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Forgot about this bit:


I’ve heard that you occasionally listen to rock music.


Oh sure. My favorite viewing, and this is the first time I have ever admitted it to anyone, but what I love to do, when I don’t watch evangelicals, when I can’t read or write and can’t go out walking, and don’t want to just tear my hair and destroy myself, I put on, here in New Haven, cable channel thirteen and I watch rock television endlessly. As a sheer revelation of the American religion it’s overwhelming. Yes, I like to watch the dancing girls too. The sex part of it is fine. Occasionally it’s musically interesting, but you know, ninety-nine out of a hundred groups are just bilge. And there hasn’t been any good American rock since, alas, The Band disbanded. I watch MTV endlessly, my dear, because what is going on there, not just in the lyrics but in its whole ambience, is the real vision of what the country needs and desires. It’s the image of reality that it sees, and it’s quite weird and wonderful. It confirms exactly these two points: first, that no matter how many are on the screen at once, not one of them feels free except in total self-exaltation. And second, it comes through again and again in the lyrics and the way one dances, the way one moves, that what is best and purest in one is just no part of the creation—that myth of an essential purity before and beyond experience never goes away. It’s quite fascinating. And notice how pervasive it is! I spent a month in Rome lecturing and I was so exhausted at the end of each day that my son David and I cheerfully watched the Italian mtv. I stared and I just couldn’t believe it. Italian MTV is a sheer parody of its American counterpart, with some amazing consequences—the American religion has made its way even into Rome! It is nothing but a religious phenomenon. Very weird to see it take place.

Circa 1991

Early '90s MTV made me, to a completely bizarre extent, but I can neither remember ever seeing its content in those terms nor deny what he's saying. This was right before the Irony Turn, which I guess was when belief in a beauty sure to come to one alone began to be doubted, or perhaps the possibility of its communication became doubtful.

The 1991 MTV best video award nominees:

C+C Music Factory — "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)"
Deee-Lite — "Groove Is in the Heart"
Divinyls — "I Touch Myself"
Chris Isaak — "Wicked Game (Concept)"
Queensrÿche — "Silent Lucidity"
R.E.M. — "Losing My Religion"

Can't say these aren't gnostic in the sense he means, though C&C Music Factory in perhaps a different mode (remember: the music takes control, your heart and soul unfold, your body is free and behold!). The dancing can take place on a crowded floor, but it's something happening to and for you, no one else being noticed as it takes hold. Divinyls is of course going for comedy but it's a gnostic comedy: I lose myself: I want you to find me; I forget myself: I want you to remind me. There's this knotty world and a light shining into it from outwhere, a you, that we access only alone.

I loved all those songs.
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From the San Francisco Chronicle:

"Walt wanted to be a populist ... and couldn't." On the contrary, "he is an esoteric, hermetic, immensely delicate, evasive artist on the highest possible level of the aesthetic." Bloom has therefore set himself the task of "trying to do for him what for various complex reasons he couldn't do for himself."

The result is the forthcoming "Walt Whitman: A Pageant," a combination of biography, poetry and music. With admiration and merriment, Bloom describes his characters, which include Oscar Wilde, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Anne Gilchrist ("who crosses the Atlantic because she has fallen in love with Whitman through his poems, proposes to him, and arrives to throw herself upon him, but he has to gently explain to her that he is not of that persuasion"), Elias Hicks ("the great, radical, Quaker circuit rider, half African American, half Native American") and Adah Isaacs Menken ("who performed buck naked, riding upside-down and right-side up on a stallion galloping across a New York stage").

Although different from his usual mode, for Bloom it's part of the same project of bringing difficult literature to life. He is not a dramatist, he insists: "I'm more a teacher than anything else. But I have a large view of what teaching is."

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39. The Essential Browning
40. The Anatomy of Influence

The Browning weeks ago, can't remember what I had to say about it. I found him mildly disappointing for the religious bits, which I'm tolerating less well in pretty much everyone as I age; I wonder if he did too,  they always feel strangely unintegral, but perhaps that's just because he forces so many poems to the point where you have to choose between life being something too hard for us to lift or the lightening prospect of an Autocorrecting heaven at its end. Fitzgerald/Omar's "He's a good fellow, and 'twill all be well" always feels aimed at this consoling shoulder-clap attitude of his. A much juster spearing than Hopkins', who claimed Browning's poetic voice was like someone beating on the table with their mouth full of bread shouting they'll stand for no blasted nonsense. Which describes the kind of person who would say such a thing, and a lot else in oft-pissy Hopkins, but never Browning.

I forget most of the many things I wanted to say about Bloom too, excepting about the bits I read this last week. But I do remember noting that the book isn't what his several introductions make it out to be - it's not a career capstone or literary biography or even a retrospective, it's just more Bloom. An essay volume like so many of the others, where the ostensible theme (genius, western canonicity etc.) isn't any more relevant than it is to all his other writings. Some of the pieces are very worked over, some casual - again, as usual. He does throw in more personal anecdotes this time, and explains his relationships with Ashbery, Ammons, and Merrill more fully than he has in the past. I wrote a paper once running through Ashbery's <i>Self-Portrait</i> volume analyzing his ambivalent responses to Bloom, who'd pretty much single-handedly crowned him poet-king in the years previous, beginning the avalanche of awards <i>S-P</i> contributed to - and I broke off after the first four because I was out of space. Bloom writes with some amusement about a later attack in <i>Flow Chart</i>, which I never got to. Ashbery fought him, Ammons embraced him, Merrill dodged him, basically. Bloom does admit there are many poets in Ashbery, of which he happily cedes several to the Language poets.

As usual he makes me much more excited about Crane's verse than most of Crane's verse does, and he wrestles with Whitman's 'tally' concept across several essays. It finally starts to sound like it was to Whitman what 'influence' is for Bloom, a word meaning pretty much everything at once.

Though a couple of his introductions do help clarify this concept, and what he feels poetry to be, finally. Lucretius takes over from Wordsworth, who perhaps he's burnt out on, as the chief influence on Romantic poetry here (including pre- and post). He still isn't ever quite sure what to say about Ovid, relying mostly on Thomas Greene, who I've actually read some of and like, for pre-Shakespeare stuff. Angus Fletcher is his guru for the American essays - someone I definitely need to read.

Weakest points were probably a couple short essays recapping his understanding of poems as "lies against time," which he means very literally now - and to which he's subsumed Stevens' notion of a necessary fiction, I think unfairly. It leads him to overvalue Leopardi as chief or co-chief Romantic, in an otherwise good essay about his Lucretianism. His several Shakespeare essays are pretty out there - not unentertainingly so, but you sense he's trying a bit too hard to outdo himself. I disapprove of overstatements where Shakespeare is concerned, though Hamlet Unlimited did have me convinced the way Freud has me convinced of whatever Freud's talking about till I sleep on it. Still, all fascinating.
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I think Bloom still hasn't mentioned it, despite his obsession with both poems, but doesn't he imply - and isn't it likely - that Browning had "Tom o'Bedlam" in mind when he wrote "Childe Roland"?

In Edgar's song in King Lear, Childe Roland comes to an apparently already identified dark tower and is noticed by some kind of apparently already identified male, one assumes a giant or some other monster with power of speech, who (mis?)identifies him as English by the smell of his blood, and then seems to repeat this as a kind of threatening mantra; we're to understand they're probably going to fight, and as Roland is our countryman but isn't yet a knight we're worried about him. Giants who can smell your blood are bad news. But this may be how Roland will become a knight, by overcoming a high profile challenge. So we're rooting for him too. We hope and fear.

Wouldn't be worth any of this attention except that Browning develops these verses into his most, maybe only, enigmatic poem.

"Tom o'Bedlam" is unfortunately towerless, but it's another freaky song with quest elements that Edgar puts all of us in mind of because Tom o'Bedlam, to what extent influenced by that particular anonymous song we'll never know, is exactly who Edgar's pretending to be when he sings the Roland fragment. The unequivocal quest language is all in the last stanza of "Tom o'Bedlam":

With a host of furious fancies
Whereof I am commander,
With a burning spear and a horse of air,
To the wilderness I wander.
By a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond the wild world's end.
Methinks it is no journey.

A visionary quest, thus more like Browning's Roland's than Shakespeare's Edgar's Roland's. We don't see who or what the later Roland eventually confronts, though strangely we do see a bunch of ghosts of defeated knights at the very end. Roland apparently has been summoned to fight the denizen of the Dark Tower, the tower does seem to exist somewhere outside reality as the landscape magically shifts on Roland at least twice on his way there, and the fact that it does so twice in what may be rapid succession means that in terms of distance it really might not have been much of a journey.

The first four lines are an iffier fit, beyond the obvious fact that he's wandered into the wilderness: Browning's Roland doesn't have a horse of air, though he does have no horse, and does wander by a very skinny one he isn't fond of. I don't think we're told anything about his weapon, unless the horn thing he blows at the end counts. Whether he has a host of furious fancies depends on how you interpret the poem - for example, the poem itself may be such a host if he's hallucinating, or the childe may be a poet approaching a fight with some force obstacular to the furious fancies of poetry.

Some earlier lines in "Tom o'Bedlam" may also be relevant:

I know more than Apollo,
For oft, when he lies sleeping
I see the stars at bloody wars
In the wounded welkin weeping

A sky weeping at its stars shedding one another's blood, rhetoric curiously Lear-like (Bloom wants Shakespeare to have written this but agrees there's no proof), reflects the waste Browning's Roland passes through, where the mud seems made from the blood shed in some vast and pointless ancient battle. A cosmos that has itself been wounded is presumably a projection, hence something we might expect from mad Tom, not knight-caste Roland, but it's a vision they've both experienced. "Tom o'Bedlam" is largely a moving account of the terrible life lived by someone mentally ill four hundred years ago, but the flashes of prophetic vision and intensity of the verses do make one think of the lot of poets (who Shakespeare's Theseus considered at one with madmen and lovers), who maybe see what the rest of us can't but also were generally social outcasts who ended up starving in garrets.

Tom may know more than Apollo, but it's not clear even he thinks he's going to win this fight with a knight of ghosts and shadows, no matter how hot his spear is burning. Can such entities be fought, assuming they quite exist? Can they be defeated? The poem doesn't say, it just ends. Like Edgar's, like Browning's. A fight you were doomed to fight but whose outcome is unknowable and pushed past the margin of observation, maybe of imagination, inevitably makes us think of the Big Question Mark that's death, but of course the fate of a poet's poems, one point of which may be to carry the poet forward into some kind of life beyond death, are as much of a question mark - who will read them, and with what understanding, and for how long? The second death of not being read, or not read correctly, or not staying somehow alive in what's read and understood, has to be a big worry. But that's a fight you come to armed, with talent and tricks and fancies or whatever might suffice, unlike your bout with natural death, which you're going to ultimately lose.

And the bout with death is fought in this world. Beyond the world - could this be beyond one's death?

Like I said, it's a story you can't not dimly make out after reading enough Bloom, though he's of course usually more interested in the Influence angle when looking at "Childe Roland," but I don't remember him flat out telling it.
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The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life, by Harold Bloom, out April 15, 2011. Publicity:

"Literary criticism, as I attempt to practice it," writes Harold Bloom in The Anatomy of Influence, "is in the first place literary, that is to say, personal and passionate."
For more than half a century, Bloom has shared his profound knowledge of the written word with students and readers. In this, his most comprehensive and accessible study of influence, Bloom leads us through the labyrinthine paths which link the writers and critics who have informed and inspired him for so many years. The result is "a critical self-portrait," a sustained meditation on a life lived with and through the great works of the Western canon: Why has influence been my lifelong obsessive concern? Why have certain writers found me and not others? What is the end of a literary life?

Featuring extended analyses of Bloom's most cherished poets — Shakespeare, Whitman, and Crane — as well as inspired appreciations of Emerson, Tennyson, Browning, Yeats, Ashbery, and others, The Anatomy of Influence adapts Bloom's classic work The Anxiety of Influence to show us what great literature is, how it comes to be, and why it matters. Each chapter maps startling new literary connections that suddenly seem inevitable once Bloom has shown us how to listen and to read. A fierce and intimate appreciation of the art of literature on a scale that the author will not again attempt, The Anatomy of Influence follows the sublime works it studies, inspiring the reader with a sense of something ever more about to be.
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HB: Well, we have four living writers in America who have, in one way or another, touched what I would call the sublime. They are McCarthy, of course, with Blood Meridian; Philip Roth, particularly with two extraordinary novels, the very savage Sabbath’s Theater and American Pastoral, which I mentioned before; Don DeLillo’s Underworld, which is a little long for what it does but nevertheless is the culmination of what Don can do; and, of course, the mysterious figure of Mr. Pynchon. I don’t know what I would choose if I had to select a single work of sublime fiction from the last century, it probably would not be something by Roth or McCarthy; it would probably be Mason & Dixon, if it were a full-scale book, or if it were a short novel it would probably be The Crying Of Lot 49. Pynchon has the same relation to fiction, I think, that my friend John Ashbery has to poetry: he is beyond compare.

Startling upset by Mason? Though Bloom does call Blood Meridian the best book since As I Lay Dying elsewhere in the same interview. Might have some time to try M&D again next month.
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Allegories have to be short or episodic, or they run that risk of obvious 1:1 correspondence with something that could be expressed better literally, non-fictionally, the kind Borges and others attack. Novels with allegorical, or anyway universal, aspects can get away with length by opening the text out in certain places (esp. the end - most novels are justifications for allegory, or allegory justifies most novel endings), contracting it back to mere plot interests in between them. It's not that allegories can only be static images, emblems - clearly they can involve happenings, characters, conversations, sequences - but that it's hard to come up with a vast number of details that enhance a single embodied meaning. And if you could, perhaps particularly hard to get a reader to follow or care to. So you reboot - Spenser does it many more than five times, in his endless sequence of dream houses, command centers, flowings, loomings and whatever I haven't identified yet.

(Melville too - though his digressions about whales, which so many people hate, are the most brilliant solution to providing traction to allegory I'm aware of; they're there to set up that final sequence, to make it vivid in every possible way at once, so that every physical detail in the chase is something you understand well enough by then that you can both take it into account on a literal level and not be distracted by these images from the meaning of what's happening. Perhaps he gets away with something no one else has?)

Spenser is also great at making variety come from the various ways to fail - which for him is a way to get the right path felt, even where it's hard to represent that path both directly and uninsipidly. Lindsay, Bloom and Borges follow him in this - they're all basically categorizing personality types as though they were religious heresies. More later.
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But are literary works directed against ephebes? Is the struggle just a phantom one, or a real one? (Or, anyway, two successive and complementary phantom ones?)

Or only in the sense that any engaged reader is an ephebe - the attempt is made to replace the reader's thoughts with what cannot be reformulated differently without loss, so that the text forever captures a feeling, so that this captivity is noticed whenever the feeling is felt, so that to remember the captivity is to remember the name of a writer?

I need to think there is more generosity here. Shelley (e.g.) wanted me to see the world his way because it was true and needful to do so, not just his. And even the most confident, intelligent authors are still asking you, aren't they: isn't it like this? Don't you find it's just this way? Or perhaps it just works out that way - the best thing you can say to be remembered is the truth. Anything else can be fought off, transcended; the best Poe could hope would be to speak to some stage almost everyone goes through. Immortality-seekers smarter than Poe wouldn't want that. It would feel like mere graffiti, like an honorary mention. To be remembered as teacher and friend would be remarkable.


Put to writing that by the question of who is the demiurge, the precursor or ephebe? The ephebe becomes it in relation to the purer vision of the precursor, which she refuses to merely repeat but finds that she cannot improve on, therefore maims (reconstitutes and then maims in her own work!) in order to feel/deceive-readers-to-feel her work corrects it. But the precursor is the demiurge from the ephebe's perspective, both in the weaker sense of having marred the purity of what the ephebe should have been able to write by writing it first, and in the more classically culpable one of having passed on a vision they had maimed - either that of their own precursor or whatever rich world-given earliness we latecomers can't see for the noisy dead in the way. But the ephebe secretly knows her crime - the arc of the completed poetic career is a sort of confession. What does the precursor know, as precursor? (Loop to beginning above.)
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I wrote about Ashbery, not for the recent long papers but in a shorter one a couple weeks ago, and specifically his expressions of ambivalence to Bloom's recent kingmaking of him in the Self-Portrait volume (kings, under Bloom, being sort of lampreys on the necks of deader kings--glowing lampreys on glowing kings who are lampreys themselves, but few get past the lamprey part). The evidence was overwhelming--I ran out of space after briefly discussing just the first four poems. All four poems involve protesting a Steinian counteraesthetic--when examined closely more like one of Shelley's--against the Miltonic-Romantic sublime, depicted as just not being worth it. Bloom himself is ambiguously presented as something of a scam artist in "Worsening Situation"--which elsewhere seems to attack Perloff, to my great satisfaction:

One day a man called while I was out
And left this message: "You got the whole thing wrong
From start to finish. Luckily, there's still time
To correct the situation, but you must act fast.
See me at your earliest convenience. And please
Tell no one of this. Much besides your life depends on it."
I thought nothing of it at the time. Lately
I´ve been looking at old-fashioned plaids, fingering
Starched white collars, wondering whether there’s a way
To get them really white again.

This is very funny but unfair. Bloom saw Ashbery as having particularly captured the voice of Stevens' "Le Monocle de Mon Oncle," giving as an example a stanza from it that didn't sound like Ashbery to me at all. I've been rereading the poem today (magnificent, lovely) and I have to say, bits of several of its other stanzas are clearly papier-mached onto his brain stem:

The mules that angels ride come slowly down
The blazing passes, from beyond the sun.
Descensions of their tinkling bells arrive.
These muleteers are dainty of their way.
Meantime, centurions guffaw and beat
Their shrilling tankards on the table-boards.

De-archaicize and demetrify it slightly and it's pretty much the arch-Ashbery moment. Bloom reigns as the sharpest--he must have noticed the attacks too. I wonder if they amused him.

All of which is very interesting in Ashbery but doesn't make me feel like I need him. Often when I read him I'm very moved, but I'm not sure the motion amounts to anything but recognizing that this is where the glow is being wasted right now. If you actually have Shelley and Stevens, which we always will, what's the great appeal? Other than helping to prove Bloom right about the poets. Does a point arrive when the lamprey spiral tapers away?
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A thing I just noticed about R. Browning's "Memorabilia":

Ah, did you once see Shelley plain,
   And did he stop and speak to you?
And did you speak to him again?
   How strange it seems, and new!

But you were living before that,
   And you are living after,
And the memory I started at--
   My starting moves your laughter!

I crossed a moor, with a name of its own
   And a certain use in the world no doubt,
Yet a hand's-breadth of it shines alone
   'Mid the blank miles round about:

For there I picked up on the heather
   And there I put inside my breast
A moulted feather, an eagle-feather--
   Well, I forget the rest.

--is that "How strange it seems, and new!" is so verbally close to "Strange point and new!" in Paradise Lost Book V. Satan is mocking the fact that God's Son, a newcomer, is being retroactively credited by God's party (including Abdiel, who Satan's addressing) with creating Heaven and the angels. This he rejects, along with the whole notion that the angels were created--after all, none of them remember the process:

That we were formed then say'st thou? and the work
Of secondary hands, by task transferred
From Father to his Son? Strange point and new!
Doctrine which we would know whence learnt: who saw
When this creation was? Remember'st thou
Thy making, while the Maker gave thee being?

Might easily be a coincidental choice of adjectives. I can't really think of another case where they're paired in verse, though--strange strongly implies new, new weakly implies strange, so you usually just use one. The significance of the link, if link it be, is Bloomian, as this Satanic speech goes on:

We know no time when we were not as now;
Know none before us, self-begot, self-raised
By our own quick'ning power, when fatal course
Had circled his full orb, the birth mature
Of this our native heav'n, ethereal sons.

For Bloom, this passage, and the first line most acutely, is the motto of any ambitious modern poet, since the need to have originated the crucial elements in one's own art is apparently absolutely necessary if one is to devote one's life to that art. This purposeful forgetting of Satan's, in order to deny an excessive debt, may have struck Browning as rather like his own need to "forget the rest" of what Shelley had meant to him and done for him, past the symbolic reduction of the feather, relic of an awesome but irrelevant-because-other order. 

(The "but you were living before that" stuff resonates weirdly with the Milton passage, too, from this perspective.)

I'm led further (after thinking of that hawk-shooting poem by Warren) to wonder about Milton's strange-and-new, and his earlier fresh-and-new pairing in the last line of "Lycidas." Could the famous dirge from The Tempest (quoted by Hunt on Shelley's tombstone) have fed that diction?

Full fathom five thy father lies
Of his bones are corals made
Those are pearls that were his eyes
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell
Hark now I hear them
Ding-dong bell

"Rich and strange." This seems like less of a stretch when you remember that "Lycidas" is also a song of lament for a drowned man--one who undergoes a change himself, into the "genius of the shore". 

In Milton the lamentation of the nymphs is futile, whereas the saints of heaven wipe away Lycidas' tears forever: a swipe at the disquietingly pagan Shakespeare? No, that's certainly taking it too far, if the rest didn't.

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Inferential Bloom's Top 100 Novels list:

Don Quixote, Hadji Murad

Remembrance of Things Past, Clarissa
Tale of a Tub, Gargantua and Pantagruel

War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Finnegans Wake, How It Is, Malone Dies, Unnameable

Bleak House, Ulysses, Middlemarch, Madame Bovary, Brothers Karamazov

Great Expectations, David Copperfield, Dombey and Son, Little Dorrit
Huck Finn, Moby Dick, Persuasion, Pilgrim's Progress

Emma, Mill on the Floss, Our Mutual Friend, Scarlet Letter, As I Lay Dying
Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, Molloy, Watt, Murphy, Nostromo

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Pride and Prejudice, Women in Love
Charterhouse of Parma, Portrait of a Lady, Magic Mountain, Joseph and His Brothers
Crime and Punishment, Silas Marner, Pere Goriot, A Harlot High and Low
Red and Black, Blood Meridian, Light in August, Miss Lonelyhearts

The Relic, Bras Cubas, Demons, Notes from Underground
Daniel Deronda, Victory, The Rainbow, Between the Acts, To the Lighthouse
Doctor Faustus, Pickwick Papers, Hard Times, Death in Venice
Mansfield Park, Sanctuary, Explosion in a Cathedral, Gospel According to Jesus Christ
Ivan Ilych, Benito Cereno, Master and Man, Kreutzer Sonata
Wings of the Dove, Sartor Resartus, Tom Jones, Tristram Shandy

Woodlanders, Return of the Native, Voyage to Arcturus, Encantadas
Invisible Man, Mason and Dixon, Sabbath's Theater, Everyman
Underworld, Little Big, History of the Siege of Lisbon
Kingdom of This World, Cossacks, Under Western Eyes, Secret Agent, Adam Bede
Marble Faun, Ambassadors, Bostonians, Golden Bowl, The Waves
Violent Bear It Away, American Tragedy, Lost Lady, Wuthering Heights

Inferential Bloom's Next Top 50:

American Pastoral, Prague Orgy, Anatomy Lesson, Mysterious Stranger
Blindness, Baltasar and Blimunda, Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis
Gravity's Rainbow, Crying of Lot 49, Aegypt, All the Pretty Horses
Mrs. Dalloway, Howard's End, A Passage to India, Sister Carrie
Radetzky March, Man Without Qualities, Berlin Alexanderplatz
Mayor of Casterbridge, Rasselas, Julie, Stone Raft
Sound and the Fury, Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass

Great Gatsby, Red Badge of Courage, Wind in the Willows
Kim, Felix Krull, Lotte in Weimar, Jude the Obscure, Tess
Love in the Time of Cholera, Suttree, Lord Jim, Confidence Man
My Life as a Man, Operation Shylock, Human Stain, I Married a Communist
Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, Counterlife, Recognitions
White Noise, My Antonia

Left Hand of Darkness, Song of Solomon, Messiah of Stockholm

Inferential Bunch of Novels that Might Should Fit Somewhere on Above Lists:

? Resurrection, Sentimental Education, Dom Casmurro, Lost Steps
? The Cave, All the Names, Oblomov, Sir Charles Grandison, Emile
? The Crossing, Princess Casamassima, Plot Against America, Billy Budd
? Christmas Carol, Marius the Epicurean, Frankenstein, Cards of Identity
? Wise Blood, Orlando, The Years, Narrative of Gordon Pym, Libra
? Far from the Madding Crowd, Werther, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby
? Unfortunate Traveler, Sun Also Rises, Cousin Bette, Lost Illusions
? Various Scott, Various Zola, Various Stevenson, Various Gaskell
? Various Waugh, A High Wind to Jamaica, Gulliver's Travels, Sula
? The Hamlet, Go Down Moses, The Unvanquished, The Wild Palms
? Various Greene, Portnoy's Complaint, Mao II, Custom of the Country
? A Cool Million, A Hundred Years of Solitude, Absalom Absalom!, St. Mawr

Spaces left between approx. quality levels. It gets increasingly hazy after the top 50, to the point where, about many of these, all you could say is he likes them a lot (for the question-marked ones I'm not sure one can even say that).

He's mentioned special personal interest in a number of books: love, for Pickwick Papers, Miss Lonelyhearts, Balzac's Vautrin novels, Murphy, A History of the Siege of Lisbon, The Woodlanders, A Lost Lady, I believe Silas Marner and As I Lay Dying, The Charterhouse of Parma, Little Big and the Aegypt books--and Hadji Murad, clearly; obsession with A Voyage to Arcturus, The Unfortunate Traveler; preference for The Crying of Lot 49 over later Pynchons, and Tales of Jacob in Mann's Joseph sequence.

I've doubtless left things out. I tag along, increasingly fail to disagree.
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Harold Bloom interviewed by a Buddhist in 1997

I love Harold Bloom. Shame on me for ever doubting him.
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A PDF interview with Bloom from 2000 about Blood Meridian:

I think he's wrong about the epilogue: surely we are those sparks.
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Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008

Harold Bloom's next book, THE ANATOMY OF INFLUENCE, will be divided into three parts—the Ancients through Dante; the Renaissance on to Shakespeare and Cervantes; and the 17th-century Enlightenment to 21st-century "modernisms." It will cover much of Western imaginative literature, providing a comprehensive theory of influence: what it is and how it works. Bloom's now classic THE ANXIETY OF INFLUENCE, published in 1973, has been translated into more than thirty languages.

THE ANATOMY OF INFLUENCE seeks to revise the customary history of Western consciousness from the Greeks and Hebrews to Shakespeare and Descartes until American self-consciousness reached its summit in Emerson and degraded in the mind-negating Information Age. No one has been able to tell us the complete story of the self. For almost forty years Bloom has struggled with the idea of influence as a means to interpret it. In this book, he will illuminate the process through ages of literature, in the belief that a theory of influence can aid greatly in our understanding of the self.

He's decided to finally pull it all together, I guess, or anyway attempt to translate his main theory into plainer English. I hope he's okay. People worrying about their legacy often aren't. Also his ability to explain, though unparalleled, has almost never been able to catch up with his wild surmisings. But I wait more in hope than skepticism: who'd have expected The Visionary Company, The Anxiety of Influence, and The Western Canon out of the same man? Also Yeats, Poems of Our Climate, Invention of the Human etc.? There's masterpieces rattling around in there yet.
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Harold Bloom is the best and most important critic of literature ever, and probably the best writer alive. You're not allowed to say such things but it's true. He's usually not Samuel Johnson's match for perfect, irascible prose or Hazlitt's for graphic acuity but he's engaged his subject much more deeply, broadly, diligently, and lovingly over most of a century, and thereby won from it secret after secret...and finally genuine authority in an area where that shouldn't be possible. Of course he has as many detractors as fans (the two groups probably overlap to a great extent), and these will be happy to tell you what's wrong with him well into the night. I don't disagree he has faults, I just don't think they matter. I think this is one of the things I learned from reading Bloom, how glaring flaws can be and still remain irrelevant, in any large enough, bright enough stone. Not that I see large flaws in him. The genuine prophets court enemies and refuse disciples.

I hated him once. I think I hated him before reading him. His book The Western Canon came out when I was in my late teens, and deeply offended by people pretending they knew everything. His book, its title and length and tone, probably also the fact that he was a Harold, all seemed to epitomize the destructive pretensions and stupidities of the parent/teacher/media/history/government forces making such a mess of the world. Just worthless prejudice, against the book (the ideas I had of the book) rather than the person. This I know because a year or so after I came to greatly love (and still love) the Introduction to his Shelley selection--later collected in The Ringers in the Tower as "The Unpastured Sea"--and didn't catch till later that the writer was the same man. Shelley and the other Romantics had sealed my conversion to literature, and Bloom's early essays and commentaries (Ringers, The Visionary Company, Blake's Apocalypse) deepened my excited sympathy for what they were getting at. Rediscovering The Western Canon a season or so on introduced me to late Bloom, and alerted me to the existence of middle Bloom. My father retired for health reasons around this time, and in cleaning out his office I found a battered copy of The Anxiety of Influence, heavily marked and highlighted by someone other than my father, and rather inanely. The Anxiety of Influence. Wrestlers with middle Bloom will know why my hatred began here, hatred probably intensified by my love of the wholeheartedly Romantic early works.

The wrestling match I'll skip over, tonight. Very hard to do that kind of thing justice, a battle with a book. As for late-and-kicking Bloom, he won me over entirely. The Western Canon and The Invention of the Human would be universally loved if he'd excised the mortal insults aimed at contemporary Humanities trendoids scattered throughout both. They rank with Visionary Company and some of his middle period work as his career high points. His last few books are still excellent, just a bit underedited and gimmicky. He now spends a lot of time recommending specific works, which is all to the good when the recommender is Bloom. I question his taste in only a half dozen instances, in each of which I know perfectly well I must be wrong.


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