I once called Harold Bloom “an American Nietzschean ventriloquist speaking through the dummy of William Blake’s corpse, a rhetorician almost as eloquent and just as evil as Milton’s Satan.” I hold a profound ambivalence for him, as do many other literary critics. He wrote a couple of good books early in his career (Anxiety of Influence and Blake’s Apocalypse hold up well, in my opinion). A writer of beautiful prose who can wax eloquently on (almost) the whole of western literature.
But since the ’90s at least, he’s lost something. Most of his own books have rehashed the same few theories in one form or another (Ruin the Sacred Truths = Anxiety of Influence + religion). Two points he never tires of repeating: creativity comes from a Freudian struggle against one’s influences, and human subjectivity was invented by Shakespeare. His other books simply listed his favorite authors (The Western Canon, Genius, etc.). He’s also lent his name as editor to a whole series of commentaries on famous authors.
But with The Daemon Knows, his latest and another simple list of favorites, he has stepped across the line dividing eccentricity from madness. In a recent promotional piece for Vanity Fair, here is what he has to say about T. S. Eliot:
Eliot was the prophet who had proclaimed the onetime existence of a great blob of Classical and Christian butter that started to melt in the later 17th century, slid down Enlightenment and Romantic slopes, and at last superbly congealed in The Waste Land.