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Bloom, Harold

Entry updated 10 April 2023. Tagged: Author, Critic, Editor.

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(1930-2019) US academic and author, active from the mid-1950s, author of one novel, The Flight to Lucifer: A Gnostic Fantasy (1979), whose subtitle is accurate. As a critic, he is best known for his analysis of the relationship between strong male authors and their predecessors over the last several centuries of Western literature, an analysis deeply influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud, an influence he freely admitted made him anxious. The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (1973; rev 1997), A Map of Misreading (1975), Kabbalah and Criticism (1975) and Poetry and Repression: Revisionism from Blake to Stevens (1976) make up a central tetralogy of works devoted to Bloom's variously expressed sense that the creative act is inherently gladiatorial, patricidal, a haunted agon whose greatest works are wrested from the past: pathos unbound. The concept unrigorously but overwhelmingly focuses on works and their makers from the beginning of the nineteenth century on; a central defining aspect of Fantastika is its self-conscious focus on the ambient bed of other texts, the tesseract of contexts past and present, a sufficiently intense focus for it to be described as anxious.

An early study of Mary Shelley, "Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus", which served as an introduction to a 1965 reprinting of the novel, is couched in terms consistent with the later tetralogy. His work in the fields of the fantastic – despite his high esteem for such writers as John Crowley – has not however been strongly focused, though his central convictions inevitably help shape a sense that the individual authors seeding the great family romances of Fantastika do unrelentingly jostle one another for Lebensraum through time, just as do Bloom's poets.

Bloom may be most popularly known for a later work, The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages (1994), some of whose central exemplars include William Shakespeare, Franz Kafka and Jorge Luis Borges. The list of canonical authors at the end of the text includes many with entries in this encyclopedia; the twentieth-century section mentions (among many others) Margaret Atwood (but not for her sf), Italo Calvino, John Crowley, Thomas M Disch, Aldous Huxley, Alfred Jarry, Ursula K Le Guin, George Orwell, Mervyn Peake, Thomas Pynchon, José Saramago and H G Wells: but the general exclusion of genre authors now seems dated. In Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (1998), Bloom's understanding of William Shakespeare as comprehensively significant, and to be wholeheartedly revered, has received some academic demurs, but is arousing all the same. He continued to produce prolifically, but the work of his last twenty years was shadowed by a profound "undersong" of cultural and political foreboding about the fate of the Western World, and of the renewingly transgressive words that had given it life.

Of the numerous Anthologies of critical pieces edited by Bloom (though it is clear that, for many of the something like 600 anthologies under his name, his role was essentially supervisory), several are of sf interest: Mary Shelley (anth 1985), Edgar Allan Poe (anth 1985), Ursula K. Le Guin (anth 1986) and Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness (anth 1987), Doris Lessing (anth 1986), George Orwell (anth 1987) and George Orwell's 1984 (anth 1987), Classic Horror Writers (anth 1993), Classic Science Fiction Writers (1995), Science Fiction Writers of the Golden Age (anth 1995), Modern Fantasy Writers (anth 1995), Modern Horror Writers (anth 1995), Stephen King (anth 1998), Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five (anth 2001) and Ray Bradbury (anth 2001).

As Ruben Blum, Bloom is a central figure in Joshua Cohen's The Netanyahus: an Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family (2021). [JC]

Harold Bloom

born New York: 11 July 1930

died New Haven, Connecticut: 14 October 2019


nonfiction (highly selected)

works as editor


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