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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: February ::
Vastation
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0035  Wednesday, 15 February 2006

From: 		Larry Weiss <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 15 Feb 2006 01:42:03 -0500
Subject: 	Vastation

Harold Bloom in his "Invention of the Human" says the following about 
Antony and Cleopatra's mutual fascination with each other:  "Certainly 
it is less of a bewilderment, less of a vastation, than the familial 
love that afflicts Lear and Edgar" (p. 549).  Bloom is notorious for 
this; hardly a chapter goes by without some incomprehensible word having 
no generally recognized acceptation cropping up to spoil the flow of his 
thesis.  So far as I know, no one has called him on this; possibly for 
fear of pointing out the emperor's nakedness.

I have a fair collection of excellent dictionaries, some purporting to 
be unabridged.  Yet "vastation" stumps them all, as it does my 
spell-checker.  A search of the online compact OED comes up with
nothing.

A Google search turn up few accessible lexigraphical entries.  One, from 
the 1913 Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, defining "vastation" 
as "A laying waste; waste; depopulation; devastation [Obs]" But that 
definition hardly makes sense in the context of Bloom's usage. And, if 
it was obsolete in 1913, why did Bloom resurrect it in 1998?  Even less 
likely is "purification," with "vastation" as the noun form of the verb 
"to vastate" (i.e., to immunize).

Somewhat related to "purification" is the use of the word in 
Swedenborgian theology, such as the concept of "vastation of state": 
"Vastation of state is when we have the experience that our former way 
of operating isn't working anymore, and we are miserable." Does Bloom 
assume his readers are versed in obscure Swedenborgian theology?

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