10 Questions with Harold Bloom

4 minute read

Your new book, The Daemon Knows, features 12 American writers touched by genius–only one of whom is a woman. Do you anticipate flak?

I don’t even bother anymore. I’m always being denounced. A few years ago, I named all these people: the pseudo feminists, the pseudo Marxists, the pseudo power-and gender-freaks, as I call them. I call them all, in capital letters, the School of Resentment. I always get nasty reviewers. I couldn’t care less.

Have your Yale students’ outlooks come to resemble your critics’ over time?

[Those opinions] were fashionable, and they’ve left the students. But there are all these pseudo journalists and pseudo academics who don’t know how to do anything else.

How have your students changed more generally?

We had the ghastly so-called Cultural Revolution, and the Black Panther weekend, and suddenly the students went crazy for a couple of years. But they got over that. The 1970s were a transitional time, but Yale students got to be better again in the 1980s, 1990s.

Do you look for seminar students who agree with you?

My one distinction that I would crave as a teacher is that no two of my students resemble one another, or resemble me in any way whatsoever. Ralph Waldo Emerson, my great hero, once said, “That which I can gain from another is never instruction but only provocation.”

Do you worry that people will stop reading?

We live in an age of visual overstimulation. Between the pernicious screen, whether television or motion pictures or computers, and all of their fallouts like BlackBerrys and that sort of stuff–they destroy the ability to read well.

So how can writers fight against that?

Writers are, in the first place, readers. I tell every writer I’ve ever known, either they are deep readers or they cannot become real writers. Read only the best and most challenging and traditional. And reread it.

Are you familiar with the websites that provide reviews by common readers?

Their effect upon the mind is not good. They do not enlarge and make the mind more keen and independent. Reading is not in that sense a democratic process. It’s elitist. It has to be elitist.

Does it bother you that allegations made a decade ago [by the writer Naomi Wolf, one of Bloom’s former students] may have overshadowed your work in the public eye?

I refuse to even use the name of this person. I call her Dracula’s daughter, because her father was a Dracula scholar. I have never in my life been indoors with Dracula’s daughter. When she came to the door of my house unbidden, my youngest son turned her away. Once, I was walking up to campus, and she fell in with me and said, “May I walk with you, Professor Bloom?” I said nothing.

You’ve written one novel. Were you ever tempted to write fiction again?

I decided one winter night when I reread [The Flight to Lucifer] that no, this will never do. I had to pay the publisher not to have a second printing of the paperback. If I could go around and get rid of all the surviving copies, I would.

What, then, qualifies Harold Bloom to be a critic if he’s not a novelist or poet?

He is philologically trained in the history of the language, and in Greek and in Latin, and the other tongues that contribute to the apprehension of English and American literature, poetry. And in particular, he has an incredible passion, a fierce love for the real splendor of the sublime. I am not Tolstoy. But I have a love for books. They have become part of me.


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