“THE SALT COMPANION TO HAROLD BLOOM”

Roy Sellars and Graham Allen, eds., THE SALT COMPANION TO HAROLD BLOOM,
Cambridge (UK): Salt , 2007, xxvi + 505 pp., ISBN 978-1-876857
**
http://www.saltpublishing.com/books/scp/9781876857202.htm (description of
book + table of
contents)
http://www.saltpublishing.com/assets/samples/9781876857202samp.pdf
(extract including complete preface)
**

This is a brief notice of a collective volume in which I myself have a
chapter.

**

No living literary critic and few living intellectuals can aspire to the
controversy rating of the Jewish-American Professor of Humanities at Yale,
Harold Bloom, a figure who over four decades of critical practice has
generated the most striking (or fecund) contradictions around himself. His
defence of the Western canon has caused him to be seen by some as an
opponent of progressive forces (a while back the Argentinian newspaper
‘Clarín’ even referred with a straight face to ‘the conservative Harold
Bloom’) and caused some to see him as all but
New Right, yet he is a fervent opponent of George W. Bush and Christian
fundamentalism. He has made a major contribution to religious studies,
biblical and Kabbalistic, yet warns apocalyptically of a coming ‘New
Theocratic Age’. He is a bête noire in certain feminist circles, yet claims
that key parts of the Old Testament were written by a woman. He is the
author of a literary theory, that of influence anxiety, which is among the
most cited of our times, yet in recent years has championed the common
reader against the dictates of Theory. He is castigated by some as a
radical
turned fogey, yet continues to defend the writers and texts he always has.
He is attacked as the proponent of a narrow canon, as if he were some kind
of F.R. Leavis, yet in his more recent writings has paid attention to more
genres and writers (fiction, drama, and essays; writers from non-anglophone
traditions) than when he was seen as an avant-garde figure while
concentrating almost entirely on anglophone poets.

In reality, Harold Bloom is too large a figure to be tied down to the
Procrustean bed of any single belief-system. The red-rag-to-a-bull
reactions
that his name elicits in some quarters are all too often based on a
decontextualised (mis)reading, quite likely at second hand, of one brief
Bloomian text, the preface to ‘The Western Canon’. As a corrective to such
reductionist readings, those seriously interested in textual exegesis may
now turn to the bulky and wide-ranging tribute now on the market, edited by
the devoted Bloomians Roy Sellars and Graham Allen, under the title ‘The
Salt Companion to Harold Bloom’.

The volume consists of a preface by the editors, nine tribute poems (their
authors including Geoffrey Hartman and John Kinsella), 21 critical essays
and an Afterword by Bloom himself. The critical studies of course make up
the greater part, and cover a remarkably wide range of perspectives,
equitably divided between the earlier and later Bloom (a few straddling
both), including reasoned (feminist and gay) critiques and covering both
the
strictly literary and the more philosophical and theological aspects of the
Bloomian oeuvre. Since this is not a review, I will confine myself to
stressing the recurrent presence across the essays of Freud, Nietzsche,
Derrida and the Kabbala, but also the relative absence of comparisons
between Bloom and other key twentieth-century intellectuals (here Lukács,
Benjamin and Said all spring to mind as possibilities for a fertile
confrontation of texts). More could also have been said on Bloom as a
critic
of literatures other than those in English, and here I would like to think
that my own contribution, ‘On the Stone Raft: Harold Bloom in Catalonia and
Portugal’, points the way forward (how many are aware that Bloom, famous as
an admirer of Milton, Shelley and Whitman, thinks the Catalan poet Salvador
Espriu deserved the Nobel and believes Portugal’s José Saramago is the
world’s
greatest living novelist)?

What comes over unforgettably from this book is the sheer richness and
irreducible diversity of Bloom’s work – and how he is one of the great
connectors: in the words of one of the contributors, the Jewish theologian
Moshe Idel, ‘a thinker whose gift for discovering unsuspected affinities
between apparently unrelated corpora is unparalleled’ (371). Finally and
above all, there also transpires from these pages the (unfashionable)
quality that, ultimately, if anything does can be said to define Bloom,
namely the love of literature and the concomitant commitment to its
teaching and defence: as Bloom himself says in his Afterword, ‘I will go on teaching
until I am carried out of my last class’ (487). Meantime, ‘The Salt
Copanion to Harold Bloom’ awaits a suitably aware and polymath reviewer.

**

NOTE ADDED 19 Feb 08:
In fact, my wish concerning a suitable review for this book has now
effectively been granted, from Brazil – see:
 
 

Recensão de: Sellars, Roy, e Allen, Graham (Orgs.). The Salt Companion to Harold Bloom. Cambridge: Salt, 2007. 505 páginas.

Sandra S. F. Erickson

Professora adjunta do Departamento de Letras da UFRN.

Revista "Princípios", Natal, v. 14 n. 21, jan./jun. 2007, p. 294-302.

 

Note added 28 July 2010:

Details of another review:

Alistair Heys
The Salt Companion to Harold Bloom (review)
The Byron Journal – Volume 38, Issue 1, 2010, pp. 99-102

 

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