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Harold Bloom Biography

(1930– ), Shelley's Mythmaking, The Visionary Company, The Anxiety of Influence, The Flight to Lucifer

reading history poets voice

American critic, born in New York, educated at Cornell and Yale universities. Among other academic posts he was Professor of English at Yale (196574). He is known for his early work on the English Romantic poets (Shelley's Mythmaking, 1959; The Visionary Company, 1962) and for his theory of ‘strong’ reading, expressed in a series of books beginning with The Anxiety of Influence (1973). In Bloom's view the history of poetry is the history of a sequence of Oedipal struggles, sons against fathers. The son chooses his poetic progenitor, as Wordsworth chose Milton, for example, but must then submit to, work through, and throw off the father's influence. The battle is stylistic rather than psychological, however, a matter of voice and language rather than personal aggression or uncertainty. Bloom offers a detailed graph of possible relations between poets, complete with technical terms and copious quotation, brilliantly interpreted, illustrating the stages of the struggle. A ‘strong’ reading may be academically reckless, but it will be a reading the poet needs, and even deviant, will still be responsive to real powers in the original, fathering work. At times too eager for clues—Wordsworth's ‘blind man’ in ‘Tintern Abbey’ can only be Milton—Bloom's writing is mostly agile and subtle, seeking multiple connections rather than reductions. It displays a passion for poetry and considerable wit, as when an earlier poet is said to be ‘influenced’ by a later one, because the sound of the later voice has become unmistakable: thus we might hear Eliot in Tennyson rather than the other way round. Bloom is also interested in Gnosticism and the cabbala, and has written a haunting fantasy novel, The Flight to Lucifer (1979), set on another world, where mystical questions are forms of high adventure. In Ruin the Sacred Truths (1989) and The Western Canon (1994), themes of cultural history and textual criticism are further explored.

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