Harold Bloom Has Gone Senile

Illustration by Edward Sorel for Vanity Fair

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 CanonGenius, 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.

As for Bloom, he has been churning out the same butter for so long that it’s long past rancid, curdling in the dawn of a new century.

3 thoughts on “Harold Bloom Has Gone Senile

  1. If “[a]s evil as Milton’s Satan” is how you express ambivalence, I shudder for those you despise!

    You have to admit that you can’t help but wonder where he’s going with this metaphor. Do bits of the Enlightenment and Romanticism remain in the recongealed butter, like toast crumbs in the breakfast butter pat? Did it reconceal unevenly into a blob of pale, unappealing Christianity and a residue of oily Classicism on top? Are there sticky streaks in it from when the 19th century carelessly dipped into it with a knife they had already used to spread the jam of Colonialism on their Imperial toast?

  2. If Richard Nixon was born carrying a briefcase, I don’t see why we shouldn’t suppose that Bloom was born senile.

    Your list of classical Chinese resources, btw, Tom, is a resource in itself. You should note, however, that the photograph at the top of your blog shows you cheating. Those zigs and zags on the bridge are supposed to keep exactl you from crossing. Damn that modern education anyway. Well, at least Welsh churches, the round ones, still don’t have any corners for your type to hide in.

    A great pleasure to run across your website!


  3. The Bloom quote is a reference to Northrop Frye’s myth of the Great Western Butterslide.

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