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General News    H4'ed 10/16/19

Harold Bloom Lived a Long and Productive Life!

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) October 16, 2019: Yale's prolific literary critic Harold Bloom was born on July 11, 1930. He died on Monday, October 14, 2019, at a hospital in New Haven at the age of 89. May he rest in peace.

The New York Times promptly published a comprehensive obituary notice titled "Harold Bloom, Critic Who Championed Western Canon, Dies at 89" about his life and work by Dinitia Smith, with reporting also contributed by Daniel E. Slotnik and William McDonald, the editor of obituaries at the Times.

The dry but comprehensive entry about Bloom's life and work at Wikipedia was also promptly updated to include information about his death. Incidentally, itt includes a selected list of his books, a selected list of his articles, and a selected list of further reading about him.

The Times obituary quotes Bloom as saying to a reporter, "'And I am very Jewish, and lower-class Jewish at that." The Times obituary says, "Harold Bloom was born on July 11, 1930, in the East Bronx, into an Orthodox Jewish household. He was the youngest of five children of William and Paula (Lev) Bloom, struggling immigrants from Eastern Europe. His father was a garment worker. The first book Harold read was an anthology of Yiddish poetry."

The Wikipedia entry about Bloom says, "He was raised as an Orthodox Jew in a Yiddish-speaking household, where he learned literate Hebrew; he learned English at the age of six. Bloom's father, a garment worker, was born in Odessa [in Ukraine] and his mother, a homemaker, near Brest Litovsk in what is today Belarus."

The Times obituary tells us that Bloom "graduated from the exclusive Bronx High School of Science . . . and went to Cornell [University, in Ithaca, New York] on a scholarship" and that after "he graduated from Cornell in 1951," he went to Yale University for graduate studies in English, where he wrote his doctoral dissertation on Romanticism.

The Times obituary tells us that Bloom "married Jeanne Gould in 1958." They had two sons, Daniel and David.

The Wikipedia entry about Bloom says in the first paragraph, "Following the publication of his first book in 1959, Bloom wrote more than forty books, including twenty books of literary criticism, several books discussing religion, and a novel. During his lifetime, he edited hundreds of anthologies concerning numerous literary and philosophical figures for the Chelsea House publishing firm. Bloom's books have been translated into more than 40 languages."

The Times obituary about Bloom credits him with "editing some 600 volumes of criticism for Chelsea House, a publisher of scholarly books." It also says, "Perhaps Professor Bloom's most influential work was one that discussed literary influence itself. The book, 'The Anxiety of Influence,' published in 1973, and eventually is some 45 languages, borrows from Freudian theory in envisioning literary creation as an epochal, and Oedipal, struggle in which the younger artist rebels against preceding traditions, seeking that burst of originality that distinguishes greatness."

Disclosure: I tend to be more impressed with Jungian theory. See my essay "Understanding Jung's Thought" that is available online at the University of Minnesota's digital conservancy:

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Bloom is that several of his books became best-sellers, as the Times obituary highlights. As far as I know, no other literary critic has had as many best-selling books as Bloom had.

As the Times obituary about Bloom notes, "Professor Bloom crossed swords with other critical perspectives in 'The Western Canon' [1994]. The eminent critic Frank Kermode, identifying those whom Professor Bloom saw as his antagonists, wrote in The London Review of Books, 'He has in mind all who profess to regard the canon as an instrument of cultural, hence political, hegemony as a subtle fraud devised by dead white males to reinforce ethnic and sexist oppression."

The Times obituary says, "'You must choose,' Professor Bloom himself wrote in 'The Western Canon.' 'Either there were aesthetic values or there are only the overdeterminations of race, class and gender.'"

I admire Bloom's courage in criticizing what he refers to as the School of Resentment, "by which he meant multiculturalists, feminists, Marxists, neoconservatives and others whom he saw as betraying literature's essential purpose," according to the Times obituary.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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