Lit. Crit. To The Max

Harold Bloom

I am schooled enough in the discourse of literature to recognize that Harold Bloom has for several decades been the critic emeritus. Teaching at Yale for more than fifty years and publishing four dozen books has allowed him to become a celebrity in the field before his death last year at age 89.

I am not schooled enough to be able to fully understand let alone criticize The Critic. However, Philip Hensher, an Oxbridge author and critic, clearly is, and his devastating critique of Bloom’s final book, Take Arms Against A Sea of Troubles, is pitiless. More, Hensher expands his vigorous attack onto the entire Bloom oeuvre, declaring Bloom to be “lazy, solipsistic, vague and plain wrong.”

Bloom is particularly well-known for his ardent defence of the now-orthodox Canon of English Literature — a Great Books and Great Authors list. Hensher describes how limiting that viewpoint can be:

“The truth is that Bloom was really only interested in what literature means, and ultimately what it meant to him, rather than what it is. This leaves rather a lot out. He couldn’t do anything with comedy. The idea that a gossamer master of pure verbal fantasy such as Wodehouse or Elmore Leonard might be a better novelist than 1,000 forgotten prize-winning doomsters is alien to him.”

I know that Bloom’s texts are regularly studied by students of literature, and they may well be concerned reading Hensher’s conclusion:

“Bloom spent his life talking about literature to a captive audience, and at the end it looks to me as if he missed the point.”

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