Harold Bloom

I am hopelessly obsessed with Harold Bloom, the literary critic. I’m equally amazed at his brilliance and irritated at his arrogance.

He despises the writing of J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and numerous other widely-read, mainstream authors.

He extols the writing of classic authors such as Proust, Faulkner, Joyce, and Shakespeare.

I admire Bloom’s unique perspective on literature and the long list of books that he has included in the Western Canon, but at the same time, I don’t quite see why he considers authors like Rowling and King to be inferior.

I suppose it’s because they just can’t write as well as Shakespeare. Nobody these days really can. It’s no lie that the art of reading for pleasure is dying out. Most everyone I know would rather turn on a television set or boot up their computer than sit down and immerse themselves in a book.

When people do read, it’s for pure pleasure. Books like what Rowling and King write are written for the enjoyment of readers, plain and simple. There’s no heavy intellectual message in those books (or books like them). There’s no scenes that are heavily thought-provoking. Those books are pure entertainment.

I get the feeling that what Bloom wants is for the reader to get a truth out of the work. The works of classic authors should be read multiple times for pleasure, knowledge about the human condition, and as a source of truth.

I don’t agree with Bloom’s opinion that authors like Rowling and King (who have sold millions of copies) “can’t write”. They write brilliantly, but for a different audience and for a different purpose.

Heavy works like War and Peace or The Sound and the Fury or In Search of Lost Time aren’t for everyone.

The Harry Potter series, the Twilight series, and many of King’s novels aren’t for everyone either. To each his own.

I believe that as long as there are good universities and good professors like Bloom who are willing to teach students how to read and appreciate the classics, that there will always be an audience for them.

Some say that the American university system isn’t reaching the high standards it could be aiming for. That’s a topic for another blog.

Have you ever read any of Harold Bloom’s books? What do you think of his opinions?

4 thoughts on “Harold Bloom

  1. I share your obsession! In his book Figures of Capable Imagination he made an observation on Emerson that, to me, seems better to describe the various reactions to Bloom himself:

    Emerson is appalling and pecular–at first. The he is–simply–ourselves, perhaps for worse. But–a certain way into him–he is what Matthew Arnold asserted him to be–the friend and aider of anyone whatsoever who would live in the spirit.

    A lovely homage to Emerson and I think a fitting tribute to Bloom too. He is very controversial and I’ve had a lot of qualms with him myself but I’ve been reading him for over ten years now and I think he truly is much wiser than the scorners would assume.

    As far as my favorite Bloom book, hmm… hard to say, for personal reasons I might say–Agon (and then his books on religion) but Agon because it introduced me to another obsession, my own favorite novel A Voyage to Arcturus. What I am perhaps most thankful for is all the wonderful authors I may never have discovered without him.

    Favorite Bloom Recommendations,
    Thomas Mann–The Magic Mountain
    The Romantic Poets, but especially Shelley!
    Poets like Aaron Fagan and John Kinsella and Anne Carson
    One of my absolute favorite writers–John Crowley
    And so many others–

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    1. I hadn’t read that particular book, but that description of Emerson does sound like Bloom…

      I think my favorite of his books was probably How to Read and Why. Bloom critiques lots of good authors there – it’s just that I have to get around to taking the time to read some of the books as they deserve to be read!

      Thanks for your comments!

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  2. Google alert for Harold Bloom 🙂 I’m curious why you suggested those two as opposed to The Anxiety of Influence and a Map of Misreading? If you’re reading Visionary Company you need to read Poetry and Repression alongside it. The book is important not only for his theory of influence but also for his view of the Romantics since it amends many of his earlier positions (especially on Blake).

    Angus Fletcher finds Blooms theory of “poetic crossings” to be his most important contribution to criticism. Fletcher uses Bloom’s idea of crossings in several books and there is an interesting book that connects Rock and Roll to Romanticism called the Cowboy and the Dandy by Perry Meisel that also uses this theory of crossings.

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