Harold Bloom (b. July 11, 1930), US literary critic

Harold Bloom should not be confused with the late Allan Bloom (1930-1992), another conservative crank and author of The Closing of the American Mind.

Harold Bloom is the Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University, his alma mater and where he has taught since 1955. An idiosyncratic, conservative-leaning, cranky fellow, he is America's most famous literary critic and his tomes regularly appear on best seller lists.

His most important works of original criticism are The Anxiety of Influence (1973) and A Map of Misreading (1975). In those volumes, he put forth the idea of "the anxiety of influence": poetry is the product of an Oedipal conflict between poets and their influences, where poets come to grips (and often misread) the work of those influences while finding their own voices.

These days, in popular volumes like The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages (1994), Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (1998), How to Read and Why (2000), and Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds (2002), he defends his idea of aesthetics. He firmly believes in a literary canon of great works of literature composed by great minds, and is opposed to what he calls "The School of Resentment", literary theories of feminists, Marxists, postmodernists, etc. who embrace and examine ideas of race, class, politics, and historical context.

He often makes some excellent and incontrovertible points, yet he just as often simplifies and caricatures the positions of his opponents. His Last Brave Defender of the Canon shtik can descend into unintentional self-parody, such as when he refers to himself as Bloom Brontosaurus. The most memorable moment of this that I've seen occurs in The Best of the Best American Poetry 1988-1997, a volume he edited culling poems from the annual The Best American Poetry anthology series. In the introduction, he noted he refused to include any poems from the 1996 volume edited by Adrienne Rich, and he also refused to mention her by name while excoriating her volume as "The Most Socially Energetic of the Socially Energetic". Yet in this same introduction, he says "I have seen my profession dying for over a quarter century now, and in another decade it may be dead. If its function is to appreciate and teach Laetitia Landon and Lady Mary Chudleigh, then the demise cannot come too soon." Really, who can argue with that?

It would be a mistake to dismiss Bloom entirely as a knee-jerk conservative. He does not oppose left-leaning literary theory in favor of a conservative theory based on, say, virtue and Christianity a la William Bennett. He favors a canon based on no ideology at all, liberal or conservative, but on genius and aesthetics. He isn't shy about what he dislikes: he hates Harry Potter and displays a vociferous hatred of the work of Alice Walker in general and The Color Purple in particular. But he also isn't shy about championing what he likes either. In earlier decades, he carried the banner for the poetry of John Ashbery and A.R. Ammons. Today, he doesn't hesitate to include in the canon many writers who are beloved of that School of Resentment because they are female, of color, or gay, like Anne Carson, Rita Dove, and Tony Kushner. One of his most controversial works was The Book of J (1990), in which Bloom theorized that J, the hypothetical author which Biblical scholars think composed many of the early parts of the Bible, was female.

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