Harold Bloom

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Harold Bloom (born July 11, 1930) is an American professor and literary critic. Bloom was a defender of 19th-century Romantic poets at a time when their reputations were at a low ebb, the author of controversial theories of poetic influence, and an advocate of an aesthetic approach to literature against Marxist, New Historicist, and other methods of academic literary criticism. He is the Sterling Professor of the Humanities at Yale University and Berg Professor of English at New York University.


Harold Bloom, son of William and Paula Bloom, was born in New York City and lived in the East Bronx at 1410 Grand Concourse. He grew up in a Yiddish-speaking household, and learned Yiddish and literary Hebrew before learning English. He entered Cornell University in 1947 on scholarship (he was one of 65 people in the Bronx that year to win a scholarship from the State Department of Education).

Bloom has frequently recounted that his attachment to poetry began when, at the age of ten, he discovered Hart Crane's book White Buildings at the Bronx public library. He claims that he knew "by age eleven or twelve that all I really liked to do was read poetry and discuss it." He earned a B.A. in 1951, and then went to Yale University for graduate study. He received his Ph.D. in 1955 and has been a member of the Yale faculty since that time. In 1958 he married Jeanne Gould; they have two sons, Daniel Jacob and David Moses, one of whom is severely disabled. Bloom refuses to discuss his children in interviews. Bloom credits Northrop Frye as his major precursor as critic. He told Irme Salusinzky in 1986, "In terms of my own theorizations... the precursor proper has to be Northrop Frye. I purchased and read Fearful Symmetry a week or two after it had come out and reached the bookstore in Ithaca, New York. It ravished my heart away. I have tried to find an alternative father in Mr. [Kenneth] Burke, who is a charming fellow and a very powerful critic, but I don't come from Burke, I come out of Frye."

Bloom began his career by defending the reputations of the High Romantic poets of the early nineteenth century against neo-Christian critics influenced by such writers as T.S. Eliot. His approach was contentious: his first book, Shelley's Mythmaking, charged many contemporary critics with sheer carelessness in their reading of Shelley. After a personal crisis in the late sixties, Bloom became deeply interested in Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sigmund Freud, and the ancient mystic traditions of Gnosticism, Kabbalah and Hermetism. He would later come to describe himself as a 'Jewish gnostic,' explaining "I am using Gnostic in a very broad way. I am nothing if not Jewish... I really am a product of Yiddish culture. But I can't understand a Yahweh, or a God, who could be all-powerful and all knowing and would allow the Nazi death camps and schizophrenia." Influenced by his reading, he began a series of books that focused on the way in which poets struggled to create their own individual poetic visions without being overcome by the influence of the previous poets who inspired them to write. The first of these books was Yeats, a magisterial examination of William Butler Yeats that challenged the conventional critical view of his poetic career. In the introduction to this volume, Bloom set out the basic principles of his new approach to criticism: "Poetic influence, as I conceive it, is a variety of melancholy or the [Freudian] anxiety-principle." A new poet is inspired to write because he has read and admired the poetry of previous poets; but this admiration turns into resentment when the new poet discovers that everything he wishes to say has already been said by these poets whom he idolized. The poet is disappointed because he "cannot be Adam early in the morning. There have been too many Adams, and they have named everything."

In order to evade this psychological obstacle, the new poet must convince himself that previous poets have gone wrong somewhere and failed in their vision, thus leaving open the possibility that he may have something to add to the tradition after all. The new poet's love for his heroes turns into antagonism towards them: "Initial love for the precursor's poetry is transformed rapidly enough into revisionary strife, without which individuation is not possible." (Map of Misreading p. 10) The book that followed Yeats, The Anxiety of Influence, which Bloom had started writing in 1967, set out his new doctrine in a systematic form. Bloom attempted to trace the psychological process by which a poet broke free from his precursors to achieve his own poetic vision. He drew a sharp distinction between "strong poets" who perform "strong misreadings" of their precursors, and "weak poets" who simply repeat the ideas of their precursors as though they were a kind of doctrine. He described this process in terms of a sequence of "revisionary ratios," through which each strong poet passed in the course of his career. A Map of Misreading picked up where The Anxiety of Influence left off, making several adjustments to Bloom's system of revisionary ratios. Kabbalah and Criticism attempted to invoke the esoteric interpretive system of the Lurianic kabbalah, as explicated by scholar Gershom Scholem, as an alternate system of mapping the path of poetic influence. Figures of Capable Imagination was a collection of odd pieces Bloom had written in the process of composing his influence books. He capped off this period of intense creativity with another monograph, a full-length study of Wallace Stevens, with whom, as he told an interviewer in the early 1980s, he identified more than any other poet at this stage of his career.

Bloom's fascination with the fantasy novel A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay led him to take a brief break from criticism in order to compose an attempted sequel to Lindsay's novel. This novel, The Flight to Lucifer, has been Bloom's only attempt at fiction writing. Though reviews were not entirely discouraging, he soon disowned this book. As he himself admitted, it was too heavily weighted down by the author's self-conscious theoretical interest in the nature of fantasy literature. He has said that he would remove every copy of the book from every library if he could. Bloom continued to write about influence theory throughout the seventies and eighties, and he has rarely written anything since which does not invoke his ideas about influence. Beginning with The Book of J (for which he wrote the introduction and commentary) in 1990, Bloom began a series of miscellaneous works that reached out to a more popular audience. In The Book of J he argued that the ancient documents that formed the basis of the first five books of the bible (see documentary hypothesis) were the work of a great literary artist who had no intention of composing a dogmatically religious work. Bloom further argued that this anonymous writer was a woman attached to the court of the successors of the Israelite kings David and Solomon — a piece of speculation which drew much attention. Later, he said (perhaps jokingly) that his speculations didn't go far enough, and he should have identified J with the biblical Bathsheba.

In The American Religion, Bloom surveyed the major varieties of Protestant and post-Protestant religious faiths in the United States, and argued that, in terms of their psychological hold on their adherents, all shared more in common with gnosticism than with historical Christianity. In 1994, Bloom published The Western Canon, a survey of the major literary works of post-Roman Europe, which including an introduction and conclusion explicitly attacking the rise of ideologically-driven literary studies among academic critics. The book also included a list—which aroused more widespread interest than anything else in the volume—of all the Western works from antiquity to the present which Bloom considered to be either permanent members of the canon of literary classics, or (among more recent works) candidates for that status. The publicity surrounding The Western Canon turned him into something of a celebrity. His critical work is often associated with that of his protege at Yale in the 1970s, Camille Paglia.

Bloom's Influence

Bloom's theory of poetic influence regards the development of Western literature as a process of borrowing and misreading. Writers find their creative inspiration in previous writers and begin by imitating those writers; in order to develop a poetic voice of their own, however, they must make their own work different from that of their precursors. As a result, Bloom argues, authors of real power must inevitably 'misread' their precursors' works in order to make room for fresh imaginings.

Though observers often identified Bloom with deconstructionism in the past, he himself never admitted to sharing more than a few ideas with the deconstructionists. He told Robert Moynihan in 1983, "What I think I have in common with the school of deconstruction is the mode of negative thinking or negative awareness, in the technical, philosophical sense of the negative, but which comes to me through negative theology...There is no escape, there is simply the given, and there is nothing that we can do." Bloom's association with the Western canon has provoked a substantial amount of interest in his opinion concerning the relative importance of contemporary writers. In the late 1980s, Bloom told an interviewer: "Probably the most powerful living Western writer is Samuel Beckett. He’s certainly the most authentic." Beckett died in 1989, and Bloom has not suggested who occupies that position now.

Concerning British writers: "Geoffrey Hill is the strongest British poet now active," and "no other contemporary British novelist seems to me to be of [Iris] Murdoch's eminence." Since Murdoch's death, Bloom has expressed admiration for novelists such as John Banville, Peter Ackroyd, Will Self, and A. S. Byatt. In his 2003 book, Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds, he named Portuguese writer José Saramago as "the most gifted novelist alive in the world today," and "one of the last titans of an expiring literary genre." Of American novelists, he declared in 2003 "there are four living American novelists I know of who are still at work and who deserve our praise." Claiming "they write the Style of our Age, each has composed canonical works," he identified them as Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy and Don DeLillo. He named their strongest works as Gravity's Rainbow and Mason & Dixon, American Pastoral and Sabbath's Theater, Blood Meridian, and Underworld. He has also praised fantasy writer John Crowley as these writers' equal -- especially his novel Little, Big.

In Kabbalah and Criticism (1975) he identified Robert Penn Warren, James Merrill, John Ashbery and Elizabeth Bishop as the most important living American poets. By the 1990s he regularly named A.R. Ammons along with Ashbery and Merrill, and he has lately come to identify Henri Cole as the crucial American poet of the generation following those three. He has expressed great admiration for the Canadian poet Anne Carson, particularly her verse novel Autobiography of Red. Bloom also lists African American Jay Wright as one of only a handful of major living poets.

Bloom's introduction to Modern Critical Interpretations: Thomas Pynchon (1987) features his canon of the "twentieth-century American Sublime," the greatest works of American art produced in the 20th century. Bloom singles out the following works for distinction:


  • The Future of the Imagination. Publisher and date unknown.
  • Shelley's Mythmaking. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959.
  • The Visionary Company: A Reading of English Romantic Poetry. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961. Rev. and enlarged ed. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971.
  • Blake's Apocalypse: A Study in Poetic Argument. Anchor Books: New York: Doubleday and Co., 1963.
  • Yeats. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970. ISBN 0195016033
  • The Ringers in the Tower: Studies in Romantic Tradition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971.
  • Poetry and Repression: Revisionism from Blake to Stevens. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976.
  • Figures of Capable Imagination. New York: Seabury Press, 1976.
  • Wallace Stevens: The Poems of our Climate. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1977.
  • Deconstruction and Criticism. New York: Seabury Press, 1980.
  • The Flight to Lucifer: Gnostic Fantasy. New York: Vintage Books, 1980. ISBN 0394743237
  • The Breaking of the Vessels. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.
  • The Book of J: Translated from the Hebrew by David Rosenberg; Interpreted by Harold Bloom. New York: Grove Press, 1990 ISBN 0802141919
  • Ruin the Sacred Truths: Poetry and Belief from the Bible to the Present. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989.
  • The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation; Touchstone Books; ISBN 0671867377 (1992; August 1993)
  • The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973; 2d ed., 1997. ISBN 0195112210
  • A Map of Misreading. New York: Oxford University Press, 1975.
  • Kabbalah and Criticism. New York : Seabury Press, 1975. ISBN 0826402429
  • Agon: Towards a Theory of Revisionism. New York : Oxford University Press, 1982.
  • The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1994.
  • Omens of Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and Resurrection. New York: Riverhead Books, 1996.
  • Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: 1999. ISBN 157322751X
  • Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages. New York: 2001.
  • How to Read and Why. New York: 2001. ISBN 0684859068
  • Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds. New York: 2003. ISBN 0446527173
  • Hamlet: Poem Unlimited. New York: 2003.
  • The Best Poems of the English Language: From Chaucer Through Frost. New York: 2004. ISBN 0060540419
  • Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? New York: 2004. ISBN 1573222844
  • Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine 2005. ISBN 1573223220

Miscellaneous Books

  • (Editor) English Romantic Poetry, An Anthology, Doubleday, 1961, two-volume revised edition, Anchor, 1963.
  • (Editor, with John Hollander) The Wind and the Rain, Doubleday, 1961.
  • The Literary Criticism of John Ruskin, Edited and with Introduction by Harold Bloom, Anchor, 1965.
  • (Editor, with Frederick W. Hilles) From Sensibility to Romanticism: Essays Presented to Frederick A. Pottle, Oxford University Press, 1965.
  • (Editor) Percy Bysshe Shelley, Selected Poetry, New American Library (New York, NY), 1966.
  • (Editor) Walter Horatio Pater, Marius the Epicurean: His Sensations and Ideas, New American Library, 1970.
  • "The Internalization of Quest-Romance" and "The Unpastured Sea: An Introduction to Shelley," in Romanticism and Consciousness: Essays in Criticism, edited by Harold Bloom, Norton, 1970.
  • (Editor) Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Selected Poetry, New American Library, 1972.
  • (Editor) The Romantic Tradition in American Literature, 33 volumes, Arno, 1972.
  • (Editor, with Lionel Trilling) Romantic Prose and Poetry, Oxford University Press, 1973.
  • (Editor, with Trilling) Victorian Prose and Poetry, Oxford University Press, 1973.
  • (Editor, with Frank Kermode, Hollander, and others) Oxford Anthology of English Literature, two volumes, Oxford University Press, 1973.
  • (Editor and Introduction) Selected Writings of Walter Pater, Columbia University Press, New York, 1974.
  • (Introduction) Somewhere Is Such a Kingdom: Poems 1952-1971, by Geoffrey Hill, 1975.
  • (Editor, with Adrienne Munich) Robert Browning: A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice-Hall, 1979.
  • (Editor, with David V. Erdman) The Complete Poetry and Prose by William Blake, Bantam Doubleday Dell, November 1981.
  • (Introduction) On the Bible: Eighteen Studies by Martin Buber, New York: Schocken, 1982.
  • (Foreword) Elizabeth Bishop and her art, Edited by Lloyd Schwartz and Sybil P. Estess, University of Michigan Press, 1983.
  • (Introduction) Musical Variations on Jewish Thought by Olivier Revault d'Allonnes, Translated from the French by Judith L. Greenberg, New York, Geo. Braziller, 1984.
  • (Afterword) Selected poems of Jay Wright, Edited with an introduction by Robert B. Stepto, 1987.
  • (Foreword) Literary Outtakes, by Larry Dark, Ballantine, 1990.
  • (Editor, With Frank Kermode, Lionel Trilling, John Hollander) The Oxford Anthology of English Literature, Vol. 2, Oxford University Press, November 1990.
  • (Edited, with Lionel Trilling) Victorian Prose and Poetry, Oxford University Press, November 1990.
  • (Foreword) Freud's Dream of Interpretation, by Ken Frieden, November 1990.
  • (Introduction) Unlocking the English Language, by Robert Burchfield, New York, Hill & Wang/FSG, 1991.
  • (Commentary) The Gospel of Thomas, The Hidden Sayings of Jesus, Translation, with introduction, critical edition of the Coptic text and notes by Marvin Meyer, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992.
  • (Editor, With Paul Kane) Collected Poems and Translations of Ralph Waldo Emerson, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Library of America, April 1992.
  • (Commentary) Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory, by Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, and William Golding, University of Washington Press, March 1996.
  • (Afterword) A Dybbuk and Other Tales of the Supernatural, Translated by S. Ansky and Joachim Neugroschel, adapted by Tony Kushner, Consortium Book Sales, May 1997.
  • (Editor, With David Lehman) The Best of the Best American Poetry 1988-1997, Scribner, 1998.
  • (Introduction, with Ralph Manheim) Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi by Henry Corbin, Princeton University Press, April 1998.
  • (Introduction) The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren, Edited by John Burt, Louisiana State University Press, October 1998.
  • (Foreword) Death in Venice, Tonio Kroger, and Other Writings by Thomas Mann, Edited by Frederick A. Lubich, Continuum Intl Publishing Group, July 1999.
  • (Introduction) The Body Electric: America's best Poetry from the American poetry Review, by Stephen Berg, 2000.
  • (Introduction) On the Bible: Eighteen Studies by Martin Buber, Edited by Nahum Norbert Glatzer, Syracuse University Press, February 2000.
  • (Afterword) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Foreword by Walter James Miller, Signet Classic paperback: August 2000.
  • (Foreword) Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays, With a new foreword by Harold Bloom, by Northrop Frye, August 2000.
  • (Introduction) Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy, January 2001.
  • (Introduction) The Complete Poems of Hart Crane, The Centennial Edition, Edited by Marc Simon, With a new introduction by Harold Bloom, May 2001.
  • (Introduction) Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation by Moshe Idel, Yale University Press, 2002.
  • (Foreword) Long Day's Journey into Night, by Eugene O'Neill, February 2002.
  • (Foreword) Côte Blanche by Martha Serpas, February 2002.
  • (Foreword) Atlantic Poets: Fernando Pessoa's turn in Anglo-American modernism, by Irene Ramalho Santos, University Press of New England, 2003.
  • (Editor) Walt Whitman, Selected Poems by Walt Whitman, February 2003.
  • (Foreword) Selected Poems by Conrad Aiken, Oxford University Press, April 2003.
  • (Foreword) The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, by Maria Rosa Menocal, April 2003.
  • (Introduction) Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, Translated by Edith Grossman, Ecco Press, November 2003.
  • (Introduction) Peripheral Light, Selected and New Poems, by John Kinsella, November 2003.


  • On Extended Wings; Wallace Stevens' Longer Poems. By Helen Hennessy Vendler, (review), New York Times, October 5, 1969.
  • Poets' meeting in the heyday of their youth; A Single Summer With Lord Byron, New York Times, February 15, 1970.
  • An angel's spirit in a decaying (and active) body, New York Times, November 22, 1970.
  • The Use of Poetry, New York Times, November 12, 1975.
  • Northrop Frye exalting the designs of romance; The Secular Scripture, New York Times, April 18, 1976.
  • On Solitude in America, New York Times, August 4, 1977.
  • The Critic/Poet, New York Times, February 5, 1978.
  • A Fusion of Traditions; Rosenberg, New York Times, July 22, 1979.
  • Straight Forth Out of Self, New York Times, June 22, 1980.
  • The Heavy Burden of the Past; Poets, New York Times, January 4, 1981.
  • The Pictures of the Poet; The Painting and Drawings of William Blake, By Martin Butlin. Vol. I, Text. Vol. II, Plates, (Review) New York Times, January 3, 1982.
  • A Novelist's Bible; The Story of the Stories, The Chosen People and Its God. By Dan Jacobson, (Review) New York Times, October 17, 1982.
  • Isaac Bashevis Singer's Jeremiad; The Penitent, By Isaac Bashevis Singer, (Review) New York Times, September 25, 1983.
  • Domestic Derangements; A Late Divorce, By A.B. Yehoshua Translated by Hillel Halkin, (Review) New York Times, February 19, 1984.
  • War Within the Walls; In the Freud Archives, By Janet Malcolm, (Review) New York Times, May 27, 1984.
  • His Long Ordeal by Laughter; Zuckerman Bound, A Trilogy and Epilogue. By Philip Roth, (Review) New York Times, May 19, 1985.
  • A Comedy of Worldly Salvation; The Good Apprentice, By Iris Murdoch, (Review) New York Times, January 12, 1986.
  • Freud, the Greatest Modern Writer (Review) New York Times, March 23, 1986.
  • Passionate Beholder of America in Trouble; Look Homeward, A Life of Thomas Wolfe. By David Herbert Donald, (Review) New York Times, February 8, 1987.
  • The Book of the Father; The Messiah of Stockholm, By Cynthia Ozick, (Review) New York Times, March 22, 1987.
  • Still Haunted by Covenant; The Penguin Book of Modern Yiddish Verse, Edited by Irving Howe, Ruth R. Wisse and Khone Shmeruk; American Yiddish Poetry, A Bilingual Anthology. Edited by Benjamin and Barbara Harshav; Selected Poems of Yankev Glatshteyn, Edited and translated by Richard J. Fein, (Reviews) New York Times, January 31, 1988.
  • New Heyday of Gnostic Heresies, New York Times, April 26, 1992.
  • A Jew Among the Cossacks; The first English translation of Isaac Babel's journal about his service with the Russian cavalry. 1920 Diary, By Isaac Babel, (Review) New York Times, June 4, 1995.
  • Kaddish; By Leon Wieseltier, (Review) New York Times, October 4, 1998.
  • View; On First Looking Into Gates's Crichton, New York Times, June 4, 2000.
  • What Ho, Malvolio!'; The election, as Shakespeare might have seen it, New York Times, December 6, 2000.
  • Macbush, (play) Vanity Fair, April, 2004.

Books About Harold Bloom

  • Allen, Graham, Harold Bloom: Poetics of Conflict, Harvester Wheatsheaf (New York, NY), 1994.
  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 24, Gale (Detroit), 1983.
  • De Bolla, Peter, Harold Bloom: Toward Historical Rhetorics, Routledge (New York, NY), 1988.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 67: Modern American Critics since 1955, Gale, 1988.
  • Fite, David, Harold Bloom: The Rhetoric of Romantic Vision, University of Massachusetts Press (Amherst), 1985.
  • Moynihan, Robert, A Recent Imagining: Interviews with Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartman, J. Hillis Miller, Paul De Man, Archon, 1986.
  • Saurberg, Lars Ole, Versions of the Past--Visions of the Future: The Canonical in the Criticism of T. S. Eliot, F. R. Leavis, Northrop Frye, and Harold Bloom, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.
  • Scherr, Barry J., D. H. Lawrence's Response to Plato: A Bloomian Interpretation, P. Lang (New York, NY), 1995.


  • Fullbright fellowship, 1955
  • John Addison Porter Prize, Yale University, 1956, for Shelley's Mythmaking
  • Guggenheim fellowship, 1962-63
  • Newton Arvin Award, 1967
  • Melville Cane Award, Poetry Society of America, 1971, for Yeats
  • National Book Awards juror, 1973
  • D.H.L., Boston College, 1973
  • D.H.L., Yeshiva University, 1975
  • Zabel Prize, American Institute of Arts and Letters, 1982
  • Sterling Professorship, Yale University, 1983
  • MacArthur Prize fellowship, 1985
  • Christian Guass Award, 1988, for Ruin the Sacred Truths
  • Boston Book Review Rea Nonfiction Prize, 1995, for The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages
  • D.H.L., University of Bologna, 1997
  • D.H.L., St. Michael's College, 1998
  • National Book Award finalist, nonfiction, for Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, 1998
  • National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, criticism, for Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, 1998
  • New York Times Notable Book of the Year, for Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, 1998
  • One of Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year, for Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, 1998
  • ALA/Booklist Editor's Choice, for Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, 1998
  • D.H.L., University of Rome, 1999
  • 14th Catalonia International Prize, 2002
  • Hans Christian Andersen Award, Odense 2005, for his work in promoting wider awareness of HCA as one of the greatest names of 19th century literature.

External links

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