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 Then there are the naysayers who either ignore him, feel him outdated or those who want to take him seriously but find that whatever the topic it inevitably detours to Shakespeare and/or is punctuated by emphatic oracular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 carefully read his introductions and conclusions because that is where the real insights exist. I disagree with him very often but that's the part I like the best
Some readers will be put off in places, not so much by disagreement with Bloom's arguments, as by the technical jargon of literary theory, plus his infatuation with certain terms or phrases that he invests with deep, if sometimes vague, meaning. And, in a few (thankfully few) places, Bloom grumbles like an old man that the world in general and America in particular are going to hell-in-a-handcart. So, this may sound like I am panning the book, right? Not so. Despite my own occasional frustration with elements of Bloom's style, and lack of deep interest in his critical theory, I gladly recommend the book to serious readers.
I do not read Bloom for his theory (however valuable this may be), but because of his exceptionally close and rich reading of great writers. As another reviewer has said, Bloom believes that "literary criticism...ought to consist in acts of appreciation." This volume (like predecessors and his more recent "The Daemon Knows") is a passionate appreciation of some extraordinary writers. It includes extensive selections to illustrate his points, and is replete with the original interpretations and sharp insights that Bloom has consistently offered. Reading Bloom is likely to enrich your appreciation and prompt further thinking about nearly every writer he addresses, as well as open new doors to some you have not adequately considered. After reading Bloom, I typically find myself going directly to my bookshelf or bookstore to dig into a collection of poems or a novel that I may read anew or even for the first time with much-enhanced understanding and pleasure.
I recently read (and reviewed) Bloom's recent "The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime," where I offered somewhat similar criticism and comments. On the whole, I prefer this later offering, and genuinely hated to finish it, which I couldn't quite bring myself to say about the present volume. Perhaps I simply preferred the broader attention to novels, as well as poems, in "The Daemon Knows." Both have a lot to offer, if one can absorb a bit of Bloom's admirable literary passion and benefit from his nice insights, while ignoring the distraction of some jargon and (dare I say?) occasional pedantry.