Intimations on Immortality Book Puts Fascination with Angels in Context

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AS the turn of the millennium approaches, literary and religion critic Harold Bloom looks out at religion-mad America and sees a naive passion for angels that ignores their ferocious, terrible side and a fascination with "near-death experiences" that he believes feeds an illusion of immortality.

Worst of all, perhaps, is the "terrible sense of desolation" he detects, "a terrible emptiness in the many thousands of sensitive young people I talk to, whom I teach," says Bloom, a professor at Yale University.

In response to the fascination and despair, Bloom has written another book, the latest of more than 20, called "Omens of Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, And Resurrection" (Riverhead Books, $24.95). In it, Bloom argues that our obsession with angelic contact and "near-death" journeys is a debased version of strains found in many religious traditions, including ancient Gnosticism, a spiritual movement that flourished near the turn of the millennium 2,000 years ago. As for despair, the idea of gnosis , or "secret knowledge," can help us there, too, Bloom says. The "knowledge" Bloom would have us acquire should soothe our feelings of alienation from the divine: God dwells within us, and knowing we carry the divine spark sets us free. A soft-spoken, polite and apparently melancholy man, Bloom says he is neither offering himself "as a guru" nor his book "as guidance" to spiritual seekers. Rather, "I wish to make people aware or conscious of what they already know, or seek to know," Bloom said in a recent interview. "My book will be justified if I can feel, looking back on it in five to 10 years, that there are a few thousand people who were helped by it." "Most Blasphemous Writer" Bloom, 65, is in his 43rd year at Yale, where he is Sterling Professor of Humanities. He is simultaneously Berg Professor of English at New York University. He is a literary theorist of major importance, but he has also written an essay or two on vampire movies. His memory is legendary. According to biographers, Bloom can quote baseball statistics going back 30 years. That comes in handy when he writes: He draws on a vast array of sources to come up with an abundance of quotes from literature, poetry and scholarly works. It is said that when he needs to refer to a passage from John Milton's "Paradise Lost," he just scrolls it up in his head until he comes to the needed section. Bloom is also described as a spell-binding lecturer. He will be speaking at Washington University on Friday as part of a two-day symposium on African-American poet Jay Wright. Bloom's talk, at 3 p.m. in Graham Chapel, is open to the public. Bloom achieved wide acclaim in the early 1970s with his book, "Anxiety of Influence," which contends that poetry is a response to previous poetry. In other words, later poets struggle with the influence of their predecessors and so "misread" the earlier works in order to create their own. In 1990, Bloom shocked scholars and mainstream religious America with "The Book of J," an analysis of the early works in the Hebrew Bible in which God is called Yahweh. The works are attributed to an editor whom scholars call "J." Bloom asserts that the "J" writings were not religious works, but lit erature. In addition, he sets forth the theory that "J" was a high-ranking woman of the court of King Solomon's son and "the most blasphemous writer that ever lived" for depicting God as an uncanny, mischievous deity - a dark and yet comic figure. Bloom says orthodox religions have misread and revised the text, moralizing and turning Yahweh into something he was not intended to be. "Deep Sense Of Evil" Born of Yiddish-speaking parents, Bloom was a child in New York when he dismissed the traditional Jewish, Christian and Islamic views of God. …