Harold Bloom (born July 11,
1930) is an American writer and literary
critic, currently Sterling
Professor of the Humanities at Yale University.
He is known for his defense of 19th-century
poets, his construction of
unique but controversial theories of poetic influence, and for
advocating an aesthetic approach to literature against feminist
, New Historicist
) literary criticism.
Upbringing and education
Bloom, son of William and Paula Bloom, was born in New York City and lived in the South
Bronx at 1410 Grand Concourse.
He grew up in a
Yiddish-speaking household and learned Yiddish
and literary Hebrew
before learning English.
Bloom has frequently recounted that his attachment to poetry began
when, at the age of ten, he discovered Hart
's book White Buildings
at the Fordham Library
in the Bronx. It was at this
time that he read the Poems and Prophecies
of William Blake
. "I saw the Oxford English Dictionary
there for the first time," he said many years later. "I remember
being so touched by the enormous availability of large and complex
dictionaries and concordance
. I remember ransacking
them." He says that he knew "by age eleven or twelve that all I
really liked to do was read poetry and discuss it." At sixteen he
. The first
he read outside of school
coursework was Macbeth
. For nearly
twenty years he reread Charles
' The Pickwick
University in 1947 on scholarship (as one of 65 people in the
Bronx that year to win a scholarship from the State Department of
At Cornell he found a mentor in M. H. Abrams
, a leading scholar of Romanticism
and the founding and general editor
of The Norton
Anthology of English Literature
. He earned a B.A. in
1952, and spent a year at Pembroke College, Cambridge, in 1953/4. He then went to Yale University, receiving his Ph.D. in 1955 and has worked as a
member of the Yale faculty since that time.
In 1959, he
married Jeanne Gould; they have two sons, Daniel Jacob and David
Bloom credits Northrop Frye
nearest precursor. He told Imre
in 1986: "In terms of my own theorizations... the
precursor proper has to be Northrop Frye. I purchased and read
week or two after it had come out and reached the bookstore in
Ithaca, New York. It ravished my heart away. I have tried to find
an alternative father in Mr. Kenneth
, who is a charming fellow and a very powerful critic, but
I don't come from Burke, I come out of Frye." However, he also
admits an indebtedness, especially in his later period, to earlier
critics such as William Hazlitt
Ralph Waldo Emerson
, Walter Pater
, and Samuel Johnson
, whom he acknowledges as
"unmatched by any critic in any nation before or after him".
Bloom began his career by defending the reputations of the High
Romantic poets of the early nineteenth century against
neo-Christian critics influenced by such writers as T. S. Eliot
, who became a recurring intellectual foil.
He had a contentious approach: his first book, Shelley's
, charged many contemporary critics with sheer
carelessness in their reading of Shelley
After a personal crisis in the late sixties, Bloom became deeply
interested in Emerson, Sigmund Freud
and the ancient mystic traditions of Gnosticism
. He would later come to
describe himself to interviewer D. Leybman in the Paris Review
as a "Jewish gnostic,"
explaining "I am using Gnostic in a very broad way. I am nothing if
not Jewish... I really am a product of Yiddish culture. But I can't
understand a Yahweh
, or a God, who could be
all-powerful and all knowing and would allow the Nazi
death camps and schizophrenia
." Influenced by his reading, he
began a series of books that focused on the way in which poets
struggled to create their own individual poetic visions without
being overcome by the influence of the previous poets who inspired
them to write. The first of these books, Yeats
magisterial examination of the
, challenged the conventional critical view of his poetic
career. In the introduction to this volume, Bloom set out the basic
principles of his new approach to criticism: "Poetic influence, as
I conceive it, is a variety of melancholy or the [Freudian]
anxiety-principle." A new poet becomes inspired to write because he
has read and admired the poetry of previous poets; but this
admiration turns into resentment when the new poet discovers that
these poets whom he idolized have already said everything he wishes
to say. The poet becomes disappointed because he "cannot be Adam
early in the morning. There have been too many Adams, and they have
In order to evade this psychological obstacle, the new poet must
convince himself that previous poets have gone wrong somewhere and
failed in their vision, thus leaving open the possibility that he
may have something to add to the tradition after all. The new
poet's love for his heroes turns into antagonism towards them:
"Initial love for the precursor's poetry is transformed rapidly
enough into revisionary strife, without which individuation is not
possible." The book that followed Yeats
, The Anxiety of Influence
which Bloom had started writing in 1967, drew upon the example of
Walter Jackson Bate
Burden of the Past and The English Poet
and recast Bate's
historicized account of the despair felt by seventeenth- and
eighteenth-century poets about their ability to match the
achievements of their predecessors in systematic psychoanalytic
form. Bloom attempted to trace the psychological process by which a
poet broke free from his precursors to achieve his own poetic
vision. He drew a sharp distinction between "strong poets" who
perform "strong misreadings" of their precursors, and "weak poets"
who simply repeat the ideas of their precursors as though following
a kind of doctrine. He described this process in terms of a
sequence of "revisionary ratios," through which each strong poet
passes in the course of his career. A Map of Misreading
picked up where The Anxiety of Influence
left off, making
several adjustments to Bloom's system of revisionary ratios.
Kabbalah and Criticism
attempted to invoke the esoteric
interpretive system of the Lurianic
, as explicated by scholar Gershom Scholem
, as an alternate system of
mapping the path of poetic influence. Figures of Capable
collected odd pieces Bloom had written in the
process of composing his 'influence' books. He capped off this
period of intense creativity with another monograph, a full-length
study of Wallace Stevens
, with whom
he identified more than any other poet at this stage of his career,
as he told an interviewer in the early 1980s.
Bloom's fascination with the fantasy novel A Voyage to Arcturus
by David Lindsay
led him to take a
brief break from criticism in order to compose a sequel to
Lindsay's novel. This novel, The Flight to Lucifer
Bloom's only work of fiction. Though reviews were very positive, he
soon disowned this book. As he himself admitted, the author's
self-conscious theoretical interest in the nature of fantasy
literature weighed it down too heavily. He has said that he would
remove every copy of the book from every library if he could.
Bloom continued to write about influence theory throughout the
seventies and eighties, and he has written little since that does
not invoke his ideas about influence. Acknowledging that his early
output often tends toward the abstruse, he has turned to more
accessible criticism aimed at a general readership in his later
work, beginning with The Book of
(for which he wrote the introduction and commentary) in
1990. In The Book of J
, he and David Rosenberg (who
translated the Biblical texts) portrayed the ancient documents that
formed the basis of the first five books of the bible (see documentary hypothesis
) as the work
of a great literary artist who had no intention of composing a
religious work. They further
envisaged this anonymous writer as a woman attached to the court of
the successors of the Israelite kings David
—a piece of speculation
which drew much attention. Later, Bloom said (perhaps jokingly)
that the speculations didn't go far enough, and he should have
ironically identified J with the biblical Bathsheba
In The American Religion
, Bloom surveyed the major
varieties of Protestant and post-Protestant religious faiths that
originated in the United States and argued that, in terms of their
psychological hold on their adherents, most shared more in common
than with historical
Christianity. The exception was the Jehovah's Witnesses
, which Bloom regards
as non-Gnostic. He has elsewhere predicted that the Mormon
strains of American
will overtake mainstream Protestant
divisions in popularity in the next
few decades. In Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine
he revisits some of the territory he covered in The Book of
in discussing the significance of Yahweh
and Jesus of
as literary characters, while casting a critical eye
on historical approaches and asserting the fundamental
incompatibility of Christianity
to 2004, Bloom served as Berg Professor of English at New York
University while maintaining his Sterling Professorship at
Yale and continuing to teach there.
In 1994, Bloom published The Western
, a survey of the major literary works of post-Roman
Europe. Besides analyses of the canon's various representative
works, the major concern of the volume is reclaiming literature
from those he refers to as the "School of resentment
", the mostly
academic critics who espouse a social purpose in reading. Bloom
believes that the goals of reading must be solitary aesthetic
pleasure and self-insight rather than
the "forces of resentments'" goal of improvement of one's society,
which he casts as an absurd
"The idea that you benefit the insulted and injured by reading
someone of their own origins rather than reading Shakespeare is one
of the oddest illusions ever promoted by or in our schools." His
position is that politics have no place in literary criticism: a
reading of Hamlet
would tell us
something about feminism and Marxism but probably nothing about
In addition to the amount of influence one writer has had on later
writers, Bloom introduces the concept of "canonical strangeness" as
a benchmark of a literary work's merit. The Western Canon
also included a list—which aroused more widespread interest than
anything else in the volume—of all the Western works from antiquity
to the present that Bloom considered either permanent members of
the canon of literary classics, or (among more recent works)
candidates for that status. Bloom has said that the list was made
off the top of his head at his editor's request, and that he does
not stand by it. The notoriety surrounding The Western
turned Bloom into something of a celebrity.
Work on Shakespeare
Bloom has a deep appreciation for Shakespeare
. The first edition of The
Anxiety of Influence
almost completely avoided Shakespeare,
whom Bloom considered, at the time, barely touched by the
psychological drama of anxiety. The second edition, published in
1997, adds a long preface that mostly expounds on Shakespeare's
agon with his contemporary Christopher Marlowe
, who set the stage
for him by breaking free of ecclesiastical and moralizing
overtones, as well as his other influences, Ovid
In his 1998 survey, Shakespeare: The
Invention of the Human
, Bloom provides an analysis of each
of Shakespeare's thirty-eight plays, "twenty-four of which are
masterpieces." Written as a companion to the general reader and
theatergoer, Bloom declares that bardolatry
"ought to be even more a secular
religion than it already is." He also contends in the work (as in
the title) that Shakespeare "invented" humanity, in that he
prescribed the now-common practice "overhearing" ourselves, which
drives our changes. The two paragons of his theory are Sir John Falstaff
of Henry IV
and Hamlet, whom Bloom sees as
representing, in the first case, our satisfaction with ourselves
and in the second, our dissatisfaction therewith. Throughout
, characters from disparate plays are imagined
alongside and interacting with each other; this has been decried by
numerous contemporary academics and critics as hearkening back to
the out of fashion character criticism of A.C. Bradley and others,
who happen to gather explicit praise in the book. As in The
, Bloom cheerfully attacks what he calls the
"School of Resentment" for its failure to live up to the challenge
of Shakespeare's universality and instead balkanizing
the study of literature through
Shakespeare's singular popularity throughout the world, Bloom
proclaims him as the only multicultural author, and rather than the
"social energies" historicists ascribe Shakespeare's authorship to,
Bloom pronounces his modern academic foes—and indeed, all of
society—to be "a parody of Shakespearian energies."
Bloom's theory of poetic influence regards the development of
as a process
of borrowing and misreading. Writers find their creative
inspiration in previous writers and begin by imitating those
writers; in order to develop a poetic voice of their own, however,
they must make their own work different from that of their
precursors. As a result, Bloom argues, authors of real power must
inevitably 'misread' their precursors' works in order to make room
for fresh imaginings.
Observers often identified Bloom with deconstruction
in the past, but he himself
never admitted to sharing more than a few ideas with the
deconstructionists. He told Robert Moynihan in 1983, "What I think
I have in common with the school of deconstruction is the mode of
negative thinking or negative awareness, in the technical,
philosophical sense of the negative, but which comes to me through
.... There is no
escape, there is simply the given, and there is nothing that we can
Bloom's association with the Western
has provoked a substantial interest in his opinion
concerning the relative importance of contemporary writers. In the
late 1980s, Bloom told an interviewer: "Probably the most powerful
living Western writer is Samuel
. He's certainly the most authentic." Beckett died in
1989, and Bloom has not indicated who he believes occupies that
Concerning British writers: "Geoffrey
is the strongest British poet now active", and "no other
contemporary British novelist seems to me to be of Iris Murdoch
's eminence". Since Murdoch's
death, Bloom has expressed admiration for novelists such as
, Will Self
his 2003 book, Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary
, he named Portuguese writer José Saramago
as "the most gifted
novelist alive in the world today", and as "one of the last titans
of an expiring literary genre". Of American novelists, he declared
in 2003 that "there are four living American novelists I know of
who are still at work and who deserve our praise". He claimed that
"they write the Style of our Age, each has composed canonical
works," and he identified them as Thomas
, Philip Roth
, Cormac McCarthy
and Don DeLillo
. He named their strongest works as,
and Mason &
. He has also
praised fantasy writer John Crowley
these writers' equal—and especially his novel Little, Big
In Kabbalah and Criticism
(1975), Bloom identified
Robert Penn Warren
, James Merrill
, and Elizabeth Bishop
as the most important living American poets. By the 1990s, he
regularly named A.R. Ammons
along with Ashbery and Merrill, and he
has lately come to identify Henri Cole
the crucial American poet of the generation following those three.
He has expressed great admiration for the Canadian poet Anne Carson
, particularly her verse novel
Autobiography of Red
. Bloom also lists Jay Wright
as one of only a handful of
major living poets.
Bloom's introduction to Modern Critical Interpretations: Thomas
(1987) features his canon of the "twentieth-century
American Sublime", the greatest works of American art produced in
the 20th century. Bloom's critical work has often become associated
with that of his protégée at Yale in the 1970s, Camille Paglia
. The playwright Tony Kushner
sees Bloom as an important
influence on his work, and indeed his play Angels in America
is the last work
listed in the appendices of The Western Canon
In the early 21st century, Bloom has often found himself at the
center of literary controversy, leveling attacks at popular writers
such as Adrienne Rich
, Stephen King
, and J. K. Rowling
. In the pages of the Paris
, he criticized the populist-leaning poetry slam
, saying, "It is the death of art."
When Doris Lessing
was awarded the
Nobel Prize in Literature
, he bemoaned the
"pure political correctness
of this award to an author of "fourth-rate science fiction
In her February 2004 essay "The Silent Treatment," Naomi Wolf
accused Bloom, her former professor,
of "sexually encroaching" her when she was a Yale undergraduate, by
touching her on her inner thigh - a secret she claimed to have
harbored for 21 years. Bloom denied the accusations. The claim was
also met with criticism due to its belated timing and her attacks
on Yale University, whose grievance procedures typically provide
responses to such allegations if they are brought forth within two
years of the event's occurrence; something Wolf chose not to do.
Wolf emphasized in "The Silent Treatment," however, that she
"wanted to be sure the grievance process was effective" for future
female students, not to pursue claims against Bloom.
Mythmaking. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959.
- The Visionary Company: A Reading of English Romantic
Poetry. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961. Rev. and enlarged
ed. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971.
- Blake's Apocalypse: A Study in
Poetic Argument. Anchor Books: New York: Doubleday and Co.,
- Yeats. New York:
Oxford University Press, 1970. ISBN 0-19-501603-3
- The Anxiety of
Influence: A Theory of Poetry. New York: Oxford University
Press, 1973; 2d ed., 1997. ISBN 0-19-511221-0
- A Map of Misreading. New York: Oxford University
- Kabbalah and Criticism. New
York : Seabury Press, 1975. ISBN 0-8264-0242-9
- The Ringers in the Tower: Studies in Romantic
Tradition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971.
- Poetry and Repression: Revisionism from Blake to
Stevens. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976.
- Figures of Capable Imagination. New York: Seabury
- Wallace Stevens: The Poems
of our Climate. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press,
- Deconstruction and
Criticism. New York: Seabury Press, 1980.
- The Flight to Lucifer:
Gnostic Fantasy. New York: Vintage Books, 1980. ISBN
- Agon: Towards a Theory of Revisionism. New York :
Oxford University Press, 1982.
- The Breaking of the Vessels. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1982.
- Ruin the Sacred Truths: Poetry and Belief from the Bible to
the Present. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
- The Book of J: Translated from the Hebrew by David
Rosenberg; Interpreted by Harold Bloom. New York: Grove Press,
1990 ISBN 0-8021-4191-9
- The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian
Nation; Touchstone Books; ISBN 0-671-86737-7 (1992; August
- The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages.
New York: Harcourt Brace, 1994.
- Omens of Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and
Resurrection. New York: Riverhead Books, 1996.
- Shakespeare: The
Invention of the Human. New York: 1998. ISBN
- How to Read and Why. New York: 2000. ISBN
- Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All
Ages. New York: 2001.
- El futur de la imaginació (The Future of the
Imagination). Barcelona: Anagrama / Empúries, 2002. ISBN
A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds. New
York: 2003. ISBN 0-446-52717-3
- Hamlet: Poem Unlimited. New
- The Best Poems of the English Language: From Chaucer Through Frost. New
York: 2004. ISBN 0-06-054041-9
- Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? New York: 2004. ISBN
- Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine 2005. ISBN
- American Religious Poems: An Anthology By Harold Bloom
2006. ISBN 1-931082-74-X
- Living Labyrinth: Literature and Influence 2010.
- On Extended Wings; Wallace Stevens' Longer Poems.
By Helen Hennessy Vendler, (review), New York Times,
October 5, 1969.
- Poets' meeting in the heyday of their youth; A Single
Summer With Lord
Byron, New York Times, February 15, 1970.
- An angel's spirit in a decaying (and active) body, New
York Times, November 22, 1970.
- The Use of Poetry, New York Times, November 12,
- Northrop Frye exalting the designs of romance; The Secular
Scripture, New York Times, April 18, 1976.
- On Solitude in America, New York Times, August 4,
- The Critic/Poet, New York Times, February 5,
- A Fusion of Traditions; Rosenberg, New York Times,
July 22, 1979.
- Straight Forth Out of Self, New York Times, June 22,
- The Heavy Burden of the Past; Poets, New York Times,
January 4, 1981.
- The Pictures of the Poet; The Painting and Drawings of
William Blake, By Martin Butlin. Vol. I,
Text. Vol. II, Plates, (Review) New York
Times, January 3, 1982.
- A Novelist's Bible; The Story of the Stories, The Chosen
People and Its God. By Dan Jacobson, (Review) New
York Times, October 17, 1982.
- Isaac Bashevis
Singer's Jeremiad; The Penitent, By Isaac Bashevis Singer,
(Review) New York Times, September 25, 1983.
- Domestic Derangements; A Late Divorce, By A.
B. Yehoshua Translated by Hillel Halkin, (Review)
New York Times, February 19, 1984.
- War Within the Walls; In the Freud Archives, By Janet Malcolm,
(Review) New York Times, May 27, 1984.
- His Long Ordeal by Laughter; Zuckerman Bound, A Trilogy and
Epilogue. By Philip Roth,
(Review) New York Times, May 19, 1985.
- A Comedy of Worldly Salvation; The Good Apprentice, By
Iris Murdoch, (Review) New York
Times, January 12, 1986.
- Freud, the Greatest Modern Writer (Review) New York
Times, March 23, 1986.
- Passionate Beholder of America in Trouble; Look Homeward, A
Life of Thomas Wolfe. By David
Herbert Donald, (Review) New York Times, February 8,
- The Book of the Father; The Messiah of
Stockholm, By Cynthia
Ozick, (Review) New York Times, March 22,
- Still Haunted by Covenant; The Penguin Book of Modern
Yiddish Verse, Edited by Irving Howe, Ruth
R. Wisse and Khone Shmeruk; American Yiddish Poetry, A
Bilingual Anthology. Edited by Benjamin and Barbara
Harshav; Selected Poems of Yankev
Glatshteyn, Edited and translated by Richard J.
Fein, (Reviews) New York Times, January 31, 1988.
- New Heyday of Gnostic Heresies,
New York Times, April 26, 1992.
- A Jew Among the Cossacks; The first
English translation of Isaac Babel's
journal about his service with the Russian cavalry. 1920
Diary, By Isaac Babel, (Review) New York Times, June 4,
- Kaddish; By Leon Wieseltier,
(Review) New York Times, October 4, 1998.
- View; On First Looking Into Gates's Crichton, New York
Times, June 4, 2000.
- What Ho, Malvolio!'; The election,
as Shakespeare might have seen it, New York Times, December 6,
- Macbush, (play) Vanity Fair, April, 2004.
- " The Lost Jewish Culture" The New York Review of
Books 54/11 (28 June 2007) : 44-47 [reviews The Dreams
of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain,
950-1492, translated, edited, and with an introduction by
- " The Glories of Yiddish" The New York Review of
Books 55/17 (6 November 2008) [reviews History of the
Yiddish Language, by Max
Weinreich, edited by Paul Glasser,
translated from the Yiddish by Shlomo
Noble with the assistance of Joshua A. Fishman]
- Department of English | Yale University
- New Bronx Library Meets Old Need - New York Times
- Map of Misreading p. 10
- "Dumbing Down American Readers"
- "Can 35 Million Book Buyers Be Wrong? Yes"
- "Poetry Slam"
- Associated Press. "U.K.’s Lessing wins Nobel Prize in
literature: Swedish Academy notes author for ‘skepticism, fire and
visionary power’" MSNBC.com Oct. 11, 2007
- "The Silent Treatment" New York Magazine, Feb. 23,
- "Naomi Wolf and Harold Bloom: The Meanness of the
- "Crying Wolf: Naomi Wolf sets back the fight against
sexual harassment" Slate Magazine, Feb. 25, 2004.
- Allen, Graham, Harold Bloom: Poetics of Conflict,
Harvester Wheatsheaf (New York, NY), 1994.
- Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 24, Gale
- De Bolla, Peter, Harold Bloom: Toward Historical
Rhetorics, Routledge (New York, NY), 1988.
- Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 67: Modern
American Critics since 1955, Gale, 1988.
- Fite, David, Harold Bloom: The Rhetoric of Romantic
Vision, University of Massachusetts Press (Amherst),
- Moynihan, Robert, A Recent Imagining: Interviews with
Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartman, J. Hillis Miller, Paul De
Man, Archon, 1986.
- Saurberg, Lars Ole, Versions of the Past—Visions of the
Future: The Canonical in the Criticism of T. S.
Eliot, F. R. Leavis, Northrop Frye, and
Harold Bloom, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.
- Scherr, Barry J., D. H. Lawrence's
Response to Plato: A Bloomian
Interpretation, P. Lang (New York, NY), 1995.
- Sellars, Roy (ed.), and Graham Allen (ed.). The Salt
Companion to Harold Bloom. Cambridge: Salt, 2007. More info.
- Interview with Bloom on NPR, regarding his book
Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine
- Interview with Bloom on The NewsHour with Jim
Lehrer, regarding his book How to Read and Why
- God and Harold at Yale, an essay from the
Claremont Review on Bloom and his book, "Jesus and Yahweh"
- Breakfast with Brontosaurus, an October 26, 2004
interview by Ieva Lesinska.
- Radio interview with Christopher Lydon, Harvard Law
Weblogs, September 3, 2003.
- Interview with Jennie Rothenberg, The
Atlantic, July 16, 2003.
- The sage of Concord, a May 24, 2003 Guardian Unlimited article on Ralph Waldo Emerson by Bloom.
- Excerpts from various Bloom interviews,
The Stanford Presidential Lecture Series.
- Dumbing down American readers, Harold
Bloom, Boston Globe, September
- Can 35 Million Book Buyers Be Wrong? Yes.. Harold Bloom, Wall Street Journal, July 11, 2000.
His famous criticism of the Harry
- Out of Panic, Self-Reliance. The New York Times,
Opinion on R.W. Emerson. October 12, 2008.
- List of Bloom's contributions to The New York Review of