From the Bard to the Bible: Books by influential literary critic Harold Bloom

Harold Bloom

Harold Bloom

Harold Bloom is one of the world’s preeminent literary critics. Known for his defense of 19th-century Romantic poets, his theories of poetic influence, his aesthetic approach to literature and his opposition to feminist, Marxist and other postmodern forms of literary criticism, Bloom remains a controversial figure within the literary establishment. Today we take a look at some of Bloom’s recent works. 

“There is no God but God, and his name is William Shakespeare.” – Harold Bloom

Some would probably consider Harold Bloom to be ‘old school’. He adheres passionately to the idea that a book must be judged on its own merits  (the aesthetic quality of the prose, the strength of metaphor, the conviction of theme) rather than held under the spotlight of contemporary sociological theories (gender theory, feminism, Marxist analysis, new historicism, poststructuralism etc). For Bloom, modern critics (whom Bloom has memorably called the ‘School of Resentment’) negatively influence contemporary writers, leading to a dumbing-down of literature.

This is clearly at odds with contemporary literary criticism, and his views are not always to everyone’s tastes. However, there is no literary critic that has had a longer lasting influence on the literary establishment than Harold Bloom. His 1973 book The Anxiety of Influence is still considered a seminal work of criticism. The book’s central thesis that poets are hindered in their creative process by the relationship they maintain with precursor poets is still one of the most important critical ideas of the 20th century.

The Anatomy of Influence…

The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life

The Anatomy of Influence

‘Literary criticism, as I attempt to practice it’, writes Harold Bloom in The Anatomy of Influence, his recent follow up published in May this year ‘is in the first place literary, that is to say, personal and passionate’.

The Anatomy of Influence is Bloom’s most comprehensive and accessible study of influence. He leads us through the labyrinthine paths which link the writers and critics who have informed and inspired him for so many years. The result is ‘a critical self-portrait’, a sustained meditation on a life lived with and through the great works of the Western canon: Why has influence been my lifelong obsessive concern? Why have certain writers found me and not others? What is the end of a literary life?

Featuring extended analyses of Bloom’s most cherished poets – Shakespeare, Whitman, and Crane – as well as inspired appreciations of Emerson, Tennyson, Browning, yeats, Ashbery, and others, The Anatomy of Influence adapts The Anxiety of Influence to show us what great literature is, how it comes to be, and why it matters. Each chapter maps startling new literary connections that suddenly seem inevitable once Bloom has shown us how to listen and to read. A fierce and intimate appreciation of the art of literature on a scale that the author will not again attempt, The Anatomy of Influence follows the sublime works it studies, inspiring the reader with a sense of something ever more about to be.

Bloom on the Bible…

The Shadow of a Great Rock

The Shadow of a Great Rock

In September 2011 Yale published The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible. The King James Bible stands at ‘the sublime summit of literature in English’, sharing the honour only with Shakespeare, Harold Bloom contends in the opening pages of this illuminating literary tour. Distilling the insights acquired from a significant portion of his career as a brilliant critic and teacher, he offers readers at last the book he has been writing ‘all my long life’, a magisterial and intimately perceptive reading of The King James Bible as a literary masterpiece.

Bloom calls it an ‘inexplicable wonder’ that a rather undistinguished group of writers could bring forth such a magnificent work of literature, and he credits William Tyndale as their fountainhead. Reading The King James Bible alongside Tyndale’s Bible, The Geneva Bible, and the original Hebrew and Greek texts, Bloom highlights how the translators and editors improved upon – or, in some cases, diminished – the earlier versions. He invites readers to hear the baroque inventiveness in such sublime books as The Songs of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Job, and alerts us to the echoes of The King James Bible in works from the Romantic period to the present day. Throughout, Bloom makes an impassioned and convincing case for reading The King James Bible as literature, free from dogma and with an appreciation of its enduring aesthetic value.

Bloom on Shakespeare…

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night

Bloom has a deep appreciation for Shakespeare and considers him to be the supreme center of the Western Canon. The first edition of The Anxiety of Influence almost completely avoided Shakespeare, whom Bloom considered, at the time, barely touched by the psychological drama of anxiety. The second edition, published in 1997, adds a long preface that mostly expounds on Shakespeare’s agon with his contemporary Christopher Marlowe, who set the stage for him by breaking free of ecclesiastical and moralizing overtones, as well as his other influences, Ovid and Chaucer.

Bloom, who still lectures at Yale University, has been heavily involved in Yale’s Annotated Shakespeare series. Through the series, today’s readers have immediate access to the tools they need to help them better comprehend the plays of Shakespeare and explore their many possible interpretations. Each volume includes a critical essay by Bloom, and comprehensive on-page annotations that assist with vocabulary, pronunciation, prosody, and alternative readings of phrases and lines.

Books by Harold Bloom are available from Yale University Press.

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