This was both distracting and enhancing. Here was a thinker who prayed as I did — not on his knees, but in a reading chair, at the altar of language and the literary imagination. Since the publication of The Anxiety of Influence in , Bloom has been best known as our paladin of literary agon. Although he began as a celebrant of the Romantic tradition before swerving into an explication of poetic anxiety, Bloom has been, since the publication of The Western Canon in , our leading apostle of serious reading and the splendors of literature. This is his prime worth now, at a time when such advocacy is fiercely needed. The inverse of what our cyber lives have zapped us into.
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This was both distracting and enhancing. Here was a thinker who prayed as I did — not on his knees, but in a reading chair, at the altar of language and the literary imagination. Since the publication of The Anxiety of Influence in , Bloom has been best known as our paladin of literary agon. Although he began as a celebrant of the Romantic tradition before swerving into an explication of poetic anxiety, Bloom has been, since the publication of The Western Canon in , our leading apostle of serious reading and the splendors of literature.
This is his prime worth now, at a time when such advocacy is fiercely needed. The inverse of what our cyber lives have zapped us into. Literature mobilizes satire and irony against the autocracy of the quotidian and literal, initiating the arduous task of becoming who we are by supplying a ferocious and farseeing interiority.
Literature cares only about the self-containment of its own wisdom and beauty, its own aesthetic excellence. Baudelaire called literature invitation au voyage, and the voyage is at once from yourself and with yourself. In that way, literature is paradoxical, simultaneously selfish and selfless. Bloom has been in control of his own music since his first book on Percy Shelley, and his suffering these last several years has been significant: the deaths of cherished friends; the manifold illnesses and injuries that required multiple operations and anguished recoveries; the exhaustion of a body that murmurs No as the mind and spirit insist on chanting Yes.
At nearly 90 years of age, Bloom assured me in a recent message that he has no plans to depart this world just yet. The work, as ever, has been his sustaining force. Possessed by Memory: The Inward Light of Criticism, published in April , is his 47th book — and is, in several ways, his most personal. His departed family members and friends are everywhere in these pages; especially touching is his remembrance of his mother and her reliance on the Pentateuch.
There are new considerations of his mainstays: Shakespeare and Dr. Johnson, Milton and Wordsworth, Whitman and Proust, among sublime others. I think of Angus Fletcher, M. Abrams, Kenneth Burke, A. Ammons, John Hollander, John Ashbery: hauntings by them help mold this book into a glimmering threnody.
Did you start out to memorialize your friends in such a way? It started to become a meditation upon mortality. My prime mentors — Frederick A.
With the recent deaths of William Merwin and Richard Wilbur, and of John Ashbery before them, my loneliness increased. I was very close to the poets A. They seem to be in the room with me. They also appear in my dreams. I have never written a poem. My only gift, as I understand it, is to have learned to listen: to students and to ghosts. I could wish the book were less somber than it is. Something occurred to me on my second reading of Possessed by Memory: your essential friendships — those that were deeply reciprocal, that helped fertilize your work as you helped fertilize theirs — have been with poets and critics and not novelists or dramatists.
I know what certain fiction writers mean to you — Cervantes, Kafka, Proust and Possessed by Memory ends with a penetrating assessment of Proust — but the poets Shakespeare, Shelley, Blake, Keats, Whitman, Dickinson, Yeats, Crane, Stevens have clearly meant the most to you. That is most of the story, yes. During the s and s, I spent a great deal of time with Philip Roth.
There were also interchanges with Tony Kushner and the novelist Walter Abish. Hart Crane broke the vessels for me. I then read Shakespeare, Milton, Whitman, the Romantics and Victorians and 20th-century poetry in English with a kind of fury that Crane had put into me. Probably my essential reading experience comes down to the Hebrew Bible, Dante, Shakespeare. I continue to read Yeats, D. Lawrence, Hart Crane, and Stevens almost daily. In their departure from their predecessors, they honed their own aesthetic.
You see these swervings and disruptions in English-language criticism: Coleridge moving away from Dryden and Johnson, Arnold from Coleridge, Eliot and Empson attempting to disrupt and correct Arnold while simultaneously taking from him. Your own critical program began with a focus on the Romantic poets, on making new paths from the likes of M.
Abrams and Northrop Frye. To what extent were you conscious of needing to swerve from or to disrupt your own potent predecessors? I had a bad nightmare on July 11, , following my 37th birthday.
I have written about this elsewhere. I was sadly amused when Northrop Frye told mutual friends that he could not read the book because it was all about him. It is not. Nor is it about my humane mentors M.
Abrams and Frederick A. After years of meditation I have come to believe that the Covering Cherub, a figure out of Ezekiel and Blake, was smothering me with the massive heft of all the poems I had read, loved, remembered.
If I have a potent precursor, it would have to be Dr. Samuel Johnson. I am a good schoolteacher: he is beyond me and beyond disruption. Had I followed family tradition, I would have become a rabbi. Instead, I am a secular rabbi like those celebrated by Wallace Stevens. I teach Shakespeare as scripture. I often try to impart to readers the Eucharistic component to the strongest literature, the necessity of its sacral communing. I see this as the difference between the rare joy of aesthetic mastery in Dante and the mere enjoyment of a contemporary best seller: the difference between gravitas and gratification.
In An Experiment in Criticism, C. Lewis differentiates between strong readers and weak readers. Strong readers experience an important book as a sacral event, their worldviews revamped. Weak readers read an important book and nothing at all happens to them. Near the start of the The Western Canon, you acknowledge that reading for aesthetic pleasure and necessary wisdom has gone the way of the plesiosaur.
Twenty-five years later, as the internet perseveres in the strafing of our souls, I wonder how grim is your outlook. I regret not sharing your admiration for C. After a few amiable encounters in the autumn of at Cambridge University, the distinguished defender of the faith and I fell out while sharing drinks at the Anchor Bar. Gnosticism upset him gravely.
We did not speak again after that. I concluded by relying upon Saint Augustine, who taught us all how to read strongly and how memory, time, and consciousness relate to imaginative literature, though of course the Bible was for him the truth. Partly that is inspired by my students, but also I receive endless emails, straight mails, phone calls, and visits from good readers throughout the world who have been kind enough to want to tell me that I have been their teacher.
There is a saving remnant. Young women and men the world over read and hear the call of wisdom and the urgency of intelligence. I am pretty much a relic, yet I believe the future — if there is one — will depend upon deep readers all over the globe. Without reading Dante, Shakespeare, Montaigne, Cervantes, and their few peers, we cannot learn how to think.
And if we cannot think, then the future belongs to the Trumps of the world — that is to say, to the apocalyptic beasts from the sea. But of course a society made up of such individuals is something to smile on. It is true and perhaps sad that the highest literature teaches us how to speak to ourselves rather than to others. Reading Dante and Shakespeare may improve an individual but will not make him a better citizen.
More than ever I am a dinosaur. But I have to reason outward from my students. Doubtless they are all involved in these technologies. I grant that I choose them from a possible group that is already elite. And yet they are as good as any students I have taught in my 63 years at Yale.
Cultural coverage is so remote from my aesthetic experience that clearly I will go on provoking tired readers. Still, if I have a public function, and I doubt it, it would have to be as a living relic of an age that could give us Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery.
Your age has given us also a clutch of thrilling critical voices who helped establish American literary comment as a worthy art, just as your own work has demonstrated that art and has helped complete the imaginative literature it sets out to evaluate and appreciate. What becomes of a culture that does a lot of feeling about itself but no longer knows how to think about literature? High literature has three prime attributes: cognitive power, originality, aesthetic splendor.
Only by a disciplined harnessing of emotion can any of these three come forth. It cannot touch the interdependence of criticism and literature because it is mindless. Culture is now cut off from fashion. Popular culture has become an oxymoron. Bad taste is not culture. There are still many valuable writers of imaginative works in our society.
It seems to me that they prosper best when they take a stance apart from the immediate moment. Distraction is the enemy. I see no crisis in the reciprocity of literature and criticism because the culture industries are irrelevant to it.
Agon: Towards a Theory of Revisionism
Tucage Some elements of religious criticism were combined with his secular criticism in Where Shall Wisdom Be Foundand a more complete return to religious criticism was marked by the publication of Jesus and Yahweh: Open Yale lectures on the influence of Bloom and Eliot. Views Read Edit View history. Wood, James May 1, Paperbackpages. English translation and critical edition of the Coptic text by Marvin W. I expected Yale to be responsive.
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