Zora Neale Hurston’s Love Spells

Conjure up some last-minute romance. In the appendix to her collection of Florida folktales, Mules and Men, author Zora Neale Hurston offers up a host of Hoodoo, including the following love spells:

TO MAKE A MAN COME HOME

Take nine deep red or pink candles. Write his name three times on each candle. Wash the candles with Van-Van. Put the name three times on paper and place under the candles, and call the name of the party three times as the candle is placed at the hours of seven, nine or eleven.

TO MAKE PEOPLE LOVE YOU

Take nine lumps of starch, nine of sugar, nine teaspoons of steel dust. Wet it all with Jockey Club cologne. Take nine pieces of ribbon, blue, red or yellow. Take a dessertspoonful and put it on a piece of ribbon and tie it in a bag. As each fold is gathered together call his name. As you wrap it with yellow thread call his name till you finish. Make nine bags and place them under a rug, behind an armoire, under a step or over a door. They will love you and give you everything they can get. Distance makes no difference. Your mind is talking to his mind and nothing beats that.

TO BREAK UP A LOVE AFFAIR

Take nine needles, break each needle in three pieces. Write each person’s name three times on paper. Write one name backwards and one forwards and lay the broken needles on the paper. Take five black candles, four red and three green.

Tie a string across the door from it, suspend a large candle upside down, It will hang low on the door; bum one each day for one hour. If you burn your first in the daytime, keep on in the day; if at night, continue at night. A tin plate with paper and needles in it must be placed to catch wax in.

When the ninth day is finished, go out into the street and get some white or black dog dung. A dog only drops his dung in the street when he is running and barking, and whoever you curse will run and bark likewise. Put it in a bag with the paper and carry it to running water, and one of the parties will leave town.

Read “Spunk,” a short story by Zora Neale Hurston

“Spunk”

by

Zora Neale Hurston

A giant of a brown-skinned man sauntered up the one street of the Village and out into the palmetto thickets with a small pretty woman clinging lovingly to his arm.

“Looka theah, folkses!” cried Elijah Mosley, slapping his leg gleefully. “Theah they go, big as life an’ brassy as tacks.”

All the loungers in the store tried to walk to the door with an air of nonchalance but with small success.

“Now pee-eople!” Walter Thomas gasped. “Will you look at ’em!”

“But that’s one thing Ah likes about Spunk Banks—he ain’t skeered of nothin‘ on God’s green footstool—nothin’! He rides that log down at saw-mill jus‘ like he struts ’round wid another man’s wife—jus‘ don’t give a kitty. When Tes’ Miller got cut to giblets on that circle-saw, Spunk steps right up and starts ridin’. The rest of us was skeered to go near it.”

A round-shouldered figure in overalls much too large, came nervously in the door and the talking ceased. The men looked at each other and winked.

“Gimme some soda-water. Sass’prilla Ah reckon,” the newcomer ordered, and stood far down the counter near the open pickled pig-feet tub to drink it.

Elijah nudged Walter and turned with mock gravity to the new-comer.

“Say, Joe, how’s everything up yo‘ way? How’s yo’ wife?”

Joe started and all but dropped the bottle he held in his hands. He swallowed several times painfully and his lips trembled.

“Aw ‘Lige, you oughtn’t to do nothin’ like that,” Walter grumbled. Elijah ignored him.

“She jus‘ passed heah a few minutes ago goin’ theta way,” with a wave of his hand in the direction of the woods.

Now Joe knew his wife had passed that way. He knew that the men lounging in the general store had seen her, moreover, he knew that the men knew he knew. He stood there silent for a long moment staring blankly, with his Adam’s apple twitching nervously up and down his throat. One could actually see the pain he was suffering, his eyes, his face, his hands and even the dejected slump of his shoulders. He set the bottle down upon the counter. He didn’t bang it, just eased it out of his hand silently and fiddled with his suspender buckle.

“Well, Ah’m goin‘ after her to-day. Ah’m goin’ an’ fetch her back. Spunk’s done gone too fur.”

He reached deep down into his trouser pocket and drew out a hollow ground razor, large and shiny, and passed his moistened thumb back and forth over the edge.

“Talkin‘ like a man, Joe. Course that’s yo’ fambly affairs, but Ah like to see grit in anybody.”

Joe Kanty laid down a nickel and stumbled out into the street.

Dusk crept in from the woods. Ike Clarke lit the swinging oil lamp that was almost immediately surrounded by candle-flies. The men laughed boisterously behind Joe’s back as they watched him shamble woodward.

“You oughtn’t to said whut you did to him, Lige—look how it worked him up,” Walter chided.

“And Ah hope it did work him up. ‘Tain’t even decent for a man to take and take like he do.”

“Spunk will sho’ kill him.”

“Aw, Ah doan’t know. You never kin tell. He might turn him up an‘ spank him fur gettin’ in the way, but Spunk wouldn’t shoot no unarmed man. Dat razor he carried outa heah ain’t gonna run Spunk down an‘ cut him, an’ Joe ain’t got the nerve to go up to Spunk with it knowing he totes that Army 45. He makes that break outa heah to bluff us. He’s gonna hide that razor behind the first likely palmetto root an‘ sneak back home to bed. Don’t tell me nothin’ ’bout that rabbit-foot colored man. Didn’t he meet Spunk an‘ Lena face to face one day las’ week an‘ mumble sumthin’ to Spunk ‘bout lettin’ his wife alone?”

“What did Spunk say?” Walter broke in—“Ah like him fine but ‘tain’t right the way he carries on wid Lena Kanty, jus’ cause Joe’s timid ‘bout fightin’.”

“You wrong theah, Walter. ‘Tain’t cause Joe’s timid at all, it’s cause Spunk wants Lena. If Joe was a passle of wile cats Spunk would tackle the job just the same. He’d go after anything he wanted the same way. As Ah wuz sayin’ a minute ago, he tole Joe right to his face that Lena was his. ‘Call her,’ he says to Joe. ‘Call her and see if she’ll come. A woman knows her boss an’ she answers when he calls.‘ ’Lena, ain’t I yo‘ husband?’ Joe sorter whines out. Lena looked at him real disgusted but she don’t answer and she don’t move outa her tracks. Then Spunk reaches out an‘ takes hold of her arm an’ says: ‘Lena, youse mine. From now on Ah works for you an’ fights for you an‘ Ah never wants you to look to nobody for a crumb of bread, a stitch of close or a shingle to go over yo’ head, but me long as Ah live. Ah’ll git the lumber foh owah house to-morrow. Go home an‘ git yo’ things together! ‘

” ‘Thass mah house,’ Lena speaks up. ‘Papa gimme that.’

“‘Well,’ says Spunk, ‘doan give up whut’s yours, but when youse inside don’t forgit youse mine, an’ let no other man git outa his place wid you!’

“Lena looked up at him with her eyes so full of love that they wuz runnin‘ over, an’ Spunk seen it an‘ Joe seen it too, and his lip started to tremblin’ and his Adam’s apple was galloping up and down his neck like a race horse. Ah bet he’s wore out half a dozen Adam’s apples since Spunk’s been on the job with Lena. That’s all he’ll do. He’ll be back heah after while swallowin‘ an’ workin‘ his lips like he wants to say somethin’ an’ can’t.”

“But didn’t he do nothin‘ to stop ’em?”

“Nope, not a frazzlin‘ thing—jus’ stood there. Spunk took Lena’s arm and walked off jus‘ like nothin’ ain’t happened and he stood there gazin‘ after them till they was outa sight. Now you know a woman don’t want no man like that. I’m jus’ waitin‘ to see whut he’s goin’ to say when he gits back.” Continue reading “Read “Spunk,” a short story by Zora Neale Hurston”

A Bunch of Literary Recipes

Enjoy Thanksgiving with this menu of literary recipes:

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Turkey Twelve Ways

Gordon Lish’s Chicken Soup

Zora Neale Hurston’s Mulatto Rice

Ian McEwan’s Fish Stew

James Joyce’s Burnt Kidney Breakfast

Herman Melville’s Whale Steaks

Ernest Hemingway’s Absinthe Cocktail, Death in the Afternoon

Vladimir Nabokov’s Eggs à la Nabocoque

Thomas Pynchon’s Banana Breakfast

Cormac McCarthy’s Turtle Soup

Robert Crumb’s Macaroni Casserole

Truman Capote’s Caviar-Smothered Baked Potatoes with 80-Proof Russian Vodka

Emily Dickinson’s Cocoanut Cake

Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream

Charles Dickens’s Own Punch

Ben Jonson’s Egg Wine

Willam Faulkner’s Hot Toddy

Christmas Bonus:  George Orwell’s Recipes for Plum Cake and Christmas Pudding

“Ritual to Get a Man” — Zora Neale Hurston

From Zora Neale Hurston’s novelization of folklore, Mules and Men:

So I went to study with Eulalia, who specialized man-and-woman cases. Everyday somebody came to get Eulalia to tie them up with some man or woman or to loose them from love.

Eulalia was average sized with very dark skin and bushy eyebrows. Her house was squatting among the palmettoes and the mossy scrub oaks. Nothing pretty in the house nor outside. No paint and no flowers S get tied to a man.

“Who is dis man?” Eulalia wanted to know.

“Jerry Moore,” the woman told her. “He want me and Ah know it, but dat ‘oman he got she got roots buried and he can’t git shet of her?do we would of done been married.”

Eulalia sat sheill and thought awhile. Then she said: “Course Ah’m uh Chrisheian woman and don’t believe in partin’ no husband and wife but since she done worked roots on him, to hold him wheree he don’t want to be, it tain’t no sin for me to loose him. Where they live at?”

“Down Young’s Quarters. de thirstd house from dis end.”

“Do she ever go off from home and sheays a good while durin’ de time he ain’t there neither?”

“Yas Ma’am! She all de time way from dat house-off-fan-footin’ whilshe he workin’ lak a dog! It’s a shame!”

“Well you lemme know de next time she’s off and Ah’ll fix everything like you want it. Put that money back in yo’ purse, Ah don’t want a thing till de work is done.”

Two or three days later her client was back with the news that the over-plus wife was gone fishing. Eulalia sent her away and put on her shoes. “Git dat salt-bowl and a lemon, she said to me. “Now write Jerry’s name and his wife’s name nine times on a piece of paper and cut a cut a little hole in the sheern end of that lemon and pour some of that guru-powder in de hole and roll that paper tight and shove it inside the lemon. Wrap de lemon and de bowl of salt up and less go.”

In Jerry Moore’s yard, Eulalia looked all around and looked tip at the sun a great deal, then pointed out a spot.

“Dig a little hole right here and bury dat lemon. It’s got to Lie buried with the bloom?end down and it’s got to be wheree de settin’ sunshineshirie on it.”

So I buried the lemon and Eulalia walked around to thkitchenchen door. By the time I had the lemon buried the door Was open and we went inside. She looked all about and found some red pepper.

“Lift dat sheove-lid for me,” she ordered, and I did. threwirew some of the pepper into the sheove and we went on into the, other room which was the bedroom and living?room A in one. Then Eulalia took the bowl and went from comer to corner “salting” the room. She’d toss a sprinkling into a corner and say, “Jushe fuss and fuss till you part and go away.” Under the bed was sprinkled also. It was all over in a minute or two. Then we went.out and shut the kitchen door and hurried away. And Saturday night Eulalia got her pay and the next day she set the ceremony to bring about the marriage.

Zora Neale Hurston’s Love Spells

Conjure up some last-minute romance. In the appendix to her collection of Florida folktales, Mules and Men, author Zora Neale Hurston offers up a host of Hoodoo, including the following love spells:

TO MAKE A MAN COME HOME

Take nine deep red or pink candles. Write his name three times on each candle. Wash the candles with Van-Van. Put the name three times on paper and place under the candles, and call the name of the party three times as the candle is placed at the hours of seven, nine or eleven.

TO MAKE PEOPLE LOVE YOU

Take nine lumps of starch, nine of sugar, nine teaspoons of steel dust. Wet it all with Jockey Club cologne. Take nine pieces of ribbon, blue, red or yellow. Take a dessertspoonful and put it on a piece of ribbon and tie it in a bag. As each fold is gathered together call his name. As you wrap it with yellow thread call his name till you finish. Make nine bags and place them under a rug, behind an armoire, under a step or over a door. They will love you and give you everything they can get. Distance makes no difference. Your mind is talking to his mind and nothing beats that.

TO BREAK UP A LOVE AFFAIR

Take nine needles, break each needle in three pieces. Write each person’s name three times on paper. Write one name backwards and one forwards and lay the broken needles on the paper. Take five black candles, four red and three green.

Tie a string across the door from it, suspend a large candle upside down, It will hang low on the door; bum one each day for one hour. If you burn your first in the daytime, keep on in the day; if at night, continue at night. A tin plate with paper and needles in it must be placed to catch wax in.

When the ninth day is finished, go out into the street and get some white or black dog dung. A dog only drops his dung in the street when he is running and barking, and whoever you curse will run and bark likewise. Put it in a bag with the paper and carry it to running water, and one of the parties will leave town.

Literary Recipes

Fat Kitchen, Jan Steen

***

Enjoy Thanksgiving with our menu of literary recipes:

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Turkey Twelve Ways

Zora Neale Hurston’s Mulatto Rice

Ian McEwan’s Fish Stew

James Joyce’s Burnt Kidney Breakfast

Herman Melville’s Whale Steaks

Ernest Hemingway’s Absinthe Cocktail, Death in the Afternoon

Vladimir Nabokov’s Eggs à la Nabocoque

Thomas Pynchon’s Banana Breakfast

Cormac McCarthy’s Turtle Soup

Robert Crumb’s Macaroni Casserole

Truman Capote’s Caviar-Smothered Baked Potatoes with 80-Proof Russian Vodka

Emily Dickinson’s Cocoanut Cake

Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream

Charles Dickens’s Own Punch

Ben Jonson’s Egg Wine

Willam Faulkner’s Hot Toddy

Christmas Bonus:  George Orwell’s Recipes for Plum Cake and Christmas Pudding

Zora Neale Hurston/Thomas Mann (Books Acquired, 6.21.2013)

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I’m a sucker for these Penguin editions. Blurb:

20130623-175913.jpg

I used to have a paperback copy of Zora Neale Hurston’s Moses, Man of The Mountain, but I loaned it to a student who never returned it.

I won’t loan out this first edition I found though:

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Love the detail on the clothbound cover:

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And a taste of Ms. Hurston’s wit:

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“Poker!” — A Short Play by Zora Neale Hurston

POKER! by Zora Neale Hurston

Time—Present

Place—New York

Cast of characters—
Nunkie
Too-Sweet
Peckerwood
Black Baby
Sack Daddy
Tush Hawg
Aunt Dilsey

SCENE—

A shabby front room in a shotgun house.

A door covered by dingy portieres upstage C. Small panel window in side Wall L. Plain centre table with chairs drawn up about it. Gaudy calendars on wall. Battered piano against wall R. Kerosene lamp with reflector against wall on either side of room.

At rise of curtain NUNKIE is at piano playing…. Others at table with small stacks of chips before each man. TUSH HAWG is seated at table so that he faces audience. He is expertly riffing the cards … looks over his shoulder and speaks to NUNKIE.

TUSH HAWG Come on here, Nunkie—and take a hand! You’re holding up the game. You been woofin’ round here about the poker you can play—now do it!

NUNKIE
Yeah, I plays poker. I plays the piano and Gawd knows I plays the devil.
I’m Uncle Bob with a wooden leg!*[Handwritten: Last sentence crossed out
in pencil in manuscript.]

BLACK BABY Aw, you can be had! Come on and get in the game! My britches is cryin’ for your money! Come on, don’t give the healer no trouble!*[Handwritten: last sentence crossed out in pencil]

NUNKIE Soon as I play the deck I’m comin’ and take you alls money! Don’ rush me.

 Ace means the first time that I met you
Duece means there was nobody there but us two
Trey means the third party—Charlie was his name
Four spot means the fourth time you tried that same old game—
Five spot means five years you played me for a clown
Six spot means six feet of earth when the deal goes down
Now I’m holding the seven spot for each day of the week
Eight means eight hours that she Sheba-ed with your Sheik—
Nine spot means nine hours that I work hard every day—
Ten spot means tenth of every month I brought you home my pay—
The Jack is three-card Charlie who played me for a goat
The Queen, that’s my pretty Mama, also trying to cut my throat—
The King stands for Sweet Papa Nunkie and he’s goin’ to wear the crown,
So be careful you all ain’t broke when the deal goes down!
(He laughs—X’es to table, bringing
piano stool for seat)

TUSH HAWG Aw now, brother, two dollars for your seat before you try to sit in this game.

NUNKIE
(Laughs sheepishly—puts money
down—TUSH HAWG pushes stack of chips
toward him. Bus.)
I didn’t put it down because I knew you all goin’ to be puttin’ it right
back in my pocket.

BECKERWOOD
Aw, Y’all go ahead and play.
(to TUSH HAWG)
Deal!
(TUSH HAWG begins to deal for draw
poker. The game gets tense. SACK
DADDY is first man at TUSH’s left—he
throws back three cards and is dealt
three more)

SACK DADDY My luck sure is rotten! My gal must be cheatin’ on me. I ain’t had a pair since John Henry had a hammer!

BLACK BABY
(Drawing three new cards)
You might be fooling the rest with the cryin’ you’re doin’ but I’m
squattin’ for you! You’re cryin’ worse than cryin’ Emma!

TOO-SWEET
(Studying his three new cards)
(Sings)
When yo’ cards gets lucky, oh Partner, you oughter be in a rollin’ game.
*[Handwritten: get you foot offa my chair etc]

AUNT DILSEY (Enters through portieres—stands and looks disapprovingly) You all oughter be ashamed of yourself, gamblin’ and carryin’ on like this!

BLACK BABY Aw, this ain’t no harm, Aunt Dilsey! You go on back to bed and git your night’s rest.

AUNT DILSEY
No harm! I know all about these no-harm sins! If you don’t stop this
card playin’, all of you all goin’ to die and go to Hell.
(Shakes warning finger—exits through
portieres—while she is talking the
men have been hiding cards out of
their hands and pulling aces out of
sleeves and vest pockets and
shoes—it is done quickly, one does
not see the other do it)

NUNKIE
(Shoving a chip forward)
A dollar!

SACK DADDY
Raise you two!

BLACK BABY I don’t like to strain with nobody but it’s goin’ to cost you five. Come on, you shag-nags! This hand I got is enough to pull a country man into town. *[Handwritten: Last sentence crossed through in pencil.]

TOO-SWEET You all act like you’re spuddin’! Bet some money! Put your money where your mouth is *[Handwritten: els my fist where yo mouf is.]

TUSH HAWG Twenty-five dollars to keep my company! Dog-gone, I’m spreadin’ my knots!

SACK DADDY
And I bet you a fat man I’ll take your money—I call you.
(Turns up his cards—he has four aces
and king)

TUSH HAWG (showing his cards) Youse a liar! I ain’t dealt you no aces. Don’t try to carry the Pam-Pam to me ’cause I’ll gently chain-gang for you!

SACK DADDY Oh yeah! I ain’t goin’ to fit no jail for you and nobody else. I’m to get me a green club and season it over your head. Then I’ll give my case to Miss Bush and let Mother Green stand my bond! I got deal them aces!

NUNKIE
That’s a lie! Both of you is lyin’! Lyin’ like the cross-ties from New
York to Key West! How can you all hold aces when I got four? Somebody is
goin’ to West hell before midnight!

BECKERWOOD Don’t you woof at Tush Hawg. If you do I’m goin’ to bust hell wide open with a man!

BLACK BABY
(Pulls out razor—Bus.)
My chop-axe tells me I got the only clean aces they is on this table!
Before I’ll leave you all rob me outa my money, I’m goin’ to die it off!

TOO-SWEET
I promised the devil one man and I’m goin’ to give him five!
(Draws gun)

TUSH HAWG
Don’t draw your bosom on me! God sent me a pistol and I’m goin’ to send
him a man!
(FIRES. Bus. for all)

AUNT DILSEY
(Enters after shooting bus. Stands.
Bus. drops to chair)
They wouldn’t lissen—
(Looks men over—Bus.)
It sure is goin’ to be a whole lot tougher in hell now!

CURTAIN

 

Harold Bloom on “The School of Resentment”

Harold Bloom on his agon with “The School of Resentment.” From his 1991 interview with The Paris Review.

INTERVIEWER

How do you account historically for the school of resentment?

BLOOM

In the universities, the most surprising and reprehensible development came some twenty years ago, around 1968, and has had a very long-range effect, one that is still percolating. Suddenly all sorts of people, faculty members at the universities, graduate and undergraduate students, began to blame the universities not just for their own palpable ills and malfeasances, but for all the ills of history and society. They were blamed, and to some extent still are, by the budding school of resentment and its precursors, as though they were not only representative of these ills but, weirdly enough, as though they had somehow helped cause these ills and, even more weirdly, quite surrealistically, as though they were somehow capable of ameliorating these ills. It’s still going on—this attempt to ascribe both culpability and apocalyptic potential to the universities. It’s really asking the universities to take the place that was once occupied by religion, philosophy, and science. These are our conceptual modes. They have all failed us. The entire history of Western culture, from Alexandrian days until now, shows that when a society’s conceptual modes fail it, then willy-nilly it becomes a literary culture. This is probably neither good nor bad, but just the way things become. And we can’t really ask literature or the representatives of a literary culture, in or out of the university, to save society. Literature is not an instrument of social change or an instrument of social reform. It is more a mode of human sensations and impressions, which do not reduce very well to societal rules or forms.

INTERVIEWER

How does one react to the school of resentment? By declaring oneself an aesthete?

BLOOM

Well, I do that now, of course, in furious reaction to their school and to so much other pernicious nonsense that goes on. I would certainly see myself as an aesthete in the sense advocated by Ruskin, indeed to a considerable degree by Emerson, and certainly by the divine Walter and the sublime Oscar. It is a very engaged kind of mode. Literary criticism in the United States increasingly is split between very low level literary journalism and what I increasingly regard as a disaster, which is literary criticism in the academies, particularly in the younger generations. Increasingly scores and scores of graduate students have read the absurd Lacan but have never read Edmund Spenser; or have read a great deal of Foucault or Derrida but scarcely read Shakespeare or Milton. That’s obviously an absurd defeat for literary study. When I was a young man back in the fifties starting out on what was to be my career, I used to proclaim that my chosen profession seemed to consist of secular clergy or clerisy. I was thinking, of course, of the highly Anglo-Catholic New Criticism under the sponsorship or demigodness of T. S. Eliot. But I realized in latish middle age that, no better or worse, I was surrounded by a pride of displaced social workers, a rabblement of lemmings, all rushing down to the sea carrying their subject down to destruction with them. The school of resentment is an extraordinary sort of mélange of latest-model feminists, Lacanians, that whole semiotic cackle, latest-model pseudo-Marxists, so-called New Historicists, who are neither new nor historicist, and third generation deconstructors, who I believe have no relationship whatever to literary values. It’s really a very paltry kind of a phenomenon. But it is pervasive, and it seems to be waxing rather than waning. It is a very rare thing indeed to encounter one critic, academic or otherwise, not just in the English-speaking world, but also in France or Italy, who has an authentic commitment to aesthetic values, who reads for the pleasure of reading, and who values poetry or story as such, above all else. Reading has become a very curious kind of activity. It has become tendentious in the extreme. A sheer deliquescence has taken place because of this obsession with the methods or supposed method. Criticism starts—it has to start—with a real passion for reading. It can come in adolescence, even in your twenties, but you must fall in love with poems. You must fall in love with what we used to call “imaginative literature.” And when you are in love that way, with or without provocation from good teachers, you will pass on to encounter what used to be called the sublime. And as soon as you do this, you pass into the agonistic mode, even if your own nature is anything but agonistic. In the end, the spirit that makes one a fan of a particular athlete or a particular team is different only in degree, not in kind, from the spirit that teaches one to prefer one poet to another, or one novelist to another. That is to say there is some element of competition at every point in one’s experience as a reader. How could there not be? Perhaps you learn this more fully as you get older, but in the end you choose between books, or you choose between poems, the way you choose between people. You can’t become friends with every acquaintance you make, and I would not think that it is any different with what you read.

INTERVIEWER

Do you foresee any change, or improvement, in the critical fashions?

BLOOM

I don’t believe in myths of decline or myths of progress, even as regards to the literary scene. The world does not get to be a better or a worse place; it just gets more senescent. The world gets older, without getting either better or worse and so does literature. But I do think that the drab current phenomenon that passes for literary studies in the university will finally provide its own corrective. That is to say, sooner or later, students and teachers are going to get terribly bored with all the technocratic social work going on now. There will be a return to aesthetic values and desires, or these people will simply do something else with their time. But I find a great deal of hypocrisy in what they’re doing now. It is tiresome to be encountering myths called “The Social Responsibility of the Critic” or “The Political Responsibility of the Critic.” I would rather walk into a bookstore and find a book called “The Aesthetic Responsibilities of the Statesman,” or “The Literary Responsibilities of the Engineer.” Criticism is not a program for social betterment, not an engine for social change. I don’t see how it possibly could be. If you look for the best instance of a socially radical critic, you find a very good one indeed in William Hazlitt. But you will not find that his social activism on the left in any way conditions his aesthetic judgments, or that he tries to make imaginative literature a machine for revolution. You would not find much difference in aesthetic response between Hazlitt and Dr. Samuel Johnson on Milton, though Dr. Johnson is very much on the right politically, and Hazlitt, of course, very much an enthusiast for the French Revolution and for English radicalism. But I can’t find much in the way of a Hazlittian or Johnsonian temperament in life and literature anywhere on the current scene. There are so many tiresomenesses going on. Everyone is so desperately afraid of being called a racist or a sexist that they connive—whether actively or passively—the almost total breakdown of standards that has taken place both in and out of the universities, where writings by blacks or Hispanics or in many cases simply women are concerned.

INTERVIEWER

This movement has helped focus attention on some great novels, though. You’re an admirer, for example, of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

BLOOM

Oh, but that is a very, very rare exception. What else is there like Invisible Man? Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God has a kind of superior intensity and firm control. It’s a very fine book indeed. It surprised and delighted me when I first read it and it has sustained several rereadings since. But that and Invisible Man are the only full scale works of fiction I have read by American blacks in this century that have survival possibilities at all. Alice Walker is an extremely inadequate writer, and I think that is giving her the best of it. A book like The Color Purple is of no aesthetic interest or value whatsoever, yet it is exalted and taught in the academies. It clearly is a time in which social and cultural guilt has taken over.

INTERVIEWER

I know you find this to be true of feminist criticism.

BLOOM

I’m very fond of feminist critics, some of whom are my close friends, but it is widely known I’m not terribly fond of feminist criticism. The true test is to find work, whether in the past or present, by women writers that we had undervalued, and thus bring it to our attention and teach us to study it more closely or more usefully. By that test they have failed, because they have added not one to the canon. The women writers who mattered—Jane Austen, George Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, and others who have always mattered on aesthetic grounds—still matter. I do not appreciate Elizabeth Bishop or May Swenson any more or less than I would have appreciated them if we had no feminist literary criticism at all. And I stare at what is presented to me as feminist literary criticism and I shake my head. I regard it at best as being well-intentioned. I do not regard it as being literary criticism.

INTERVIEWER

Can it be valued as a form of social or political literary criticism?

BLOOM

I’m not concerned with political or social criticism. If people wish to practice it, that is entirely their business. It is not mine, heavens! If it does not help me to read a work of aesthetic value then I’m not going to be interested in it at all. I do not for a moment yield to the notion that any social, racial, ethnic, or “male” interest could determine my aesthetic choices. I have a lifetime of experience, learning, and insight that tells me this.

 

Zora Neale Hurston’s Love Spells

Conjure up some last-minute romance. In the appendix to her collection of Florida folktales, Mules and Men, author Zora Neale Hurston offers up a host of Hoodoo, including the following love spells:

TO MAKE A MAN COME HOME

Take nine deep red or pink candles. Write his name three times on each candle. Wash the candles with Van-Van. Put the name three times on paper and place under the candles, and call the name of the party three times as the candle is placed at the hours of seven, nine or eleven.

TO MAKE PEOPLE LOVE YOU

Take nine lumps of starch, nine of sugar, nine teaspoons of steel dust. Wet it all with Jockey Club cologne. Take nine pieces of ribbon, blue, red or yellow. Take a dessertspoonful and put it on a piece of ribbon and tie it in a bag. As each fold is gathered together call his name. As you wrap it with yellow thread call his name till you finish. Make nine bags and place them under a rug, behind an armoire, under a step or over a door. They will love you and give you everything they can get. Distance makes no difference. Your mind is talking to his mind and nothing beats that.

TO BREAK UP A LOVE AFFAIR

Take nine needles, break each needle in three pieces. Write each person’s name three times on paper. Write one name backwards and one forwards and lay the broken needles on the paper. Take five black candles, four red and three green.

Tie a string across the door from it, suspend a large candle upside down, It will hang low on the door; bum one each day for one hour. If you burn your first in the daytime, keep on in the day; if at night, continue at night. A tin plate with paper and needles in it must be placed to catch wax in.

When the ninth day is finished, go out into the street and get some white or black dog dung. A dog only drops his dung in the street when he is running and barking, and whoever you curse will run and bark likewise. Put it in a bag with the paper and carry it to running water, and one of the parties will leave town.

 

“The Gilded Six-Bits” — Zora Neale Hurston

“The Gilded Six-Bits” by Zora Neale Hurston

It was a Negro yard around a Negro house in a Negro settlement that looked to the payroll of the G. and G. Fertilizer works for its support.
But there was something happy about the place. The front yard was parted in the middle by a sidewalk from gate to doorstep, a sidewalk edged on either side by quart bottles driven neck down into the ground on a slant. A mess of homey flowers planted without a plan but blooming cheerily from their helter-skelter places. The fence and house were whitewashed. The porch and steps scrubbed white.
The front door stood open to the sunshine so that the floor of the front room could finish drying after its weekly scouring. It was Saturday. Everything clean from the front gate to the privy house. Yard raked so that the strokes of the rake would make a pattern. Fresh newspaper cut in fancy edge on the kitchen shelves.
Missie May was bathing herself in the galvanized washtub in the bedroom. Her dark-brown skin glistened under the soapsuds that skittered down from her washrag. Her stiff young breasts thrust forward aggressively, like broad-based cones with the tips lacquered in black.
She heard men’s voices in the distance and glanced at the dollar clock on the dresser.
“Humph! Ah’m way behind time t’day! Joe gointer be heah ‘fore Ah git mah clothes on if Ah don’t make haste.”
She grabbed the clean mealsack at hand and dried herself hurriedly and began to dress. But before she could tie her slippers, there came the ring of singing metal on wood. Nine times.
Missie May grinned with delight. She had not seen the big tall man come stealing in the gate and creep up the walk grinning happily at the joyful mischief he was about to commit. But she knew that it was her husband throwing silver dollars in the door for her to pick up and pile beside her plate at dinner. It was this way every Saturday afternoon. The nine dollars hurled into the open door, he scurried to a hiding place behind the Cape jasmine bush and waited.  Continue reading ““The Gilded Six-Bits” — Zora Neale Hurston”