On March 10, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette hosted a lecture by David Mikics where he spoke on the work of his friend and teacher, the late literary critic Harold Bloom. The talk has sparked controversy and resulted in a teach-in being organized the day before the lecture.
The lecture came as part of the Flora Levy Humanities Series, which was started in 1980 by UL Lafayette’s longest-serving faculty member Maurice DuQuesnay, who passed away in July of last year.
The lectures were made possible by Flora Levy, who donated her estate to create the series. Up until his passing, DuQuesnay had been the one to organize the lectures, and Mikics had been the last arranged lecture before DuQuesnay’s passing.
Both Bloom and Mikics have been viewed as controversial figures. Author Naomi Wolf had previously accused Bloom of placing his hand on her inner thigh while she was a 20-year-old student at Yale.
During his lecture in Oliver Hall, Mikics was asked about the Wolf allegation and responded by saying that it was the only accusation and that Bloom did not recall it ever happening.
“To my knowledge, there’s only one accusation, and that is the accusation by Naomi Wolf that at a party, Bloom placed his hand on her knee or the inside of her leg, something of that sort. And that’s not corroborated by anyone else. I mean, it’s an accusation that should be taken very seriously, like all accusations of sexual harassment,” Mikics said. “But it is the fact that that’s merely her accusation. He doesn’t remember this ever having happened.”
Bloom had also been accused of having “intimate entanglements with female students,” according to an article by The New York Times Magazine.
Mikics himself had drawn controversy, mainly due to his articles written for Tablet Magazine, particularly “The Meaning of Bad Sex,” written about the #MeToo movement, and “The ‘Noble Lies’ of the New Race Politics,” in which he writes that racial equity is “our current fetish.” He went on in this article to reject some objectives of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The policy goals that BLM and its allies have championed are either unrealizable (abolishing prisons) or harmful to the Black community (defunding police),” Mikics wrote.
In response to the lecture, the UL Lafayette Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Decolonization Committee and the Gender and Sexuality Studies committee organized a teach-in on March 9 to speak on some of the issues presented.
Clancy Ratliff, Assistant English Department Head, spoke at the teach-in on the allegations that had been leveled against Bloom and the connotations of hosting a lecture about him despite that.
“Having a lecture that kind of pays homage to a critic’s work who has these associations with his name is the type of thing that can contribute to an environment where students feel discouraged to speak up when they have been mistreated by people in authority,” she said.
Sheri Lazare, who made the lecture possible following the passing of DuQuesnay, said she hadn’t been aware of the controversy beforehand.
“I was sorry to hear that they didn’t want to come to the lecture and have that dual voice, because again, that’s what a college campus is for,” Lazare said. “I do wish that they felt like they could come and have that dialogue.”
Following the lecture by Mikics, some of the students in attendance shared their thoughts.
Tatum Miller, a freshman majoring in chemical engineering, noted the biblical references throughout the lecture.
“I thought it was interesting how he referenced biblical stories and stuff and applied it to the literature throughout America when most of the biblical stories happened in the Middle East,” she said. “So I thought it was a good comparison.”
Gracie Nelams, a junior in English, shared that the lecture had been a good introduction to Bloom’s work.
“I had honestly no idea who he was, but I thought this was a pretty good overview and I wrote down some of his works that I’m probably going to go and look into later,” she said.
Lazare spoke on the upcoming plans for the Flora Levy Humanities Series, sharing that a board will be formed to take ideas for future events and lectures.
“We’re gonna have a meeting, bring everybody in, announce these are the people who are on the board, bring them your ideas because we want all possible ideas,” she said. “And we aren’t going to limit it, and we don’t even know if we’ll have themes or genres that we might follow into. It’s just gonna kind of be ‘where do you think we should go?’”