The Legacy of Harold Bloom


Claire Killian

Harold Bloom died, aged eighty-nine, on Monday, October fourteenth. Bloom’s name isn’t one that students tend to be particularly familiar with, despite his titanic contributions to the literary world. Harold Bloom was a professor and literary critic born in the Bronx to immigrant parents, who went on to reshape the academic world. Bloom effectively constructed the modern perspective of literature. His unprecedented influence over the twentieth-century academic world gave him the power to decide what books were even worth reading. It was Bloom’s criticisms which curated the setlist of books which are now taught in schools.

Bloom is best known for his work canonizing western literature. He championed writers like Kafka, Shakespeare, and Chaucer. In fact, he’s largely the reason they are so heavily valued by our modern culture. Bloom wrote a series of successful books and commentaries, some glorifying western literature, and some tearing down the commonly accepted values at the time. He did most of his work at Yale, where he taught later in life, despite holding degrees from Cornell, Pembroke, and Cambridge. Often he felt like an outsider, being from a low-income Jewish family in the midst of a well-to-do, primarily Catholic, school. Bloom did not indulge these feelings of inferiority, and became and advocate for romanticism, even though it was seen as unpopular or dated by most of his colleagues. He vehemently opposed some of the more popular schools of thought, like the New Criticism, which taught that literature was meant to be understood in terms of close analysis, language, and structure, rather than historical context and author’s intentions.

Harold Bloom decided what books became immortalized in history, and holy to our culture, but should any one person have such overwhelming influence over popular literature? As students, we read the books we read, in part, due to the work of Bloom. We are introduced to, and experience, the literary world through his point of view, but that leaves out a lot of other perspectives. His favorite authors are notably all white men, and he notoriously abhorred the “School of Resentment” which generally consisted of feminists, multiculturalists, neoconservatives, Afrocentrists and Marxists. Bloom was known to be sexist and homophobic, if not in his life, than in his writing and take on literature, and allegations of sexual assault shroud his memory. He was also blatantly elitist when it came to books, railing against Harry Potter, frowning upon Stephen King, and calling Doris Lessing’s Nobel Prize for her book on feminism “pure political correctness”.  Because of this narrow mindset, students don’t get introduced to different types of writers, and the ideas they would have perpetrated, so we cannot help but feel like we have missed out on getting to read from a variety of different valued perspectives while still in school.

It is hard to understand the sheer magnitude of power Bloom held, and how deeply revered his work is by the literary community. Bloom wrote about the canonization of western literature, and in doing so turned himself into a titan and icon. However, as we reflect on his memory, it is important to be conscious of his flaws, and understand that if we move forward exclusively interacting with books through his perspective, we get a very one-sided experience. As students, it particularly falls to us as the young consumers and academics in Bloom’s shadow to be aware of both the importance of his work, and it’s short-comings.