8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Roots of American Disorder
The university is supposed to be the place where excited young minds come to be initiated into the mysteries of the cosmos. And it wasn't long ago that such adventures were both available and pursued. Liberal education encouraged students to ask for themselves the question "what is man?" and to wrestle with alternative answers. The university provided a haven where the...
Published on Sept. 23 2008 by Randy A. Stadt
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Allan Bloom, Confessor and Writer
In the late 1970's when diversified conglomerates were all the rage, a particularly high flying and short-lived one acquired a publisher of children's books, and, seeking to maximize its revenues, rushed a children's encyclopedia to press. Since time to market was an overriding concern, some of the smaller niceties one expects from a reference work were neglected,...
Published on June 15 2000 by Oscar Crease
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Roots of American Disorder,
This review is from: The Closing of the American Mind (Paperback)The university is supposed to be the place where excited young minds come to be initiated into the mysteries of the cosmos. And it wasn't long ago that such adventures were both available and pursued. Liberal education encouraged students to ask for themselves the question "what is man?" and to wrestle with alternative answers. The university provided a haven where the easy and preferred answers of the culture could be safely set aside, at least for a time, while the great minds of history past were consulted, argued with, and learned from.
But in Bloom's thirty years as a university professor he has witnessed a change, both in the mood and expectation of the students, and in the university's sense of identity, which has fragmented into a smorgasbord of unrelated pursuits. Confusion over the nature of knowledge confounds both. The spirit of the age, relativism, the truth that there is no objective truth, has settled like a smog over the campuses. Students no longer expect to find truth and meaning "out there", but only within. So the appeal of liberal arts to students is vastly diminished if it is denied that these studies can point to any reality beyond themselves.
Bloom notes that "the university now offers no distinctive visage to the young person. There is no vision...of what an educated human being is. The student gets no intimation that great mysteries might be revealed to him, that new and higher motives of action might be discovered within him, that a different and more human way of life can be harmoniously constructed by what he is going to learn." The "undecided student is an embarrassment to most universities, because he seems to be saying, 'I am a whole human being. Help me to form myself in my wholeness and let me develop my real potential,' and he is the one to whom they have nothing to say" (p.339).
America was founded on the Enlightenment tradition of men like Locke where reason was central; equality and human rights were rationally derived, universal principles, and democracy could flourish. A competing political philosophy with its origins in Rousseau but more radically developed by Nietzsche is where Bloom sees the beginning of today's predicament. It was with Nietzsche that American intellectuals in the forties became enamoured. Nietzsche denied, however, the rationally accessible human rights and equality that was central to American ideals. Rather it was in localized "culture" that man finds his wholeness and identity. In fact this meant that there was no such thing as "man" in the singular; there are as many kinds of "man" as there are cultures. The objective tool of reason is replaced by the subjective one of "commitment" and acts of the will.
American intellectuals did not seem to see the darker side of Nietzsche. He himself recognized that his cultural relativism meant "war and great cruelty rather than great compassion" (p.202). "Whether this value relativism is harmonious with democracy was a question that was dealt with by never being raised" (p.152). In fact, there can't be a respect for both human rights and culture "because a culture itself generates its own way of life and principles...with no authority above it" (p.192). Bloom warns that we need to "credit the possibility that the overpowering visions of German philosophers are preparing the tyranny of the future" (p.240).
Since the sixties, the vocabulary of Nietzschean ideas has been adopted at a superficial level by Americans such that they are no more than slogans (eg. words like "values" and "creativity"). Students do not and are not required to think them through. It's not even the embrace of relativism that Bloom finds to be the biggest problem, but the unthinking dogmatism with which it is held. This results, then, in the closing of the American mind when young people believe that there are no thoughts worth considering that they do not already know, no visions of the human experience worth exploring that they do not already possess.
The denial of any universals means that there is only the particular. If there is no such thing as "man" but only the "self" then what does Aristotle have to say to me? If reason is less important than feeling why should I care about what Plato says about justice? No wonder today's students are more concerned with self-fulfillment than with becoming wise.
So how are students to get excited again by the mysteries and possibilities of human experience? Bloom sees as the best solution the old Great Books approach, where the classics are read as the authors intended them to be read. This is no small difference from the typical approach in the humanities, where the classics are now kept. There they are treated as mummified museum pieces and read through the lens of modern presuppositions and political correctness. It is as if a great sign hangs over the door to the humanities that says "There is no truth, at least not here."
For example, it is claimed that Aristotle's "Ethics" teaches us not what a good man is but what the Greeks thought about morality. If it was read as it was intended to be read, students would be challenged to discover new experiences and reassess old ones. However now they are told that Aristotle can just be used to enrich the vision of the world they already have. Bloom is not saying that the claims of the great books are automatically true, but that we ought to wrestle with them in order to see that the picture of the whole may well be larger than the one we currently have.
Though he has argued that free inquiry and democracy itself are threatened when reason is devalued, Bloom is hopeful that liberal education is still possible. "The questions are all there. They only need to be addressed continuously and seriously for liberal learning to exist; for it does not consist so much in answers as in the permanent dialogue" (p.380).
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Book Changed My Life,
This review is from: The Closing of the American Mind (Paperback)Have you ever read something that perfectly illuminates ideas that you have been perceiving on an intuitive level, but couldn't quite put into words? Have you experienced that incredible moment (all too rare) when a powerful thinker opens up your mind to whole new dimensions of thought and understanding? The Closing of the American Mind is one of those books. It's not light reading, but for those with above average reading comprehension and the patience to read slowly, Closing will take you places you've never been before.
I first heard about this book while reading Dionne's _Why Americans Hate Politics_. It was mentioned as a work that was influenced by the famous political philosopher Leo Strauss, who was very influential among the so-called "neoconservatives" (anti-communist liberals who believed in virtue and rebelled against the new-Left in the 1960s). Dionne stressed that this important group of intellectuals, having been liberals themselves, were particularly adept at criticizing the policies of the Left. I found this fascinating, so I decided to read Closing for myself. At the time, I had no idea that it would be a life changing experience.
This book is incredibly interesting. It is a brilliant critique of the American education system, particularly the University. It is even more relevant today than it was in the 1980s. If you take nothing else away from this book than a better understanding of a liberal arts education, it will be worth the price of admission. On the other hand, if you read this book carefully like I did, you will be rewarded with Bloom's brilliant mind, his incisive wit, his astonishing observations, his (sometimes overwhelming) references to the greatest works human history, and finally, an appreciation for the irony of America's great closing, a closing cloaked behind a veneer of openness.
I highly recommend this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Purpose of True Education; Inner Directed Development,
This review is from: The Closing of the American Mind (Paperback)A major impact in my thinking and an awesome introduction to Nietzsche, nihilism and the American education system. Bloom outlines what education was compared to what it is today. How cultures consisted of much more than mere nationalism, but rather, educated thinkers who influenced Western civilization from non-equalitarian societies. Bloom relates thoughts from Alex de Toquville and the problem of equalitarianism, the deterioration of the American educational system and the problem of nihilism. In doing this, Bloom, outlines the teachings of Nietzsche, Max Weber, Marx and other major thinkers that have dealt with such issues.
Weber's charisma, to Marx's rationalism to Nietzsche's culture, self-positing and value creating ability, using Heidegger's term of "authenticity," Bloom delivers a book that is worth every page and chapter. His outline of the 1960's turmoil that aided to both the extension of nihilism and the deterioration of the University is essential reading. The MBA has replaced true educational and cultural reflection that molds, shapes and infuses interior authenticity in individuals that in turn, form our leaders, thinkers and greats of our time period. But where are they today? Certainly a much smaller and obscure group that is both surrounded and smothered by external, outer-direction that fails to produce those great thinkers that have literally changed the course of Western civilization.
Bloom also ventures into morality, music and general social conditions that affect our American civilization and most certainly his students and the University, once a "sacred" place of character development, now a place where the classics have been shelved in the humanities, rejected by the scientific champions, only to find students - the back bone of future thinkers - to obtain more superfluous knowledge determined solely for financial success and material gain; external accomplishments devoid of internal character authenticity and inner-directed value positing.
Bloom's book should be read by every educator. The University that seriously values the original intent of such educational institutions since their inception have lost sight of direction.
Those that blow this book off as conservative verses liberal miss the entire theme of Bloom's complaint and value of the great minds that form our entire society and civilization.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the Best Treatise on Education of the Last 50 Years,
This review is from: The Closing of the American Mind (Paperback)I read The Closing of the American Mind during a summer semester at Reed College during the mid-1980s. Put simply, it is an authoritative and devastating attack on higher education. This work will likely stand the test of time, and stand as one of the best critiques of higher education of the last 50 years.
At Reed, this work was often criticized brilliantly by the iconoclastic student body. At the same time, it seemed like just about everyone read it. It is indeed thought provoking and timeless. Bloom's contribution is tremendous, and simply can't be overlooked.
In an age of increased specialization and fragmentation, Bloom weaved and crafted a brilliantly provocative treatise, and should be read by all parents before their children apply to college. It is as important as any critique of American society. I actually it rank along with De Tocqueville's Democracy in America and have it sitting close by on the shelf for reference when I feel compelled to read it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great critique, fabulous,
This review is from: The Closing of the American Mind (Paperback)Blooms book is tough reading, challenging. THis book expects you, the student, to delve back into the classical times and into philosophy for understand. So far different from the light conservative reading of O'Reilly and so far different from the un-balanced unsubstantiated works of Michael Moore or Chomsky, this book requires you to think. Bloom explores many subjects facing the American college student and the developing of the American conscious. He points out the current trend(all too relevant today even though the book was written in the 80s) towards moral relativism. He notes how we as Americans ahve become so afraid of value judgements. He speaks about the inculcation of college students with all embrasing words like 'culture'. He also comments on the non-integraton of black students on college campus's despite the massive outreach efforts.
He notes the current distrust of classic texts and the current trend towards Satre and Marx on campus while noting the decline of emphasis on western thought and western civilization. This book is a great read, highly educational and of great value for todays student or young professional in understanding the lingo of the left. For a non-fiction biography of Bloom read Ravelstein by Saul Bellow.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the most important book ever written in English,
This review is from: The Closing of the American Mind (Paperback)A revealing, penetrating, inspiring text on the state of education and the modern American mind. It was Bloom's life work - his profession at the University Of Chicago - to compare human eras and their standards. Through his research no one has so completely uncovered the ills of our time, or affirmed what is positive. His courage to face modern dogma made Bloom hated by those adhering to new orthodoxies and open to their character assassinations, but Bloom wrote anyway.
Contrary to relativism of the new movements and their extinguishing of deep education - which in the end is a search for the right answers - Bloom claims there are indeed answers to questions concerning the human condition (thus the inspiration), and that "not obvious" does not mean "unavailable". "The liberally educated person," he writes, "is one who is able to resist the easy and preferred answers, not because he is obstinate but because he knows others worthy of consideration."
Today's social relativism is considered "not a theoretical insight" but a "moral postulate of a free society", and hence the current totalitarianism we experience from the Fundamentalist Left as one dare not oppose such rule. (The Left is no different from the intolerant Right, excepting that the Left, hypocritically, advertises themselves as tolerant, while the Right never bothered.)
How did America reach its current state of intolerance to ideas without agreement on first principles? Bloom takes us on a lively tour toward an answer, engagingly written. As example, early on in America, religion was demoted from the level of "knowledge" to that of "opinion" in order to defuse dangerous elements of its passion we still see today in the Levant, but, importantly, the right to religious belief was not lost. This demotion was possible if society were to shrink its claims to moral certainty, subordinating old ways (but not abandoning them) to Enlightenment's Natural Rights. Today this process of "value shrinkage" is taken to such extreme that the original ideas providing its basis are attacked, claiming each period has its "preferences". None are superior, as that would be, by modern perspectives, discrimination. Today, "subordination" is equivalent to suppression. This radical democracy claims limits on anything to be arbitrary (since truth is now relative), all the while emphasizing how mad the white Eurocentric past was, confirmed by body counts of the most lethal century in the record of our species. "The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right," says Bloom, "rather it is not to think you are right at all." Add to this our fashionable characterization that America's historical progenitors were racist, then subordination to Enlightenment's promise is easily jettisoned in favor of embracing any or all ideologies (except those we came from), abandoning fundamental agreement on first principles that form a social contract to begin with.
In this example we see how a kind of generalization of issues allows for the indictment of anything associated with them in order to pervert the old for a new political order, i.e. dethroning Enlightenment for political correctness and postmodernism. In short, we see a stock theme of a civilization's initial spirit and values becoming their opposite. Though Bloom never comes out to say so, one may wonder if this is a marker of a civilization's fall forewarned by Spengler.
Bloom clarifies that "passion" and "commitment" have become the new political validations replacing reason and critical thinking. What the Founders worked so hard to balance (faction) due to its inherent opposition to the common good, is now promoted as a central role of government with its fondness for "groups". With "common good" abandoned, factions are no longer problematic. What the Founders never imagined has set in - not a tyranny of the majority they strived to counterbalance, but a tyranny of passionate, committed minority.
Concerning multiculturalism in education Bloom notes that Greeks searched out other cultures too (as we still should), but for wholly different reasons - to learn what they had to teach about the human condition, not to nullify their own society as we now do. Moderns maintain America's Constitution is the white man's corrupt document designed to suppress, and that Western ways are a bias to be cleansed by exposure to other cultures through multicultural studies. But this is not to learn what they have to teach so much as it is a political maneuver to dismantle the West, its values, standards and science. Intellectual openness used to invite a quest for knowledge and certitude, while the opposite is now true. Open-mindedness means closing ones mind to our very roots. As though to deny them will settle a score with our history for having done so much evil, while conveniently dismissing the good.
While Fundamentalists assumed that removing reason from the mind would remove bias and prejudice, all they have done is vanquished our best tool for correction. Such is the state of the American mind. Though American education is in crisis, Bloom has given us the gift of knowing there is hope on our own.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The issue is relativism,
This review is from: The Closing of the American Mind (Paperback)Alan Bloom begins his controversial book with this statement, "There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative... [This] is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate... The students, of course, cannot defend their opinion... [but] to their way of thinking there should be no tolerance for the intolerant."
When I read that statement as a student, I was offended. Later (as I got on in years) I realized what he was trying to tell me. As a young and idealistic undergraduate I believed that one must stand up for what is right, be committed, get involved, and act against evil.
I also believed that truth and evil are relative.
I was being inconsistent and didn't notice it. That, of course, is Bloom's point too and he concludes from it that students are in error in their relativism and calls for an education focusing on Western values that will teach them better.
I think I was wrong but I would call for an education that would teach students about valid and invalid judgments. Let's face it: many of the students in our universities are NOT Western and, although it would be good for them (and for us) to learn about Western culture, that is not the only culture out there. We should all, however, learn about valid and invalid judgments; and we should all learn that it's okay to judge.
A valid judgment requires that I separate my own personal preferences from what I judge to be unversal standards. That's not an easy thing to do. But it means that I must separate my revulsion from certain foods and customs (say lip piercing) from a woman throwing herself on her husband's funeral pyre. The first is my cultural habituation; the second a universal value.
Yet when I make those judgments I must do so humbly knowing that they are made by MY standards for I don't really know any others. And for that reason, it would be good for me to learn what those standards are. It would be good for me to learn Western values.
And those, I'm afraid, are rarely taught these days.
So I agree with Bloom's starting point but the conclusion he draws from it is perhaps not the only one possible.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read,
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This review is from: Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students (Paperback)A well written and fantastically thought provoking book that's bound to have an instant effect on all who read it. Each sentence is more intriguing than the last, and by the end of it all you'll be seriously re-examing all of you values and belief systems. While that may sound daunting, it's a thought experiment that's fully worth the time and effort and which will ultimately make a better person out of the reader.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Allan Bloom, Confessor and Writer,
This review is from: The Closing of the American Mind (Paperback)In the late 1970's when diversified conglomerates were all the rage, a particularly high flying and short-lived one acquired a publisher of children's books, and, seeking to maximize its revenues, rushed a children's encyclopedia to press. Since time to market was an overriding concern, some of the smaller niceties one expects from a reference work were neglected, most notably accuracy and coherence. The entry for "Gordian Knot", to pick an example at random, stated the knot took its name from Charles George Gordon, who tied it during the siege of Khartoum in 1885. But the company soon collapsed, and few copies were actually sold.
How then to explain the success of Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind? Whether it is praised or damned, the depth of Bloom's scholarship is always a given. Yet The Closing of the American Mind contains more than a few howlers that should be obvious to anyone with even a passing familiarity with the authors and works Bloom cites.
The first part of the book, entitled 'Students' is an absurdly superficial piece of cultural criticism cum sociology whose purpose seems to be to lull reactionary philistines into believing that the author is a good egg, one of them, who wrings his hands at moral relativism, dislikes rock music, and mourns the passing of amour propre. In fact, he is anything, but that, and he shows his true stripes in the second part of the book. But at the beginning, he is stultifying, traditional, and commits no egregious sins--until he tries to actually engage one of the great texts he so promotes, in this case, Flaubert's Madame Bovary. Here is Professor Bloom's gloss on Emma Bovary at the ball given by the Marquis d'Andervilliers, where Emma is enthralled by the superannuated Duc de Laverdiere, whose bloodshot eyes and poor motor control ("...letting drops of gravy trickle from his mouth") suggest a stroke:
Others see only a repulsive old man, but Emma sees the ancien regime. Her vision is truer, for there once really was an ancien regime, and in it there were great lovers. The constricted present cannot teach it to us without the longing that makes us dissatisfied with the present. (p. 135, hardcover edition)
Emma Bovary, an untimely woman, longing for the ancien regime to which she truly belongs? Perhaps a corrective opinion from an untimely man with impeccable credentials as such is in order. The objects of his ire are Wagner's heroines, but Emma does appear, and in a quite different light:
"But the _content_ of the Wagnerian texts! their mythic content! their eternal content!"--Question: how can we test this content, this eternal content?--The chemist replies: translate Wagner into reality, into the modern--let us be even crueler--into the bourgeois! What becomes of Wagner then?--Among ourselves, I have tried it. Nothing is more entertaining, nothing to be recommended more highly for walks, than retelling Wagner in _more youthful_ proportions...What surprises one encounters in the process! Would you believe it? All of Wagner's heroines, without exception, as soon as they are stripped of their heroic skin, become almost indistinguishable from Madame Bovary!...All of them entirely modern, entirely _metropolitan_ problems. Don't doubt it. (Nietzsche, The Case of Wagner, sec. 9, Kaufmann translation)
Don't doubt it, indeed: Bloom would have us think he is profound but he is not even superficial--merely wrong, and not only about Flaubert, but almost everything in this silly, overrated book . All of philosophy from Plato to the present day turns to Heidegger at his touch and a superficial version of Heidegger at that. The value relativism which plagues our society--but which, as Bloom confesses in the second part, is at the bottom of all philosophy (all philosophy being his Cliff-notes version of Heidegger)--is only the product of Nietzsche's and Max Weber's (Heidegger's) influence, against which the only cure is Plato (Heidegger by other means).
It is in the second part and third parts of the book, the former lugubriously titled "Nihilism, American Style," the latter, portentously, "The University" that these and other absurd theses are put forth. For The Closing of the American Mind isn't a polemic against academic fads or moral lassitude; it is the confession of its author's inability to think with the works and authors he praises, an autobiography of a man looking into the abyss, and, finding it so much like the self he thinks so highly of, falling in love with nothing. For Bloom, unlike Nietzsche, delights in the void, and is ever anxious to find nothing where anyone else might find accident at least:
The one writer who does to appeal at all to Americans...is Louis-Ferdinand Celine...Robinson, the hero he admires in _Journey to the End of the Night is an utterly selfish liar, cheat, murderer for pay. Why does Ferdinand admire him? Partly for his honesty, but mostly because he allows himself to be shot and killed by his girlfriend rather than tell her he loves her. He believes in something... (p. 239, hardcover edition)
How many errors can be packed into such a brief passage? Celine certainly appealed to Americans, unless the Beats and Jim Morrison weren't American; admiration is certainly the wrong word for Ferdinand Bardamu's feelings towards Robinson, even if Bardamu does keep watch as Robinson dies; Robinson is a murderer, but not for pay, and one of Journey to the End of the Nights more sinister pleasures is the reader's delight in Madame Henrouille's death; and Robinson's fatal shooting at his lover's hands is not a deliberate embrace of fate, but instead what another novelist of a similar, special breed embraced as "the unswerving punctuality of chance."
But more interesting is what can be known of the man from the errors he makes, and Bloom is nothing if not consistent in his errors. At the close of the play Inherit the Wind, E.J. Hornbeck upbraids Henry Drummond as "the atheist who believes in God"; what is Bloom but a philosopher who values belief over reason, and who values belief because reason only shows us the abyss?
(Prophets, kinds, and poets) are clearly benefactors of mankind at large...Philosophy does no such good. All to the contrary, it is austere and somewhat sad because it takes away many of men's fondest hopes. It certainly does nothing to console men in their sorrows and their unending vulnerability. Instead, it points to their unprotectedness and nature's indifference to their individual fates (p. 273)
and again, less than five pages away:
Very few men are capable of coming to terms with their own extinction. It is not so such stupidity that closes men to philosophy but love of their own, particularly love of their own lives, but also love of their own children, and their own cities. It is the hardest task of all to face the lack of cosmic support for what we care about. (p. 277)
So for Bloom, philosophy is a charnel house, and the bleached bones of those who willed themselves to believe in the face of the abyss are beautiful relics: Socrates, because he believed in law; Emma Bovary, because she believed in love; Celine's Robinson, because he believed in...well, something. After saying this, already I hear Bloom's defenders rising up and crying, "But he was a man of real conviction!" and their shouts are almost loud enough to drown out, a softer, more reasonable, yet charmingly malicious whisper: "Convictions are more dangerous enemies of the truth than lies." And those with ears to still hear Nietzsche's enchanting but deadly aphorism against the convinced know that reason has music of its own, and the death of metaphysics--what Bloom calls "lack of cosmic support"--does not entail a collapse of all experience and thought into being-towards-death. As Nietzsche knew, what followed from the end of metaphysics and religion was an emphasis on life and becoming, not their opposites.
At least the publishers of the children's encyclopedia had greed and carelessness to explain their errors. What could Bloom's be? He decries his student's value relativism, but on his account, since philosophy shows there is no metaphysical foundation for values, relativism is the logical consequence. He inveighs against commitment for its own sake in his attacks on the student radicals of the sixties, but whenever he finds it in an approved part of the Western canon, he can't praise it highly enough. He mocks the au courant French thinkers, but pens an encomium to Alexandre Kojeve, the charlatan at whose feet both Bloom and those he ridicules studied. Could it be that, in his inability to write a work of real scholarship, his lack of notoriety among youngsters who crave the same nonsense he serves up but only when it's stamped "PAR AVION", and his reduction
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent,stimulating critique of American (non) thought,
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This review is from: The Closing of the American Mind (Paperback)Although a few years old, Bloom's _Closing of the American Mind_ is still a tour de force in assessing the state of American thought. Bloom contends that our society suffers from a neurotic open-ness to almost any opinion except the opinion that some positions have (innately) more merit than others. We are intolerant of the concepts of good and value in our thought life and in our spiritual world. Bloom recommends a rerurn (or progression, possibly) to a worldview that is at once more rigorous and ultimately more "open minded" in the truest sense
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The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom (Paperback - May 15 1988)
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