Omens of the Millenium

Harold Bloom, Author Riverhead Books $24.95 (255p) ISBN 978-1-57322-045-3
A fascination with near-death experiences, alien abductions, angels and prophetic dreams has reached a ""particular intensity"" in the U.S. as the millennium approaches. Or so says Bloom (The Western Canon) in this dazzling, maverick study in literature and comparative religion. Pausing often to unpack his own religious convictions, which are rooted in Gnosticism, a mystical belief system whose elusive history he traces to early Christianity, Kabbalistic Judaism and Islamic Sufism, Bloom contends that such ""omens of the Millennium"" are in fact debased forms of Gnosticism. Gnosis, he writes, is a spiritual orientation at odds with orthodox religion. It eschews faith in an outward God for knowledge of the divinity of the deepest self and retells the story of creation as a fall away from a Godhead and a Fullness that, Bloom says, is more humane than the God of institutional religion. Contrasting the ""inspired vacuity"" of New Age writers like Arianna Huffington and Raymond A. Moody to authentic Gnostic authors (who, according to Bloom, include ancient sages like Valentinus, medieval Kabbalists like Isaac Luria and more modern writers like Blake, Emerson and Shakespeare), Bloom explores how images of angels, prophecies and resurrection have always mirrored anxieties about the end of time, and how these images have been domesticated by popular culture. Bloom frequently injects himself into his study, discussing with rueful irony his own experiments with the outer limits of consciousness, including his own ""near-death experience"" (in a hospital while convalescing from a bleeding ulcer). The final chapter is a Gnostic sermon on self-transcendence. This book's brevity and eccentricities (Huffington and Moody are easy targets who don't exemplify the range and complexity of New Age thought) diminish its force as polemic. As a critical performance, however, it's a tour de force, highlighting a secret history of mystical thought whose visionaries and poets call out to each other over the centuries. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
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