On Harold Bloom Poetry, Psyche, God, Mortality
The abundant ironies and critiques of literary fashion that enrich the unique writing style of Harold Bloom are glossed over by Zachary Leader in a recent Times Literary Supplement
review of a suddenly posthumous book. The occasion is Bloom’s ‘last book’ at age eighty-nine – though Bloom attested to a multitude of last books, starting at seventy-four, with his premonitions of health problems and mortality that were typical for his age. Of these last books, The American Canon
, thoughtfully edited by David Mikics, is probably not the best. Yet it shouldn’t take long before Bloom’s historical competition rises into view; Leopardi, Samuel Johnson and the literary Freud among them.
In his review, Leader glosses over the substantive Bloomian texts which the title of the posthumous book encodes: The American Religion
(1992) and The Western Canon
(1995). Bloom himself, in this last ‘last book’, laments the lack of literary attention to the former, and the scarce consideration of the spiritual dimension to the latter. Both dimensions are first addressed in unison in The Book of J
(1990), though the seeds were planted in Bloom’s early studies of Milton, Blake and Yeats.
Leader writes that Bloom’s ‘appetite for words, coupled with a prodigious memory, lucrative book deals and his own eventual enthronement in the critical canon, made Bloom a central literary figure for the age’. This sounds generous at first, but look more closely: Bloom’s critical acumen, built upon a complex aesthetic of psychological as well as historical perspective, is hardly recognized by an ‘appetite for words’. His ‘lucrative book deals’ were the result of a startling transformation of