Harold Bloom, Then, as Now, Our Uncommon Reader
The May 22 cover of the New York Times Book Review featured a photograph of Harold Bloom; the title of Editor Sam Tanenhaus’s essay: “An Uncommon Reader”, accompanied online by an interview at Bloom’s home in New York. As Tanenhaus writes of the new book, The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life, “[Bloom] still has many arresting things to say and says them, often, with exquisite precision. He is, by any reckoning, one of the most stimulating literary presences of the last half-century.”
At the end of the PEN World Voices Festival earlier this month, Bloom appeared in conversation with Paul Holdengräber, Director of LIVE from the New York Public Library. The discussion centered on the new book and how it responds to Bloom’s 1973 work, The Anxiety of Influence. When colleague John Hollander reviewed Anxiety for the Times, calling it, “more than a little outrageous”, a common reaction to Bloom’s work in the academy at the time, he ultimately conceded that: “In any event, this remarkable book has raised profound questions about where in the mind the creative process is to be located, and about how the prior visions of other poems are, for a true poet, as powerful as his own dreams and as formative as his domestic childhood. From now on, only obtuseness or naiveté, in critic or psychologist, will be able to ignore them.”
The past decades have proved Hollander right, as Bloom moved from Yale’s English Department to found the Humanities Department, an interdisciplinary program of study “designed to contribute to an integrated understanding of the Western cultural tradition”, certainly the relationships and networks of influencing and influenced. Bloom talks with Holdengräber about love, memory, and the power of poetry (and Falstaff 🙂 ). And he talks about the writers who shaped his reading most—Shakespeare, Whitman, Crane—and what the sound and meaning of their verse have brought to understanding the human experience, how we are all influenced by the art of others. With further reading and a lifelong love for literature, Bloom has now written these reflections into The Anatomy of Influence. Here’s a video clip from the event, but you can also download the full audio, take it with you, and listen as you go.