Harold Bloom, Critic Who Championed Western Canon, Dies at 89

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The Bronx-born son of a garment worker, Professor Bloom might have been a character out of literature himself. With his untidy gray hair and melancholy eyes encircled by shadows, he was known to hold forth from what his students called The Chair, which he, of ample girth, amply filled, surrounded by stacks of books.

He was fond of endearments, like “little child.” He addressed both male and female students as “dear” and would kiss them on the top of the head.

Professor Bloom called himself “a monster” of reading; he said he could read, and absorb, a 400-page book in an hour. His friend Richard Bernstein, a professor of philosophy at the New School, told a reporter that watching Professor Bloom read was “scary.”

Armed with a photographic memory, Professor Bloom could recite acres of poetry by heart — by his account, the whole of Shakespeare, Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” all of William Blake, the Hebraic Bible and Edmund Spenser’s monumental “The Fairie Queen.” He relished epigraphs, gnomic remarks and unusual words: kenosis (emptying), tessera (completing), askesis (diminishing) and clinamen (swerving).

He quite enjoyed being likened to Samuel Johnson, the great 18th-century critic, essayist, lexicographer and man about London, who, like Professor Bloom (“a Yiddisher Dr. Johnson” was one appellation), was rotund, erudite and often caustic in his opinions. (Professor Bloom even had a vaguely English accent, his Bronx roots notwithstanding.)

Or if not Johnson, then the actor Zero Mostel, whom he resembled.

“I am Zero Mostel!” Professor Bloom once said.

Like Dr. Johnson’s, his output was vast: more than 40 books of his own authorship and hundreds of volumes he edited. And he remained prolific to the end, publishing six books since 2017 alone, including two this year: “Macbeth: A Dagger of the Mind” and “Possessed by Memory: The Inward Light of Criticism.” His final book is to be released on an unspecified date by Yale University Press, his wife said.


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