The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life Hardcover – May 3 2011
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About the Author
Harold Bloom is Sterling Professor of the Humanities at Yale University. He lives in New Haven, CT.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
There are the Bloomdolators who bristle to the point of abusive invective if anyone dares suggest their idol has feet of critical clay and regularly pray to He-Who-Can-Do-No- Wrong (read some of the reviews here on Amazon if this you doubt). Then there are the naysayers who either ignore him, feel him outdated or those who want to take him seriously but find that whatever the topic it inevitably detours to Shakespeare and/or is punctuated by emphatic oracular statements unencumbered by any argument to support them. (Full Disclosure: I fall into the latter camp. Surprised?)
So why five stars? Because in many ways this book is different. It is Bloom's summa, pulling together everything from a lifetime of reading, of thinking about literature (with the emphasis on Shakespeare, naturally) and of thinking about literary influence. The tone is more elegiac than oracular. There is less of "this is what is" and more "this is what I've come to believe", a subtle shift that makes all the difference. This shading transforms the work into a synthesis of his well-earned subtitle: literature as a way of life.
His revisionist approach to his earlier (and most famous) work, THE ANXIETY OF INFLUENCE recall's Susan Sontag's similar motivations in revisiting ON PHOTOGRAPHY in her later REGARDING THE PAIN OF OTHERS, i.e. second and more informed thoughts. But influence (and agon) are not all that is on Bloom's mind (although it is the thread that winds through this book). Everything that he feels he wants to say about the various great works that have been important to him (his strong writers) are touched on, glancingly or at length.
The reader may need her dictionary handy to unpick words such as sprezzatura, tropological, misprision, topoi, prolepsis, acedia, and many others. And his love of mandarin prose has not been abandoned:
"There is an occult relation between Hamlet's long malaise and the play's unique and dazzling enigma, the gap cut in mimesis from act2, scene 2, through act 3, scene 2. We behold and hear not an imitation of an action but rather representations of prior representations. The covenant between stage and audience is abrogated in favor of a dance of shadows, where only the manipulator Hamlet is real. Destroying its own genre, the play thus gives us an unfathered Hamlet. Shakespeare scrambles after him, but Hamlet keeps getting away, Hobgoblin run off with the garland of Apollo." (page 65)
But if Bloom in these pages sees himself as an English Department of one, this book gives the impression rather of a mythical beast, glorious to behold, the last of his kind, sustained these many years by the nourishment of great books, great thinkers, great ideas who in the sunset of his generosity has decided to leave us the legacy of what he knows. I for one am sincerely grateful.
Challenge yourself to read Bloom, and he will challenge you to read, read and reread. He will challenge you to read Shakespeare, Cervantes, Tolstoy, Homer, Goethe, Emerson, Freud, Dostoyevsky, Mann, and on and on. He will make you realize that the great poets and authors of language are like empires or countries, with their own geographies, climates, histories, inhabitants and personalities. He will challenge you to read deeply the only literature that ultimately matters, because it is the literature that deals with that which, hopefully, is indeed Ultimate.
I discovered Bloom as an overconfident, 18 year old undergrad studying abroad. I was immediately humbled like never before. The first thing I realized when I began Genius was that I really hadn't read anything, and that the most appropriate starting points were 1. The English Dictionary and 2. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
Bloom will disarm you and elicit every literary insecurity you ever had. He will take you straight to Why it is you read literary criticism in the first place. So, why do you?
Bloom will guide you and hopefully breathe a life into your relationship with literature that you never imagined possible, in a way that so few teachers are able to do in our time.
As a possible pre-reading, I'd suggest How to Read And Why, Hamlet, Poem Unlimited, Jorge Luis Borges' "The Garden of Forking Paths" and an NPR Interview from a number of years back concerning Jesus and Yaweh The Names Divine.
Remember. It will be a challenge, but more worthwhile than you can imagine.
I would firstly point out that Bloom's entire discussion is an intricate and elegant proof of Blake's compelling first tractate, All Religions are One:
Principle 4.As none by travelling over known lands can find out the unknown. So from already acquired knowledge Man could not acquire more. therefore an Universal Poetic Genius exists
Principle 5. The Religions of all Nations are derived from each Nations different reception of the Poetic Genius which is every where call'd the Spirit of Prophecy.
Where Frye attempted to contextualize the manifestations of the Poetic Genius and understand its function within the Western Canon, centering on Shakespeare, Bloom tries to discover and describe how the Poetic Genius, the Universe of Insight, is wrestled with by individual poets. Jacob-like, poets wrestle. The poetically strong emerge, having at best fought a delaying action, with new understanding of this Spirit, this Monad. The strong poet contributes to the greater aesthetic understanding of this Spirit and, as it were, adds his refinements to the equations of psychohistory (see Asimov). It is the contribution to the Culture's insight into the Poetic Genius as the Spirit of Prophecy acts (or will act) IN THE REAL WORLD which allows a poem or poet to enter the Canon.
Interestingly, the journeyman work of reading poems (or of singing or painting) is what allows a Poet to find the keys to paradise, but only the paradise of Beulah, the lesser heaven. Beulah, which is explored by the creative personality as he or she engages is spiritual cartography, ultimately reveals one story only, that of the Bride and the Bridegroom, of Beatrice and Dante, of Simon and Helen. Freud's desperate struggle to understand, and thus outflank, the Poetic Genius is central to Bloom's discussion, yet Bloom himself is a much more penetrating observer than Freud, and as a theorist Blooms much surpasses Freud. The reason for Bloom's triumph of insight is the method worked out in The Anxiety of Influence, A Map of Misreading, Kabbalah and Criticism, and Poetry & Repression. Put succinctly, Bloom's method allows him to be correct, accurate, and pragmatically useful.
Thus Harold Bloom, finding himself in the last revisionary ratio, is back in Northop Frye's shoes -- describing the structural aspects of the edifice created by the Poetic Genius' reception in our world. Having recognized his precursor at last, "Bloom Regained" illuminates with detailed critical observations of the influence of that informing structure on individual poets and their methods for reading individual poems. Frye's Great Code is vindicated because of its truthfulness and its structural integrity.
I am very happy that Professor Bloom chose not to finish this book. While he could not forestall the Apophrades, his wrestling with Frye's structural questions allows the Canon to add yet another layer of understanding and fertile creativity. Bloom must be credited with facilitating a new Century's assimilation of the Poetic Genius of William Blake, English Literature's deep root.
The dogs may bark, but the Canon moves on.