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Harold Bloom (1930 - )

Related: literary criticism - cultural elitism - American literature - USA

Texts: The Anxiety of Influence (1973) - Harold Bloom

"[Stephen King] is a man who writes what used to be called penny dreadfuls. That they could believe that there is any literary value there or any aesthetic accomplishment or signs of an inventive human intelligence is simply a testimony to their own idiocy." Harold Bloom, 1993.

Harold Bloom considers the true masterpieces of the Western canon to be inaccessible to most readers. Culture, Bloom's substitute for religion, requires a Gnostic rather than Catholic view of the truth. Only those who read, reread, and study the classic works can hope to unlock their secrets. A work easily accessible on first reading is unlikely to be truly great. The best writers know far more than their audiences, who are wrongly tempted to dismiss Finnegans Wake as nonsense. The elitist venture of criticism can proceed without much regard for the preferences of the audience. --In Praise of Commercial Culture (1998) - Tyler Cowen


Harold Bloom (born July 11, 1930) is an American literary critic, known as a defender of the 19th century Romantic poets at a time when their reputations were at a low ebb, the author of a controversial theory of poetic influence, and more recently as the advocate of an aesthetic approach to literature against Marxist, New Historicist, and other ideologically-driven trends in academic literary criticism. He is the Sterling Professor of the Humanities at Yale University. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Bloom [Apr 2005]


Harold Bloom writes in the margin of a draft of Paglia's dissertation "Mere Sontagisme!" Paglia comments later: "It saddened me, but I knew Bloom was right. Sontag, who could have been Jane Harrison's successor as a supreme woman scholar, had become synonymous with a shallow kind of hip posturing." --wikipedia draft

Frankenstein (Shelley) [...]

Frankenstein, loved by many decades of readers and praised by such eminent literary critics as Harold Bloom, [...] --amazon editorial review

Stephen King [...]

THE DECISION to give the National Book Foundation's annual award for "distinguished contribution" to Stephen King is extraordinary, another low in the shocking process of dumbing down our cultural life. I've described King in the past as a writer of penny dreadfuls, but perhaps even that is too kind. He shares nothing with Edgar Allan Poe. What he is is an immensely inadequate writer on a sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, book-by-book basis. The publishing industry has stooped terribly low to bestow on King a lifetime award that has previously gone to the novelists Saul Bellow and Philip Roth and to playwright Arthur Miller. By awarding it to King they recognize nothing but the commercial value of his books, which sell in the millions but do little more for humanity than keep the publishing world afloat. If this is going to be the criterion in the future, then perhaps next year the committee should give its award for distinguished contribution to Danielle Steel, and surely the Nobel Prize for literature should go to J.K. Rowling. --Harold Bloom, Dumbing down American readers, Boston Globe, 9/24/2003

Naomi Wolf

"In the late fall of 1983, professor Harold Bloom did something banal, human, and destructive: He put his hand on a student's inner thigh a student whom he was tasked with teaching and grading. The student was me, a 20-year-old senior at Yale. ...

"Finally, last summer, I could no longer bear my own collusive silence. Yale had reached out to me once again. The Office of Development had assigned an alumna to cultivate me: She sent a flattering letter inviting me to join a group of women to raise money for Yale.

"I wrote my own letter back to Charles Pagnam, vice-president of development. I could not join such an effort because I had been sexually encroached upon at Yale 20 years ago, I explained. ... I asked for a private meeting. I heard nothing. ...

"Is a one-time sexual encroachment by Harold Bloom, two decades ago, a major secret or a minor one? Minor, when it comes to a practical effect on my life; I have obviously survived. ... My career was fine; my soul was not fine. I had an obligation to protect others from which I had run away." - Naomi Wolf, writing on "The Silent Treatment," in the March 1 2003 issue of New York magazine


  1. The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages (1994) - Harold Bloom [Amazon.com]
    Discussed and debated, revered and reviled, Bloom's tome reinvigorates and re-examines Western Literature, arguing against the politicization of reading. His erudite passion will encourage you to hurry and finish his book so you can pick up Shakespeare, Austen and Dickens once again to rediscover their original magic. In addition, his appendix listing of the "future" canon - the books today that will be timeless tomorrow - is sure to be the template for future debate. --Amazon.com

  2. Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds - Harold Bloom [Amazon US]
    With The Western Canon, Yale-based critical eminence Bloom tapped into a strain of the cultural zeitgeist looking for authoritative takes on what to read. Bloom here follows up with 6-10 pages each on 100 "geniuses" of literature (all deceased) pointing to the major works, outlining the major achievements therein, showing us how to recognize them for ourselves. Despite the book's length, Bloom's mostly male geniuses are, as he notes "certainly not `the top one hundred' in anyone's judgement, my own included. I wanted to write about these." Bloom backs up his choices with such effortless and engaging erudition that their idiosyncrasy and casualness become strengths. While organized under the rubric of the 10 Kabalistic Sefirot, "attributes at once of God and of Adam Kadmon or Divine Man, God's Image," Bloom's chosen figures are associated by his own brilliant (and sometimes jabbingly provocative) forms of attention, from a linkage of Dr. Johnson, Goethe and Freud to one of Dickens, Celan and Ellison (with a few others in between them). A pleasant surprise is the plethora of lesser-known Latin American authors, from Luz Vaz de Camoes to Jos Maria Ea de Queiroz and Alejo Carpentier. Many familiar greats are here, too, as is a definition of genius. "This book is not a work of analysis or of close reading, but of surmise and juxtaposition," Bloom writes, and as such readers will find it appropriately enthusiastic and wild. --Reed, via Amazon

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