The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0035 Wednesday, 15 February 2006
From: Larry Weiss <
Date: Wednesday, 15 Feb 2006 01:42:03 -0500
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
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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