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The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry
Published in Paperback by Oxford University Press (March, 1997)
Author: Harold Bloom
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Intellectual Poison
Generally speaking, the books of Harold Bloom that are worth reading are those that limit their focus to one individual: Shakespeare, Wallace Stevens, Shelley, Yeats (the latter two being pre-ANXIETY OF INFLUENCE works). The reason for this is because Bloom is a gargantuan intellect -- smarter and better-read than probably any five people you might happen to know put together -- and these books are chock full of provocative insights, regardless of the dubious theoretical scaffolding upon which they might be erected. In other words, though the foundations of most of Bloom's books written after AOI are infirm, Bloom is, at the end of the day, a compelling and highly enthusiastic critic, and also frequently aphoristic enough to keep you reading even after you begin to suspect that his more ludicrous and indefensible ex cathedra prounouncments, of which there are many thousands scattered throughout his oeuvre, are on the verge of causing you to tear out clumps of your hair.

When it comes, on the other hand, to Bloom's more purely theoretical works (THE ANXIETY OF INFLUENCE, AGON, etc.), all I can say is CAVEAT EMPTOR! In these works, and others like them, Bloom's perspective is neither that of a writer nor that of his constantly vaunted "common reader." Rather, Bloom's outlook here is that of a thoroughgoing academic, who as much as he has tended to decry the decline of academia in recent years owing to the combined effects of sundry "Schools of Resentment" (multiculturalists, neo-Marxists, Afro-Centrists, etc.) -- that is, those who value theory over literature -- in AOI Bloom can be seen as something of the Pope, High-Priest and Grand Poobah of this nauseating trend which seems, alas, destined to remain with us forever.

To my way of thinking, the reductio ad absurdum of Bloom's "revisionary ratios" (the multi-tiered, quasi-Oedipal struggle whereby "strong" poets, by reprocessing the work of other poets, supposedly become original) is that if the act of creation is indeed so paradigmatic that it can be diagrammed, then one day computers should be able to crank out verse as profound, witty and memorable as Shakespeare, Wordsworth, T.S. Eliot, et al. Oh, but excuse me: T.S. Eliot, according to Bloom, isn't a particularly strong poet -- though if anyone can understand Bloom's reason for regarding him as such, then perhaps you will be able to decipher the Riddle of the Sphinx, too. Or, to quote the words of Lord Byron, "And he who understands him would be able/To add a story to the Tower of Babel."

Anyway, in interviews I've read given by Bloom, at least in recent years, he seems like a decent enough fellow. But this book, the first of a series of common sense-deprived, balderdash-laden tracts, is pure intellectual B.S. If this is the sort of thing that turns you on, then what else can I say except that there is probably no ground in the universe where you and I will ever be able to meet.

Greater than, you know? a book for people who read poetry.
I have previously described myself in a review as the most spaced-out poet on the planet, without describing the awful legal context in which such a view of myself is absolutely necessary. This book makes the context clear, but a general reader still might not understand how concrete this difficulty is because THE ANXIETY OF INFLUENCE is overtly a book about poetry, and hardly at all about exercising judgment. The page of the book where I left it open the longest, and where the book subsequently opened most easily, and which I read most often in the five weeks in which I was interested in this book, was page 58, which describes a poet who "experiences anxiety necessarily towards any danger that might end him as a poet." Without dwelling on the personalities of the people involved, it seems to me that the anxiety which this book is about is clearest in the case of the presidential election of 2000, in which the ability of the Florida Supreme Court to act as the ultimate judges of that opportunity to count ballots was subject to the power of the United States Supreme Court to judge the election in some way which would produce a result which would be opposite to what a majority of the Florida Supreme Court desired. (...)and poets can be much more open about what they are doing than judges, so it isn't too surprising that this book is about poets.

Freud and Nietzsche form a nice frame of reference for what is happening in this book. I kept looking for mentions of Rilke, which wasn't fruitful until page 99, the first page on "Daemonization or The Counter-Sublime." There it says, "History, to Rilke, was the index of men born too soon, but as a strong poet Rilke would not let himself know that art is the index of men born too late. . . . the dialectic between art and art, or what Rank was to call the artist's struggle against art . . . governed even Rilke, who outlasted most of his blocking agents, for in him the revisionary ratio of daemonization was stronger than in any other poet of our century." There is a page just before page 99 which quotes Emerson on the highest truth about all things going well, "long intervals of time, years, centuries, are of no account." (p. 98). Emerson shows up again on page 138, with the idea, "Who seem to die live," to precede the final section of the book, "Apophrates or The Return of the Dead." This part doesn't relate well to law, particularly for a system which keeps thinking that a judgment like the death penalty might be considered final at some point.

It would be unfair to suggest that anyone who disagrees with Bloom is simply suffering from the escapist, repressive anxiety of which he claims to be a theorist. Likewise, it would be a circular argument to say that anyone who finds Bloom's stance self-defeating is merely an anxious ephebe trying to justify their own mediocrity, to dissemble their own belatedness, to obscure the deeper issues of poetic originality.

Or would it?

I've been ridiculed for saying this, but *The Anxiety of Influence* is a very harsh, very difficult little book. And yes, most writers *do* tend to shrug it off with defensive laughter and glib overconfidence. "Bloom's theories don't apply to me, after all. *I* don't feel the anxiety of which he speaks. I'm as young as Adam in the literary Garden of Eden, and my work is as important and worthwhile as I wish it to be." Thus tolls the death-knell of the M.F.A. student in Creative Writing.

Bloom's vision of the Canon has nothing to do with a required list of books, with the "carrion-eaters" of Tradition, paying uncritical knee-tribute to precedents and precursors. Bloom is simply reminding us that literature is not created in a vacuum of Edenic self-deception (the bland, cheeky optimism of the writing workshop), but rather in the poetomachia of the solitary apprentice testing himself against the creations of the past and present, a gladiatorial dialogue with the collective personae of Anteriority. In other words, the greatest literature is in competition with *itself*, an internalized version of the Canon that each strong poet carries within. The competition is both loving and malicious, and the "precursor" is always a composite of texts and artists, including contemporary authors fighting for imaginative and thematic territory, spurring each other on to higher achievements while stampeding the fallen.

For polemical purposes, Bloom simplifies the "composite precursor" in his reading of the English Romantics, testing themselves against the canonical strangeness of one John Milton. By casting the Miltonic Satan as the modern poet *in extremis*, Bloom creates a critical mythology as compelling as it is melodramatic, working through the byzantine evasions and torque-laden inversions the ephebe undertakes to carve out an imaginative space for himself. The "revisionary ratios" are derived from the Kabbalah of Isaac Luria, conceptualizing poetic creation as a heroic self-purgation and regeneration, achieving originality with an apparent loss of power, then returning to the fold for fresh melee and assimilative combat. Bloom's conscious objective is TO MAKE THE POET'S JOB MORE DIFFICULT, the smash complacency where it lives, in the Eliotic idealizations of "Tradition and the Individual Talent", which argues (catastrophically, in Bloom's view) that poetry is the benign and empyreal handing-down of the Muse's wedding-band from precursor to ephebe. But as Bloom persuasively argues, Eliot's stuffy and pretentious election of Dante as his true poetic father desperately obscures his true debts to Tennyson and Whitman, and his poetry may be weaker as a result. The casualties of Eliot's "poetic pacifism" lie forgotten in the charnel-house of unknown soldiers who've mistaken academic careerism for the deeper mysteries of canonical anguish, who've taken the low road of insularity against the combative "wakening of the dead."

To suggest that this sort of gladiatorial perspectivizing is "self-defeating" is rather like calling Nietzsche a "nihilist" because he chose to philosophize with a hammer -- that is, dedicated himself to scraping away all the evasions, the happy-go-lucky subterfuge -- to provide a more truthful genealogy of art and creativity and, more importantly, an Ethics on precisely what is required of writers (born this late in history) pretending to canonical strength. *TAoI* is as Nietzschean a text as you will find, a polemical kick in the stomach, brutal in its necessities, staring deep into the horizon of literature and conceptualizing the intra-poetic psychic warfare of poets WHO WILL NOT DIE. It is a nail-bomb thrown into the seminar-room of creative writing workshops, exploding the glib complacency of young writers who've forgotten that Time is unforgiving in its choice of literary survivors.

To put it another way, Bloom never says that originality doesn't exist, only that our idealized, Eliotic perceptions of originality are immature and self-defeating, an excuse not only to *be* mediocre (as young as Adam at the dawn of Creation), but to revel in and celebrate that mediocrity. That said, those who are coddled by Academe will probably find Bloom's book vulgar, incomprehensible, melodramatic, even paranoid in its implications. While others, stoically self-critical, will find themselves reading a completely different book, and a glorious one at that.

As the previous reviewer suggested, there may be room enough in the academic industry for a communal fellowship of writers and teachers, but there is an important qualitative difference between the respectable productions of, say, a Mark Van Doren, and the monstrous achievements of canonical prowess Bloom examines here. Mediocrity needs to justify itself, to make excuses for its smug complacency, but just as 99.9% of our generation's literature is "written in water," so the canonical survivors of the future will be forced to take even more extreme measures to be remembered, to stand in the square where martyrs are made. Bloom's book, in essence, attempts to dramatize and account for these "extreme measures."

*The Anxiety of Influence*, for all its conceptual flummery and Rube Goldberg convolutions, stands today as a brilliant thought-experiment on the lengths genius will go to stamp itself in bronze, to carry on and flourish in a universe of Death (or its literary equivalent, Compromise). Even if you find his main argument pedantic and repulsive, Bloom provides dozens of pyrotechnic micro-arguments in each chapter, not to mention some brilliant and provocative readings of classic poetry. Bloom is a great talker and showman, and those who dismiss his theories as frivolous poppycock may still be charmed by his brash, Hazlittean personality. The important thing is to take the time to understand where Bloom is coming from, and not to project one's own anxieties onto this difficult and rewarding text.

The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages
Published in Hardcover by Harcourt (October, 1994)
Author: Harold Bloom
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Read the Best Books First--But What Are They?
There is nothing better than a good book discussion. Everyone who takes reading seriously has ideas on what the best and most important books are. Certainly Harold Bloom is a serious reader and in this book he offers us his insights into some of the highlights of the past 500 years in Western literature. Even so, in 500 pages he is able to give us only about 25 authors. Fortunately, he also gives us a number of appendices listing many others.

At the head of Bloom's "western canon" is, not surprisingly, William Shakespeare. In fact, I would probably agree with Bloom on the basic fact of Shakespeare's importance to Western literature; however, if there is a weakness in Bloom's book, it his constant references to Shakespeare throughout the book. I admire Shakespeare as probably the single greatest dramatist in English but I do not think everything written since is simply a homage or reaction to Shakespeare. Shakespeare changed all of literature after him but he had his sources. Shakespeare was a source for writers after him but Cervantes, Montaigne, Whitman, Kafka and others altered our literature in ways that have no relationship to Shakespeare.

I also have trouble with the idea that Falstaff is the most important Shakespearean character or that King Lear is the most important play. When Bloom focuses on these ideas he reveals his prejudices. He also reveals himself as an old man. We all relate most closely to those characters in which we can see our reflection. I somehow doubt that Falstaff was Bloom's favorite when he was in his twenties.

Still, despite his obsession with Shakespeare, Bloom's intellect and experience range wide. He has a number of wonderful insights into the various authors he discusses and I admire his belief in the importance of literature. It is a belief that I share. Additionally, I enjoy Bloom's digs at feminist, Marxist and Freudian criticism. Though I feel they have made some important contributions to literary criticism, I would agree with Bloom's assertions concerning the damage they have done as well. I agree strongly with the idea that a book must earn a place in the canon by its brilliance and originality; not simply because it was written by a woman or a minority.

But, ultimately, we need not worry too much about the canon, I think. Books are suffering these days, it is true, but reading will never become obsolete and so literature will survive. And the canon will constantly reinvent itself as books are rediscovered and authors go in and out of vogue. (Even Shakespeare's popularity waxes and wanes.) Still, whether in a peak of popularity or a trough, some authors and their works will always be read and studied and this is how an author makes it to the canon. It is not a position granted by literature professors, no matter how much they wish it might be so. But it's nice to have professor's like Bloom to keep us talking about it.

Aesthetic Idolatry
Bloom adopted Giambattista Vico's cyclical theory of history for organization of the western canon. Vico proposed that history is divided into three ages: an age of gods, an age of heroes, and an age of men followed by a chaos out of which a new historical cycle will begin. After his introductory Elegy for the Canon, Bloom skips the Theocratic Age, proceeding to the Aristocratic Age, the Democratic Age, the Chaotic Age, and his Elegiac Conclusion. Each age has 6-8 chapters, each chapter devoted to an author or group of authors. The authors are, in order: Aristocratic: Shakespeare, Dante, Chaucer, Cervantes, Montaigne, Moliere, Milton, Samuel Johnson, and Goethe; Democratic: Wordsworth, Austen, Whitman, Dickinson, Dickens, George Eliot, Tolstoy, and Ibsen; Chaotic: Freud, Proust, Joyce, Woolf, Kafka, Borges, Neruda, Pessoa, and Beckett.

He begins with Shakespeare whom he calls the center of the canon. Bloom exalts Shakespeare almost to a godlike state in his aesthetic zeal. In fact, every other author in the book is related to Shakespeare in some way. For example, Chaucer's Pardoner, he says, was a prototype for Shakespeare's Iago and Edmund. Tolstoy, he says, could not handle the influence of Shakespeare in his works so much so that he had to disavow him in his essay What is art?. The reason Freud believed Shakespeare was really the Earl of Oxford is that he could not himself reckon with Shakespeare's greatness and Freud's reading of Shakespeare was really Shakespeare's reading of life.

Bloom can appear at times a little too radical in some of his statements. For example he claims that the Jesus of the American religion is not the true Jesus of Nazareth, of the Crucifixion, or of heaven but only the Jesus of the Resurrection. He says that the Jesus Christians worship is a literary figure created by the writer of the Gospel of Mark. He exalts the search for aesthetic greatness above all else in canonical works, even dismissing morality in them past the point of serving its aesthetic purpose. But he can be forgiven some of his university gobbledygook.

The real thesis of the book is that the feminists, Marxists, new historicists, deconstructonists, Freudians, and other ideologues that are taking over the universities are wrong that the western canon, just because it is made up of a bunch of dead white males, is outdated. He defends the western canon very effectively, especially against adding period authors just because of their ethnicity or gender. He argues for the aesthetic merit and place in the canon of each of the authors he covers in the chapters eloquently and justly. I dare anyone who reads this review to read this book and you will be converted, too.

Worth Anyone's Consideration
Harold Bloom has been, arguably, the world's best reader, the most wide-ranging and the most retentive. Some people believe his book, The Western Canon, verges on the audacious since Bloom dares to list what Western literary works are canonical as well as what ones will be.

While the appendices, with their lists of books, are the section of The Western Canon that provokes the most argument, these take up relatively few of the book's 578 pages. Bloom begins with a "Preface and Prelude," then indicates the mood the book will assume in "An Elegy for the Canon." Adopting Giambattista Vico's theory of history, Bloom then goes on to discuss twenty-six writers from different ages of literature. From the Aristocratic Age: Shakespeare, Dante, Chaucer, Cervantes, Montaigne, Molière, Milton, Johnson and Goethe; from the Democratic Age: Wordsworth, Austen, Whitman, Dickinson, Dickens, George Eliot, Tolstoy and Ibsen; and from the Chaotic Age: Freud, Proust, Joyce, Woolf, Kafka, Borges, Neruda, Pessoa and Beckett. Just before the appendices is the "Elegiac Conclusion," in which Bloom says he has "very little confidence that literary education will survive its current malaise," but he hopes that there will be "literate survivors."

Early in the book, Bloom tells us that he is not interested in the debate among those want to preserve the Western canon and those who want to destroy it. Instead, Bloom is interested only in literary aesthetics and he claims that canonicity comes "only by aesthetic strength, which is constituted primarily of an amalgam: mastery of figurative language, originality, cognitive power, knowledge, exuberance of diction." Bloom believes in the existence of canons, he says, because the very brevity of life prevents us from reading more than a fraction of the literature created by various authors throughout the centuries.

The Western Canon is more than an interesting book; it is also very thought-provoking. Some of the questions raised include: Is canonicity always the result of one writer's triumph over a great literary ancestor? Do not canons, to some degree, depend on the choices of the wealthy as well as on chance, luck or other devices of caprice? Does Bloom put too much emphasis on cognitive difficulty, choosing books that few readers outside of universities would ever want to read, much less reread? Then there is the excessive praise of Shakespeare as the entire center of the Western Canon. Is this perceptive criticism or does it cross the line into idolatry?

There are those who believe Bloom is too quick to dismiss the moral value of literature. Shelley, they say, went too far in his Defence of Poetry in praising great literature for enlarging a reader's imagination and thus leading to moral improvement. But Bloom, say the same critics, fails to go far enough in acknowledging the moral implications inherent in all great literature.

The greatest arguments, however, are reserved for the lists at the end of the book. How could Bloom leave out this author and include that? Why is this book included and that one is not? But even the critics have to praise Bloom for the breadth of his lists; his idea of the Western canon includes authors from the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Western Asia, Africa, the West Indies and South America. Bloom even notes The Mahabharata and the Ramayana and says that "ignorance of the Koran is foolish and increasingly dangerous." Bloom has also included English-language works by writers whom one would not necessarily think of as Western, for example: R.K. Narayan, Salman Rushdie and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

Another source of controversy has been the (almost) exclusion of female authors. Bloom does mention Alice Walker even before he gets to his lists, but he refuses to say anything good about her. Regarding the works of Toni Morrison, Bloom sees fit to include only Song of Solomon in the canon. He omits all works by Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Adrienne Rich, Ayn Rand, Bobbie Ann Mason and Pearl Buck. To be fair, Bloom leaves out a number of male authors as well, authors whom one would have assumed would have been included such as John Gardner, John Updike (represented only by The Witches of Eastwick) and Arthur Miller (represented only by Death of a Salesman).

Although some have accused Bloom of composing a canon made up of Dead White European Males, he does include several American authors in his lists as well as devoting half chapters to Jane Austen and George Eliot and full chapters to Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf, all of whom he praises lavishly.

The Western Canon will never be beyond argument and debate, that is simply an impossibility. People will always disagree with Bloom on one point or another. In the final analysis, Bloom, this century's greatest reader, has treated an enormously important topic with tremendous expertise. And, although an eccentric par excellence, Bloom has definitely compiled astute reading suggestions and critical opinions that certainly deserve anyone's careful consideration.

George Eliot's Silas Marner (Bloom's Notes)
Published in Paperback by Chelsea House Publishing (May, 1996)
Authors: Harold Bloom and George Eliot
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Silas Marner, from a kids point of view.
Silas Marner is a very interesting book. It is filled with excitement and suspense. I liked the book very much, but as a freshman in high school, it was very hard for me to read. George Eliot uses a lot of dialect along with some Old English words in her lovable tale. Eliot tells the story of a lonely weaver. After getting betrayed by friends in his old town of Lantern Yard, Silas moves to the town of Raveloe searching for a new life. His delusions keep him from getting accepted into the Raveloe community. After losing his faith in God and having his money stolen he gets a very special gift from someone he doesn't know, a little baby girl with golden hair. After that things work out for Silas and Eppie. George Eliot tells her classic novel in great detail with a lot of adjectives and metaphors. She has made a great novel that while a challenge is good for everybody. Silas Marner is really easy to comprehend because it is so realistic. I live in a small town and it reminds me of Raveloe. Sometimes I imagine that I am in Silas Marner's place and all my friends are the villagers. I think about what I would do if I was in Marner's place. Eliot also created a great plot for this book. This classic is great because it teaches people about life. It teaches people not to be selfish and to be kind to people no matter how good you think you are. Eliot has made a great book that would be great to read as a family.

A book for all times, but not for all readers
Question: How can you ensure that a person will hate a book? Answer: Make her read it for 7th grade English class, make sure that the language is old-fashioned, and above all, make sure that the ideas and concepts are over her head. If that's what happened to you, and that's why you have an aversion to Silas Marner, and you are now over 30, pick it up again. Read it twice. Silas Marner is one of the greatest novels in the English language.

Yes, it starts out sad, as our pathetic hero looses both his trust in humanity and his faith in God. But the power of love replaces his lust for money, and wins out in the end. Meanwhile, morally poor but financially rich, high-living Godfrey Cass provides a counterpoint to simple Silas. At the end there's a surprise when the fate of Godfrey's evil brother is revealed.

When you're all done, before you file Silas Marner on the shelf, go back and read the paragraph about Silas' thoughts when he discovers that his hordes of coins are missing. If you have ever felt sudden extreme loss, you will recognize the stages of despair from disbelief to acceptance "like a man falling into dark water." Which is why this book is not suitable for children, and is most appreciated by those who have undergone their own moral redemption.

Silas has been the inspiration for many other characters, including Dicken's Scrooge. He has been portrayed in movies, including "A Simple Twist of Fate" starring Steve Martin. But none is as good as the original. If you haven't read it since junior high, try it again. Silas Marner is an excellent book. There's a gem of human understanding in every chapter.

Grade Nine Student
I cannot more agree with the reviewers who say Silas Marner is slow moving at the beginning, and that it is slow moving for the first half of the story, however I find that Silas Marner is not actually a story, more a biography, or a discription of the times. The scenes are that era are very vivid; the characters are very true and clear. Silas's betrayal, his 'death' and his obsession with money are reflected in the monotony of the book, just when you begin to feel the story has completely lost track of any clear-cut line, something new happens. Then, Silas is reborn, he remembers who he has been and his family. The most wonderful thing about this book is its summing up, happy ending. Nothing is left hanging, this book definatly has a good ending, and a book with an ending such as this is clearly the work of a gifted author; such as George Eliot. Do not read this book in search of thrilling plot, and captivating characters, read it for it's planning, and mostly for it's joyful conclusion.

The Best of the Best American Poetry 1988-1997
Published in Paperback by Scribner (April, 1998)
Authors: Harold Bloom and David Lehman
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Esoteric & Ivory Tower
I could relate to about 1/10th of the poems. My instinct (late from the moldering glades of the academy) is that these poems were chosen to broaden (not deepen) the moat around the ivory tower -- poetry IS dead in this volume, mostly.

Bloom is a bit of a grump.
Here in Australia, where I've been living for twenty years as a teacher, I'd lost contact with American poetry. I happened on the Poetry Daily web site and dived in. And found, I could order books through Amazon which I'd never seen. I now have two shelves of much read poetry and more in containers on slow ships on their way. I remember the pleasure I got from reading the commentaries and the poems in the Best...of 1997. So when I saw the Best of the Best (Harold Bloom's ed) I picked it up here, even though it was very expensive. While I enjoyed most of the poems, I found his introduction surprising. What a grump!

Can Monkeys Throw Darts? Did Bloom?
I'm pro-Bloom in the general political/aesthetic sense, and it was satisfying for me to see him crystalize some of my sentiments in his foreword. But I bought the book for the poetry, and (judging from the other Best... books I own) I'm of the opinion that Bloom did a mediocre job as editor. His options were, thankfully, limited to a set comprised mostly of strong poems. This book could probably have survived the abuses of a monkey-throwing-darts-at-a-list-of-options editor.

Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds
Published in Hardcover by Warner Books (November, 2002)
Author: Harold Bloom
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dear dear bloom
so ... why in the heck does bloom comment on harry potter in the section about louis carroll? im not fond of potter either (although... the movies are quite entertaining) but i bought the book so i could learn about the so called genuises of literature and poetry and im reading about how louis carrol was in love with 11 year old girls!!! I mean, its his book and all, so he can write whatever the heck we wants to, and well, he is a critic after all, but once in a while it would be nice to read a section about someone where blooms obession with shakespeare doesnt show up. Read a little further about Emma bovary. Come on now... he tells us that everyone has a little bit of emma in us, but i don't forsee myself committing multiple acts of adultry and looking for arsenic.
Any who, despite all of my previous comments, i love the book and i recommed it. It would be a good addition to anyones library and yes ... wouldnt it be nice to own a library like the one in beauty and the best?

-good book but it goes off on things sometimes

At first I hated this book. I mean really hated it. I thought Bloom pretentious and insufferable as well as unbelievably facile and superficial. I would have given this book one star, at best. That's because I was hopscotching around. I started with writers and thinkers I knew and liked. I picked someone at the end of the book, then the middle, then back to the end, and then to the beginning. I found the book unbearable. Then I said, the guy can't be stupid; I must be doing this wrong. So I started at the beginning, and read all the way through. Good grief! What a difference. There's a theme, continuity, sense. Everything became clear. I learned things I never would have come upon on my own. Do yourselves a favor--here is the history of the literate world splayed open for you. Start at the beginning and you will learn things you never would have imagined. There IS genius. It is wonderful to behold. You will love this book and man and his thoughts if you give this book a chance. Of course there are lapses, and of course Bloom is prejudiced, bigoted, pompous and outrageous in his own way. So what! You don't think every great writer and thinker wasn't?
If you don't think Milton, Dante, Tolstoy, plus all the reglious thinks from Paul, Augustine and Mohammed weren't, then you seriously need to read this book. I think I learned more in this book than I did in 10 college courses.

My kind of critic
I have always found Harold Bloom to be most precious for his gut passion and lack of academic snobbery and pandering. GENIUS is a delight to read and reminds me why I myself love great books. As a liberal arts student and a fiction writer, I often need a little break from the kind of criticsm which seeks to lock great books away from common readers and turn art into a kind of club rather than the open dialogue it really is. This book keeps me sane.

Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human
Published in Hardcover by Riverhead Books (October, 1998)
Author: Harold Bloom
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Maddening but Bountiful
In The Western Canon, Harold Bloom stated that Shakespeare, along with Milton, was the center of Western thought. In Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, he contends that Shakespeare, alone, "went beyond all precedents (even Chaucer) and invented the human as we continue to know it." Bloom assigns Shakespeare the singular honor of being responsible for our personalities, not just in the Western world, but in all cultures. Falstaff and Hamlet, the central characters of Bloom's discourse are, he says, "the greatest of charismatics" and are "the inauguration of personality as we have come to recognize it."

Naturally, critics of Bloom have taken great exception to sweeping statements such as the above and their general reaction is one of resentment. Individual critical response depends on what particular school of criticism the respondent adheres to, but most often critics and readers alike have simply attacked Bloom, himself. However, even those who denigrate both Bloom and this book have found the time to read and review it to a greater extent, rather than to a lesser.

The book, itself, is made up of three major critical discussions by Bloom combined with brief discussions of each of Shakespeare's thirty-seven plays. Bloom begins by expressing his awe at Shakespeare's ability to create literary characters who epitomize the quintessential nature of humanity itself. In Bloom's opinion, Shakespeare shapes all of humanity, not just the elite literati.

Bloom does acknowledge the fact that great writers existed before Shakespeare and says that, "The idea of Western character" defined as "the self as a moral agent" came from many sources at many different times. Individually, however, Bloom says, Shakespeare's predecessors created nothing more than "cartoons" and "ideograms" rather than fully-developed personalities. "Every other great writer will fall away," he says, but "Shakespeare will abide, even if he were to be expelled by the academics..." And Bloom makes his point so convincingly that even those who cannot abide Shakespeare (or Bloom) will be swayed.

Bloom next turns to short, individual synopses of each play, with each review intended to support Bloom's argument that Shakespeare was truly the inventor of the human. These reviews do bristle with long quotations from the plays themselves but they are always extremely interesting to read.

Bloom, however, is nothing if he is not contentious. In concluding his review of The Taming of the Shrew, he says, "Shakespeare, who clearly preferred his women characters to his men, enlarges the human, from the start, by subtly suggesting that women have the truer sense of reality."

After the individual play reviews, Bloom treats us to a concluding essay entitled, "Coda: The Shakespearean Difference," and says that "Shakespeare, through Hamlet, has made us skeptics in our relationships with anyone, because we have learned to doubt articulateness in the realm of affection." Bloom, himself, identifies most intimately with Falstaff. "What Falstaff teaches us is a comprehensiveness of humor that avoids unnecessary cruelty because it emphasizes instead the vulnerability of every ego, including that of Falstaff himself."

Whatever your feelings about Bloom or Shakespeare, Bloom does take a critical stance that he supports textually. His humor is there but it is, at times, scathing. While no one should take everything Bloom introduces in this book at face value, no one should dismiss it all, either. Both this book, and Bloom, deserve a lot more than that.

an ultimate book? this comes very close.
Shakespeare invents the human quite simply because Shakespeare was possessed of the broadest intelligence in history, and he used that intelligence to deal with the human personality, which is after all the essence of being human. Did he so invent. Mr.Bloom concludes, "It is merely true." Every author prior to Shakespeare including his precursor, Mr.Chaucer, and since--under Bloom's comprehensive analysis--failed to place in writing the depth of human personality accomplished in the plays. The total complexity, the vast scope, the very transcendence of the central meaning and purpose of life has yet to be stamped on the page by anyone with the comprehension of William Shakespeare.

At first in Bloom's book this reviewer believed that Bloom meant that Shakespeare invented the human personality in literature, a thought much easier to understand. But, it becomes clear as one reads that Bloom intends also that this "invention" is a physical embodiment in our very lives for simply, the invention of "human" means a living mind which can fulfill itself completely only if it first possess the depth of understanding only displayed and elaborated in Shakespeare. Shakespeare took the human piece of clay, identified its intellectual universe, and placed it there to deal as only the mind of Shakespeare has ever been able. And for those who say well you overlooked this author and that author, Mr. Bloom presents the relevant excerpts from all the plays, and on reading, it is difficult to impossible to dispute. Basically, Mr. Bloom goes through play after play after play, and makes his case.

As to the book itself, this reviewer initially skipped around, reading a chapter here and there annoyed with the much mentioned excesses, but at some point decided to read the book from first word to last. Reading the book straight through one gains a far expanded perspective. It is believed here that there is only one possible fair minded reaction to this book, which is that it is one of the most well written, well thought out, stunningly brilliant bits of scholarship yet written. In addition to all of his gifts, Professor Bloom has that ability of common sense, the knack of putting everything into absolutely clear perspective, sensing every concern. One reads here brilliant analysis after brilliant analysis, and just when we are thinking that both Bloom and Shakespeare must be exhausted, we find that both have saved the best for last. Bloom's reviews of Cymbeline, Winters Tale, Tempest, crescendo in their insight, and probably the last play, The Two Noble Kinsmen is at the very summit of Bloom's attempts through these final plays to surmise the consciousness of Shakespeare himself.

It is unnecessary to be a bardoleter to appreciate Bloom. One can recognize the dour pessimism and sometimes bizarre subject matter of William Shakespeare. But one can still value the journey on which Bloom takes us here, the very ultimate of teachers, he shows us there is so very much to learn.

Enjoyable, Readable & Valuable Tool
Like most people, my fascination with Shakespeare began in high school, upon first meeting Hamlet. The fact that I was also lucky enough to have - yes, there are at least two - a "Hamlet and Falstaff worshipping" English teacher no doubt added fuel to the fire; I am amused by this quality in Bloom that some find so frustrating.

I have continued to read Shakespeare, and for the past several years have subscribed to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. I found this book particularly appealing, as Bloom hopes "to offer a fairly comprehensive interpretation of Shakespeare's plays addressed to common readers and theater goers." Since buying it, I have read (or re-read) and seen 6 plays, and followed up with Bloom's essay after each performance. I have yet to be disappointed: his ideas are always interesting, and even when I'm disagreeing, I'm engaged in the dialogue, and perhaps have re-read a section of the play just to clarify my position. This is in fact Bloom's other mission: "We need to exert ourselves and read Shakespeare as strenuosly as we can..." This book will get you off to a good start.

Tennessee Williams's the Glass Menagerie (Modern Critical Interpretations)
Published in Library Binding by Chelsea House Pub (Library) (July, 1988)
Authors: Tennessee Williams and Harold Bloom
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The Glass Menagerie
"The Glass Menagerie" by Tennessee Williams was very well written. Williams did an excellent job of portraying life-like characters. They were so well written, that they seemed real, like us at certain points in our lives. At one time, we were all like the mother, Amanda, who seems to live in the past, and be kind of overbearing at times, for example when Laura only went to three days of her business class that she was sort of forced into going to. Laura, the shy character, also is very life like in the fact that we all were a bit like her too. Everyone, at one point in their life was really shy and just wanted to stay locked up in their room. Tom, the son, is the narrator in the story. He constantly tries to escape reality by going outside and to the movies. He's the sort of person who just needs to constantly escape from life. The main theme of "The Glass Menagerie" is just that. Trying to escape from the sometimes-disappointing reality called life. The plot was simple, yet very effective. A reason for the simplicity I think is that this book is meant for us to realize that even though things may have been better in the past, not to live in it, but rather to live in the present, because we may be missing something even better than what we had that is right in front of us, waiting for us to notice it, but we're so enthralled in the what has happened in the past we don't see it. Basically what "The Glass Menagerie" is trying to tell us is that we need to live in the future and if we don't, then we will miss out on all the un-lived life that lies right in front of us, waiting for us to discover it.

An Outstanding Drama
Recently, I was assigned to read "The Glass Menagerie" for my high school English course, and I absolutely loved it. While the play may not have the most suspenseful plot, the thing about "The Glass Menagerie" that most people don't realize is that it wasn't written to be an adventurous drama; it was written to say something important about life, namely that many people miss out on in by living through illusion and not reality. The first thing that the reader notices about the play is that the characters are so incredibly real. Most authors are usually reluctant to showcase a character's faults, but Tennessee Williams accentuates them so much that the reader might actually start mistaking them for people that he or she has met! The main fault of all of the characters in this play is that they live in illusory worlds that they cannot escape from. Amanda, the mother, is stuck in the past and has no real grasp of the family's present situation. Laura, the daughter, is afraid of the outside world and prefers to live in the company of her glass collection and record player. Tom, the narrator who is also a character, escapes reality by constantly going to the movies to satisfy his sense of adventure. None of the characters, however, realize their problems, and as a result, they never achieve satisfaction with life or with one another. Through the words and actions of these characters, though, Williams is making a profound statement. He parades the dangers of illusion and miscommunication right before our eyes and encourages us to sit up and take notice. The lesson of the play is to open your eyes wide and become aware of the situation that you are currently in without worrying about the past or the future. The play serves as an encouragement to live our lives fully and purposefully, avoiding the mistakes that are made in the play. By using a remarkable, well-crafted cast of characters, Williams conveys his message well. It is doubtful that I will ever forget the theme of this play or the memorable characters that so boldly executed the powerful story within "The Glass Menagerie."

-What i thought of it-
I enjoyed the book, The Glass Menagerie. It wasn't too long and it was very interesting to read. This was my favorite out of all the summer reading books i had to read. One reason is that it is written as a play. The play focuses on three main characters: Amanda, the mother, her daughter Laura, and her son Tom. I also liked it because it is one of those books you can't put down. I found myself wondering what was going to happen next. I perceived the atmosphere of this play to be a sad one. It's not like a sudden tragedy had occurred, but just their day-to-day life seemed hopeless. I felt sympathy for the characters. I wanted to give them help and support at times! Amanda and Tom always fought with one another. Tom was sick and tired of the way he had been living. He wanted real adventure instead of just watching it on the movies. Laura, on the other hand, was content to sit at home with her glass menagerie. Their mother, Amanda, had become so obsessed with finding a gentleman caller for Laura that everything else almost didn't matter anymore. Amanda always reminisced of how she had so many gentleman callers in her day. She wanted the same for Laura. But Laura was much different than her mother was. It wasn't that easy for Laura to meet gentlemen. Amanda needed to realize and accept that. I was impressed by this play. It was filled with emotion and diverse characters. They were almost oblivious to reality. They had their own worlds and expectations of what life should be. Their struggles to make their lives better were desperate and real. In the end we don't really know how everything turns out, but we were left thinking that anything could happen.

The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation
Published in Hardcover by Simon & Schuster (May, 1992)
Authors: Harold Bloom and William Golding
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A decent introduction to American religious development
Mr. Bloom provides a reasonable work regarding the development of religion in the unique milieu of American cultural history. I did take exception to the chapter on "California Orphism" which dealt with new age religious trends. I felt that he was probably not knowledgable enough in this area to make the broad sweeping assumptions and statements that he did. He lumped numerous figures together from a variety of traditions (buddhism, theosophy, new age etc) and put them under the same umbrella. I have not read "The Sacred Path of the Warrior", (a book he thoroughly ridiculed) but being somewhat familiar with Tibetan Buddhism the particular passage he quoted from that work made perfect sense to me. It wouldn't make much sense taken out of context without an understanding of that particular religious perspective. Aside from that gripe, I found it an OK read.

Inventive critique of indigenous faiths from an outsider
Bloom, nominally Jewish, has created a most imaginative assessment of indigenous American faiths. Mormons, Christian Scientists, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovahs Witnesses, Pentacostals, New Agers, Southern Baptists, and Afro-American religion are each addressed.

Unlike cult critiques by evangelical authors, Bloom spends almost no time comparing the beliefs of these groups to a measure of orthodoxy. The genius of Bloom's thesis is that these groups represent different shades of a single American religion - one distinct from the Jewish roots of the Jesus movement and from the European roots of historical Christianity.

He identifies, in a rather rambling and unsystematic way, three fundamental principles of this American religion. (1) The best part of us is uncreated, that is, existing before creation and remains in some sense perfect and divine. (2) That which frees us is knowledge, not belief founded on assent. (3) Freedom exists only in solitude. "What holds these principles together is the American persuasion, however muted or obscure, that we are mortal gods, destined to find ourselves again in worlds as yet undiscovered." (p. 103).

I was frequently frustrated by Bloom's ability to dance around his main point. His historical interpretations are excellent. His thesis incredibly controversial. It is unfortunate, in my opinion, that he was unable to reduce his arguments to precise formulations. Personal fascination with the eccentricities of these faiths made it impossible for him to resist digressions.

I can recommend this book for those who enjoy dabbling in theological contemplation, despite Bloom's political digression in the closing chapter. There is much to fuel a weekend's thought in these pages. If you are so inclined - enjoy!

A Groundbreaking Look at Mormonism
For years historical studies of the LDS church were locked into stalemate, with apologists for the church and its antagonists determined to prove or disprove the truth claims made by the founder, Joseph Smith. Bloom, the well-known literary critic, broke the stalemate in the long section on Mormonism in this book by setting aside questions of advocacy and looking at the Mormon gospel as a cultural artifact. There he found some amazing things. Somehow Smith had revived ancient doctrines of Jewish mysticism and Christian hermeticism that had been lost for years. Bloom also explains how Mormonism comes as close as possible to a religious distillation of the American ethos: *the* American religion, as Tolstoy once said. Bloom described Smith as "a religious genius." This is quite a compliment from a self-described Jewish atheist, of course. Bloom helped open a whole new interest in Mormons by the larger culture, as indicated by such things as Tony Kushner's play, "Angels in America."

The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain
Published in Hardcover by Little Brown & Company (May, 2002)
Authors: Maria Rosa Menocal and Harold Bloom
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This 'Ornament' More Romantic Than True; Better Alternatives
My wife and I have a home in Andalusia. We also are enthusiastic but 'minor' league students of Moorish & Jewish history in Spain. So I bought this book as a easy-to-please, generalist and wanna-be fan.

Unfortunately, this book comes up light on two levels. It provides few new relevations about the role of Moors and Jews in Medieval Spain. It also lacks good story telling on the major figures and thought leaders of this 700-year period. I found Menocal's analysis sharp and able, but sometimes overdone. And like too many academics, Menocal is neither a good storyteller nor writer. In summary, the lack of new insights and sharp writing spoils the book for me.

More broadly, the fundamental premise of the book: That Arabs, Jews and Christians lived peacefully under Moorish rule, is more romantic than true. Except for a very brief period of 50 or so years around 900 AD, there was more persecution than tolerance over the 700 year Moorish period. Ask the Jews of Granada that were slaughered in 1066, or the thousands of Christians who were deported by the Almoravid dynasty to Morocco as slaves in 1126. During the same period, it is well known the Berbers of Northern Africa would frequently pillage Spain, robbing Andalusian Arabs and Christians alike. Later, of course, a united Christian Spain would deport the heavily taxed and persecuted Moors in 1492; some authorities report Muslims were forced to leave their children behind as slaves for the Christian Monarchs to work in various trades.

I believe the book's only bright light is an interesting and original tale about how the enlightened Arabs and Jews of the period translated and preserved some of the world's best literature and science thought lost after the fall of Rome and Greece. The works of Aristotle, for example, were translated from Greek to Arab, then several hundred years later by the Christian clergy from Arab to Latin and other romance languages.

An alternative book about Islamic and Jewish influences in Andalusia is Richard Fletcher's "Moorish Spain." Fletcher is considered by some authorities to be the Bernard Lewis of Islamic Spain and his well-written 1990 book remains the one of best efforts covering that period. Another well-written book, but more detailed effort, is L.P. Harvey's "Islamic Spain 1250-1500." A third book, a superior piece of modern travel writing, rich in Moorish and Jewish history, is Gees Nooteboom's "Roads to Santiago."

All three of books are widely available, offer an unvarnished overview of Moorish & Sefardic Spain, and are worth consideration for people seeking a non-academic overview of this classic period.

Good luck and good reading!

Optimistic History
I have been fortunate enough to travel to Spain three times now. Two of my trips have taken me through the southern parts of the country--Andalusia (al-Andalus) and its environs--that make up the setting for much of this story. It is a beautiful part of the world and Menocal has provided us with a wonderful history of the area during the time of its greatest glory: the Middle Ages. From 711 until 1492, the Iberian Peninsula was the home of three different cultures--Jewish, Christian and Muslim--that were often able to co-exist in relative peace. While doing so, they were each able to contribute to a cosmopolitan and melded culture that for a long stretch was the most advanced culture in Western civilization, producing things that remain unique to this day.

This "culture of tolerance" as Menocal calls it was perhaps not as tolerant as she likes to make out and, of course, it ultimately implodes as Christians and Muslims fight for possession of the country. Still, much of the literature, science and philosophy produced of that time remains influential and many of the beautiful places remain to be see by visitors to the area. Anyone traveling to the country would be amiss if he or she did not take a look at this book and get a feel for the achievement of medieval Spain.

Understand that this book is a completely optimistic account of the period and ignores most of the tragedies of the time. Still, in our time of insecurity, it is nice to read something positive. It is beautiful to see what can be achieved when three powerful cultures work together instead of try to destroy each other.

Relevant History for Our Time
Maria Rosa Menocal presents what today would be a 'radical' idea: people of different religions coexisting and even tolerating their differences while creating a vibrant and dynamic society. Yet, in medieval Spain ('al-Andalus' as the exiled Umayyad dynasty coined it) this kind of society was created and managed to exist for almost 600 years. The book is part narrative, part analysis of what made al-Andalus the creative center that transmitted both Arab and ancient Greek culture throughout the Western European world. The originator was Abd al-Rahman, the last of the Umayyad Muslims from Syria, whose family had been wiped out by political and religious rivals. As a young man, he is exiled to the Iberian peninsula, and begins to transform it into the 'real' caliphate, filled with new ideas; perhaps accidentally, he also creates a society where Jews and Christians can rise to high posts in the caliphate and transform their own cultures. Menocal provides portraits of individuals of all backgrounds who build a sometimes 'ideal' society; she also narrates those who, like Petrus Alfonsi (a convert from Judaism to Christianity), take these ideas to the rest of Europe (Petrus became famous and revered in England for what was 'common' knowledge in al-Andalus, which illustrates how ignorant much of Europe was -- Petrus was only 'average' in his homeland). The book ends with a bitter -- and, in the context of the book, surprising -- betrayal of tolerance by Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain in 1492: despite dressing like 'Arabs' at their ascension to a 'reconquered' Christian Spain, within three months, they banned (and pressured conversion) to the Jews (some of whom worked with these monarchs in positions of authority), and pressure Muslims to convert or leave. Although remnants of the 'golden' age of al-Andalus survive in buildings like the Alhambra palace, the Inquisition wipes out much of what flourished during the supposedly 'dark' age of Europe. One of the most insightful books I've read in months.

Sophocles' Oedipus Rex (Modern Critical Interpretation Series)
Published in Library Binding by Chelsea House Pub (Library) (January, 1988)
Authors: Harold Bloom, Bloom Harold, and Sophocles
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"Oediupus" falls short of higher expectations
Oedipus did not fill my expectations for what I was led to believe. Before reading the story I was excited to read about a young King's plight to uncovering a confusing secret. In the middle of the story I found my mind wondering because the story did not hold my attention. It was boring because it was not in modern language. In order to follow the story, I had to keep stopping myself and take time out to understand the "code" of words. While I was taking time to understand I had already forgot what I was reading in the first place.

A Story We've All Heard Before
This is a play full of dramatic and tragic irony. What are the odds of killing your father and marrying your mother without knowing. Oedipus Rex was abandoned as a child because of a prophecy saying he would grow up to kill his father, the king, and marry his mother. He grew up a peasant and one day killed a king who was traveling the opposite way on the same road as he. Obvious to us, this was his father. He later solves a riddle to save the city and is made king. He therefore must marry the queen unbeknown to him as his mother. The truth finally comes out of the mouth of a blind prophet who forsay it all in the beginning. Although you may be forced to read this play in high school or in college it is still a great play to read. It is short and easy to follow and makes for great class discussions.

Oedipus and his family tree
Oedipus was one very troubled person in this book. He killed his father he married his mother and had kids with his mother making them his sisters and grandchildren and children. In my thoughts Oedipus rex was an ok book. when you start reading it you will really get into it. i thought that close to the end it got even better because oedipus found out even more about himself and were he came from and who his parents were. If you are thinking about reading this book i would suggest that you read it and see how you like it.

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