The cars of the elect will be driverless

Frank Kermode

  • Omens of the Millennium by Harold Bloom
    Fourth Estate, 256 pp, £15.99, October 1996, ISBN 1 85702 555 5

Towards the end of this rather bewildering book Harold Bloom explains that he doesn’t really expect the year 2000 to be catastrophic; we shall experience neither ‘rupture nor rapture’. The only danger he can see is that some people, maddened by the deferral of the end-time on which they had counted (or, in Bloomspeak, disappointed in their ‘expectation of release from the burdens of a society that is weary with its sense of belatedness, or “aftering” ’) might cut up rough when the year passes without apocalyptic incident. We know from previous studies of such sects that such an outcome is unlikely. Members of the sect either rework their calculations or just slip away. But the sceptical view – that the end always misses the appointment – is the one one would expect the learned Bloom to hold. He knows very well the long tradition of disappointed apocalypse, and he is aware that 2000 AD or CE is a date with no more intrinsic significance than any other.

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[*] Portrait of the Artist as a Bad Character and Other Essays on Writing (Pimlico, 329 pp., £12.50, 3 September 1994, 0 7126 7484 5). There are also exceptionally good essays on Sholem Aleichem, George Steiner, Isaac Babel, Cyril Connolly, Trollope, Henry James and other matters.