The Anatomy of Influence

The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life

Harold Bloom
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 368
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    The Anatomy of Influence
    Book Description:

    "Literary criticism, as I attempt to practice it," writes Harold Bloom inThe Anatomy of Influence, "is in the first place literary, that is to say, personal and passionate."

    For more than half a century, Bloom has shared his profound knowledge of the written word with students and readers. In this, his most comprehensive and accessible study of influence, Bloom leads us through the labyrinthine paths which link the writers and critics who have informed and inspired him for so many years. The result is "a critical self-portrait," a sustained meditation on a life lived with and through the great works of the Western canon:Why has influence been my lifelong obsessive concern? Why have certain writers found me and not others? What is the end of a literary life?

    Featuring extended analyses of Bloom's most cherished poets-Shakespeare, Whitman, and Crane-as well as inspired appreciations of Emerson, Tennyson, Browning, Yeats, Ashbery, and others,The Anatomy of Influenceadapts Bloom's classic workThe Anxiety of Influenceto show us what great literature is, how it comes to be, and why it matters. Each chapter maps startling new literary connections that suddenly seem inevitable once Bloom has shown us how to listen and to read. A fierce and intimate appreciation of the art of literature on a scale that the author will not again attempt,TheAnatomy of Influencefollows the sublime works it studies, inspiring the reader with a sense of something ever more about to be.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17990-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)

      (pp. 3-15)

      When I was very young, freedom beckoned through the poets I first loved: Hart Crane, William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Wallace Stevens, Walt Whitman, William Butler Yeats, John Milton, and above all William Shakespeare inHamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth,andAntony and Cleopatra. The sense of freedom they conferred liberated me into a primal exuberance. If women and men initially become poets by a second birth, my own sense of being twice-born made me an incipient critic.

      I do not recall reading any literary criticism, as opposed to literary biography, until I was an undergraduate. At seventeen I purchased...

      (pp. 16-24)

      I vividly recall, with mingled affection and amusement, my first essay written for William K. Wimsatt, Jr., returned to me with the ringing comment, “You are a Longinian critic, which I abhor!” Much later, gossip reached me that my fierce former teacher had abstained from voting on my tenure, telling his colleagues, “He is an eighteen-inch naval gun, with tremendous firepower but always missing the cognitive target.”

      The single treatise we have from the more properly named Pseudo-Longinus properly should be translated “On the Heights.” But by now we are unable to do withoutOn the Sublime,even thoughsublime...

      (pp. 25-32)

      Paul Valéry, the major French poet-critic of the twentieth century, always spoke of Stéphane Mallarmé as his master. Meditations upon his relation, both personal and literary, to his forerunner inspired Valéry to the most fecund thoughts concerning influence produced in the twentieth century with the possible exception of Borges’s “Kafka and His Precursors.” Sadly, Borges idealized his account of literary influence by rejecting any idea of rivalry or competition in regard to precursors. Shelley once grandly remarked that all imaginative literature formed one comprehensive cyclic poem; Borges went further by amalgamating all writers into one, a Here Comes Everybody Shakespeare-Homer,...


      (pp. 35-47)

      A professional teacher these past fifty-five years, I have for a long time now led two discussion groups, one on Shakespeare and the other on poets from Chaucer to Hart Crane. My experience of the two is very different. I attempt to unravel rhetoric in Shakespeare, as I do in Milton or Keats or Crane, but then urgencies arise that militate against this. Falstaff transcends even the florabundance of his diction and images, and Hamlet sublimely parodies our analytics. Teaching Shakespeare you teach consciousness, the drive and its defenses, the disorders of the human, the abysses of personality, the warping...

    • THE RIVAL POET: “King Lear”
      (pp. 48-61)

      Christopher Marlowe in hisTamburlaine,a brazen attack uponanysocietal morality, associates poetry, love, and warfare as closely related expressions of power. Marlowe, by temperament and conviction, was not a Christian. His dialectics of power and of beauty are as pagan as Tamburlaine’s. Except for his worship of power, Marlowe had no ideology.

      Shakespeare’s plays and poems are beyond institutional religion as they are beyond political ideology. Wary of the fate of Marlowe—murdered by the Elizabethan CIA, which he had served—Shakespeare allowed himself no explicit critique of anything contemporary. And yet his daimon impelled a more profound...

      (pp. 62-77)

      After Chaucer and Marlowe, Shakespeare’s major precursor was the English Bible: the Bishops’ Bible up through 1595 and the Geneva Bible from 1596 on, the year that Shylock and Falstaff were created. In speaking of the Bible’s influence on Shakespeare, I am referring not to faith or spirituality but to the arts of language: diction, grammar, syntax, rhetorical figures, and the logic of argument. Whether Shakespeare knew it or not, that meant that his deepest model for prose style was the Protestant martyr William Tyndale, whose stark eloquence constitutes about 40 percent of the Geneva Bible, becoming a higher ratio...

      (pp. 78-86)

      The formalist critic L. C. Knights mocked the character-based criticism of A. C. Bradley by saucily asking, “How many children had Lady Macbeth?” Knights’s question was intended to suggest the absurdity of treating fictional characters as both living creatures and valid objects of study. But I think it an excellent question and tend to surmise: just one, murdered with her first husband.

      More compelling still is the question of why this erotically charged woman chose to marry Macbeth. The Macbeths began as the best marriage in all Shakespeare. And if that is a jest, it is Shakespeare’s. A love match,...

      (pp. 87-93)

      The place of the tragedyHamletin Shakespeare’s canon is suggestively parallel to that of Mark’s Gospel in the English Bible. Remarkably, Mark’s Jesus finds his way back to the J or Yahwist portion of the text of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers. He is for Yahweh alone and not for the God of the Priestly Writer or the Deuteronomist. His Yahweh is personal, passionate, and thus very far from a theological god. It is doubtless strange of me to say this but something of the Marcan Jesus, abrupt and startling, abides in the aura of Prince Hamlet.

      There is frequent controversy...

      (pp. 94-108)

      William Empson pronouncedParadise Lostto be “horrible and wonderful,” akin to Aztec or Benin sculpture or to the novels of Kafka, and further claimed that its God was wonderful because he was so horrible. I swerve away here from Empson’s account inMilton’s God(1961). As I go on reading the dramatic epic, it has at least two gods, one an irascible heavenly tyrant and the other a Spirit that prefers the pure and upright heart of John Milton to all temples of worship.

      What Spirit is that? In his edition, Alistair Fowler, who finds in Milton’s God a...

      (pp. 109-125)

      If Joyce and Proust are the sublime of twentieth-century Western literature, there perhaps are other major poets, novelists, storywriters, and dramatists who approach that eminence, but not even Kafka, Yeats, or anyone else you care to nominate is likely to prove as central as the creators ofUlysses, Finnegans Wake,andIn Search of Lost Time. Evidently the two met once only, at a Parisian dinner table. Joyce had read a little Proust but found it ordinary, while Proust had never heard of Joyce. The Irish genius lamented his eyesight and headaches, while the seer of Sodom and Gomorrah complained...

      (pp. 126-130)

      At the age of nine Samuel Johnson first readHamlet,sitting at home in the kitchen quite alone, and came to the entrance of the Ghost, which caused him to get up and go outside “that he might see people about him.” Many years later, in hisObservations on Macbeth,Johnson remembered that moment: “He that peruses Shakespeare looks around alarmed, and starts to find himself alone.” There is the epitome of Johnson on Shakespeare: here is the writer and his critic who make us tremble like a guilty thing surprised when we first encounter the most vivid immediacy that...


    • ANXIETIES OF EPICUREAN INFLUENCE: Dryden, Pater, Milton, Shelley, Tennyson, Whitman, Swinburne, Stevens
      (pp. 133-161)

      I treasure ruefully some memories of W. H. Auden that go back to the middle 1960s, when he arrived in New Haven to give a reading of his poems at Ezra Stiles College. We had met several times before, in New York City and at Yale, but were only acquaintances. The earlier Auden retains my interest, but much of the frequently devotional later poetry does not find me. Since our mutual friend John Hollander was abroad, Auden phoned to ask if he might stay with my wife and me, remarking on his dislike of college guest suites.

      The poet arrived...

      (pp. 162-171)

      Though his immediate agon was with Dante and Petrarch, the authentic Italian precursor of Giacomo Leopardi (1798–1837) was Lucretius, who for Dante did not exist. Amazingly erudite in nearly every Western language and literature, Leopardi valued Homer, Lucretius, and Rousseau over Dante, Petrarch, and Tasso. No Italian poet contemporary with Leopardi nor any since (not even Giuseppe Ungaretti, who revered Leopardi) is of his eminence. For another Romantic classicist one could turn to Walter Savage Landor as a worthy analogue, as he too could write like Simonides. In prose, Landor sometimes seems like Leopardi because they both derive from...

    • SHELLEY’S HEIRS: Browning and Yeats
      (pp. 172-193)

      For many years now, the teaching of Robert Browning has been an immense joy to me, and to some of the best of my students. I first taught Browning in 1956, in a graduate course on Tennyson and Browning. After more than a half-century, I still recall the challenge that the poet ofMen and WomenandThe Ring and the Bookconstituted for my students (many of them older than me) and for myself. A difficult poet, Browning is now in the shadows, the age of the reader being past. To apprehend Browning, you need a vitalism that approaches...

    • WHOSE CONDITION OF FIRE? Merrill and Yeats
      (pp. 194-206)

      Some critics form fours, as Northrop Frye did inAnatomy of Criticismand elsewhere, following William Blake. Dante dealt in nines: Beatrice was the Lady Nine and the perfect human age was nine nines, the eighty-one years that her poet sought to attain— then, at last, he would have comprehended everything. He lived to finish theCommedia, Shakespeare’s only true rival, but died, alas, at fifty-six, a quarter-century short of the age when, he believed, Jesus’ body would have assumed eternal form inthislife had he not been crucified at thirty-three.

      Six, traditions say, is a “perfect” number, as...


      (pp. 209-217)

      Begetter of much (if not most) of American literature and thought for some six generations now, Emerson liked to think of himself as an endless experimenter with no past at his back. A great poet in prose, and a very good one in verse, he invested himself in his journals, lectures, and essays because Wordsworth’s giant form blocked the New England seer from achieving a full voice in verse. Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, partly through Emerson’s effect upon them, finally gave the United States poets who could rival Wordsworth.

      All the cultural past actuallywasat the erudite sage’s...

      (pp. 218-234)

      Universal forerunner of nearly all who came after him, Shakespeare nevertheless is not often thought to have Whitman among his progeny. Many years ago, walking around the Battery at Manhattan’s tip with Kenneth Burke, my critical mentor and I conducted a long, rambling conversation as an experiment in bringing Whitman and Shakespeare together. I remember the year as being 1975 or ’76, and that the spry Burke, at seventy-eight or so, tired less in our perambulating than I did. Burke had written a splendid centenary essay in 1955, “Policy Made Personal: Whitman’s Verse and Prose-Salient Traits,” in which he argues...

    • DEATH AND THE POET: Whitmanian Ebbings
      (pp. 235-247)

      That influence, as transmission from earlier to later, can be benign is hardly interesting. And between languages it never induces anxiety; Stevens could be fascinated by Paul Valéry without any fear of contamination. Whitman, whohadcomposed the greatest poems of our climate, possessed Stevens, prompting formidable ambivalences. No other poems he read so haunted Stevens as did “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” and “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” What found him about those two in particular?

      I keep coming back to Walt Whitman’s most comprehensive trope: Night, Death, the Mother, and the Sea. As a fourfold...

      (pp. 248-254)

      What Western tradition has termed the “subject” or the “self” always has been a fiction, a saving lie to assuage anxieties. Heidegger and his Franco-American disciples move me not at all when they deconstruct the self. Unless she is a poetic figure overtly telling a story of the self, the strong writer would have little to tell us. Virginia Woolf, disciple of Walter Pater, followed the great aesthete in elaborating conscious fictions of the self. Whether such consciousness is an aesthetic advantage seems dubious to me. Mr. Pickwick inspired me to love and delight in him; Mrs. Dalloway fascinates me,...

    • NEAR THE QUICK: Lawrence and Whitman
      (pp. 255-265)

      The strongest adversary for deep reading is neither “theory and cultural studies,” nor the prevalence of the visual (television, motion pictures, computer screens), but the extraordinary profusion and speed of information. There is an authentic link between American gnosis, our all-but-universal national religion (masking as Christianity) and our desire for information, be it scandal or body counts. D. H. Lawrence, ambivalently in thrall to Whitman, found in him the greatest and (to Lawrence) most obscene of Americanknowers. Walt would have been amused; one of my favorite literary games is to guess what the American bard might have thought of...

    • HAND OF FIRE: Hart Crane’s Magnificence
      (pp. 266-293)

      It is seventy years since I first fell in love with Hart Crane’s poetry in early summer 1940, as I approached my tenth birthday. I taughtThe Bridgeyesterday to a receptive Yale undergraduate discussion group and went home exhausted, since emotional and cognitive engulfment is Crane’s continued effect upon me. Crane is a difficult poet who requires extraordinarily close reading—word by word, phrase by phrase, line by line. Add to that the rarely acknowledged nature of his work: he is a religious poet without even a faithless faith. An admirer of Wallace Stevens’sHarmonium,he did not live...

    • WHITMAN’S PRODIGALS: Ashbery, Ammons, Merwin, Strand, Charles Wright
      (pp. 294-333)

      For a long time now I have mused upon Walt Whitman’s relationship to poets who are my direct contemporaries, several of them personal friends: John Ashbery, W. S. Merwin, A. R. Ammons, Mark Strand, and Charles Wright, among others. Whitman’s influence upon that generation is even wider: Allen Ginsberg, Philip Levine, Galway Kinnell, James Wright, the later John Hollander are clear instances. But five in a generation will suffice, whether for the American bard’s direct influence or for mediation through Stevens, Eliot, Pound, and William Carlos Williams.

      Starting with Ashbery today is the right procedure, for he has been the...

  8. CODA
    (pp. 334-336)

    A backward glance at these chapters reminds me of early reading experiences that occurred three-quarters of a century ago. An awkward boy, even then with a poor sense of balance, I hovered over Hart Crane’sCollected Poemsin the Melrose branch of the Bronx Public Library. I had opened by random at the “Atlantis” canto ofThe Bridgeand was caught up in wonder at the sound and movement of the language. When I readThe Waste Landsoon after, the incantatory pitch again held me, yet I half apprehended that Crane was fighting off, as best he could, the...

    (pp. 337-337)
    (pp. 338-340)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 341-357)