Sunday, March 04, 2007

Harold Bloom: A Life in Books

Newsweek/MSNBC asked Harold Bloom about books, and of course he had some strong opinions, including the assertion that there is not an important book that he has not "ingested." Bloom is certainly one of our most important critics and thinkers. It's too bad that people of his stature don't hold a more central role in American culture.

As a side note, his The American Religion has being re-issued, unchanged aside from a new coda. You can read an excerpt from this classic at the Newsweek site.


March 12, 2007 issue - Pushed to make more-unusual choices, Yale prof Harold Bloom was willing to dispense with the Bible ("since it's gotten all mixed up with questions of belief" in what is now an "insanely religious" country), but would not budge on Shakespeare, whom he called "the beginning, the middle and the end."


"Shakespeare, the complete works." I won't say he "invented" us, because journalists perpetually misunderstand me on that. I'll put it more simply: he contains us. Our ways of thinking and feeling—about ourselves, those we love, those we hate, those we realize are hopelessly "other" to us—are more shaped by Shakespeare than they are by the experience of our own lives.

"The Canterbury Tales" by Geoffrey Chaucer. He gives us human beings in the round; human beings that are more than simply names upon the page. With almost every contemporary novel, the characters are names upon the page.

"La Divina Commedia" by Dante, preferably in the original. He had the visionary power of a poet who deals with unearthly things, fused with the capacity for rendering what we call reality.

"Don Quixote" by Miguel de Cervantes. He changes the whole nature of narrative and gives birth to the modern novel—and that has been the dominant form for several hundred years now, though it is perhaps dying at this very moment.

The Iliad by Homer. Whether we like it or not—and I don't always like it—we are the children of classical culture.

The book you cared most about sharing with your kids: The two Alice books by Lewis Carroll are the finest literary fantasies ever written. They will last forever, and the Harry Potter books are going to wind up in the rubbish bin. The first six volumes have sold, I am told, 350 million copies. I know of no larger indictment of the world's descent into subliteracy.

An Important Book that you admit you haven't read: I cannot think of a major work I have not ingested.

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