the whole of reality–there were now others, endowed with free will and acting against Yahweh’s intentions and without his knowledge (see Genesis 3 for one such instance). This would have been a profound diminishment for him. Elsewhere, following Bloom’s lead, I reductively posited another way in which the product of creation, and writing in particular, is inherently flawed. In his latest book, Bloom, who seems to have difficulty viewing any aspect of his experience as anything but literature, has merely extended that supposition to Yahweh’s authorship of our universe, so that not only is the object of creation flawed, but the creator as subject is harmed as well. Yahweh had to diminish himself to create our very existence, within which we suffer his absence. We are physically, metaphysically, and psychologically outside of Yahweh, divided from him, as he is from us.
Several times in this book, Bloom mentions that Buddhism escapes him, but it seems to me that he’s tantalizingly close to its primary insights. Buddhists often refer to what we think of as our self as “contracted”–the result of an illusory sundering of luminous emptiness into the dualistic perception that is the root of all suffering. The central Lurianic insight that to create is to diminish is, if not Buddhist, then entirely amenable to Buddhism. Contraction into a subject (or author) is necessary to the creation of an object (or character). To create is to diminish, to divide, to sunder–luminosity is obscured by creation. Usually, the creator will place himself on the fuller side of that duality, but great artists, like Shakespeare, the Yahwist, and Yahweh himself, will more fully empty the vessel of the subject into the object. Or, as Stephen Dedalus puts it in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the great artist, “like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.” But even then, even with the greatest of artists, the art of subjects creating objects, even the most aesthetically accomplished of such art, can do no more than reify duality and renew suffering.