July 11, 2013
For HAROLD BLOOM (born 1930), reading is the most exalted of acts. It’s not merely that the Yale-based literary critic has read everything. Reading also resides at the heart of his peculiar and potent studies of poetic influence. On this day in 1967, his 37th birthday, a nightmarish angelic visitation inspired Bloom to compose “The Covering Cherub; or, Poetic Influence,” a “dithyramb” that became (bloomed into) The Anxiety of Influence. A great poet is a “strong reader” who swerves from precursors through “misreading.” Bloom elevated intertextuality to a literary theology, complete with its own liturgy (clinamen, kenosis, askesis). Following Blake, he knew he must create a system or be enslaved by his teachers’ New Criticism, his mentor Northrop Frye’s archetypes, or the Deconstruction of his Yale confreres. He has revived the Romantic poets, credited Shakespeare with teaching us humanity, explored the Emersonian American religion of the self, and propounded the theory that a woman in King Solomon’s court authored portions of the Pentateuch. His innumerable idiosyncratic introductions for his eponymous Chelsea House series made him an academic brand. Bloom even wrote a sequel to David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus, a novel he says he read repeatedly “to shreds,” called The Flight to Lucifer, an eccentric fictional primer to Gnosticism and a cautionary tale in the snares of influence. Agons and controversies aside, let us celebrate this inexhaustible reader who embraces literature’s strangeness and sublimity. Consider Bloom’s ardor for “The Broken Tower,” “The Unbeliever,” “Death and the Compass,” Miss Lonelyhearts, Little, Big, and Blood Meridian. Taken from his favorite Wallace Stevens line, the title of Bloom’s memoir-in-progress, The Hum of Thoughts Evaded in the Mind, epitomizes what this critic has always sought. Omnivorous and vociferous, sage and grandiose, original and heretical, he is an incontestable exegete of the ecstatic.
READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).