Book Review: The Anatomy Of Influence

The Anatomy Of Influence:  Literature As A Way Of Life, by Harold Bloom

There are many reasons why this is a terrible book.  At least it is an honestly terrible book.  There are some books where the author tries to pretend that he (or she) is speaking absolute truth while being extremely partial, and thankfully we do not find that here.  What we find is an author being honest about their perspective, honest about their bias, and having that simply be intolerably hammered with turgid language and intense snobbery.  In reading this book, one can come to a great deal of understanding about why one dislikes an author.  And while I have in the past been somewhat indulgent to Bloom, this book gives me a firm understanding about why it is that I have always viewed him at best with considerable ambivalence.  Indeed, this may be the worst book of his I have ever read.  It is certainly worse than his previous work The Anxiety of Influence, where the created his own technical language to discuss the question of influence and how it is that a genius writer can transcend it.  It is worse than his books about the canon of Western literature, which at least can be enjoyed because he talks about good works.  Here he talks about himself and his own misreading of books and authors, and it is insufferable.

This book consists of four parts and numerous chapters that are more than 300 pages.  The author begins with a look at his own point of view as a critic with three chapters that look at literary love, strangeness, and the influence of the mind on itself.  After that Bloom looks tediously through the influence of Shakespeare on himself and on later writers, starting with a look at his own generation, then moving to a discussion on the rival poet, his famous ellipses, possession in the sonnets, the art of knowing, Milton, Joyce and Dante, and Dr. Johnson and the problem of critical influence.  The third part, and the shortest, looks at the skeptical tradition through various poets that have an Epicurean influence, Leopardi, Shelley’s heirs, and the relationship between Merrill and Yeats.  Finally, the author discusses Whitman and his influence on American poets, including Emerson’s call for a poetry yet to be written, Whitman’s tally and its masturbatory focus, death and the poet in Whitman, the fiction of the romantic self, Lawrence, Crane, and various other minor poets who can be considered Whitman’s prodigals.  After this there is a coda to the work as well as some acknowledgements to some people who may have preferred to keep hidden rather than be associated with this work.

It is little wonder that Bloom would be obsessed in his career with the question of influence.  As someone who misreads others through the eyes of Freud and who wrongly and hypocritically gives more organic unity to Shakespeare than to the Bible, and someone who is steadfastly opposed to Christianity and to those whose Christianity in their writings is particularly obvious (like C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot, and even Milton), Bloom comes off rather poorly in his work when he frequently rants about the influence of Christianity on society.  Between his insufferable snobbery towards popular literature, his own overinflated self-importance as a critic who is well-read but not particularly proper-thinking, and his continual harping about his Jewish background even if he shows himself disinclined to live according to the laws and ways of Yahweh, this book is a difficult one to enjoy unless you share his gnostic worldview.  And I do not, and so this book was not an enjoyable read at all.  One almost wishes for a more theocratic government to help prevent books like this from being read and from effete snobs like the author from thinking themselves to be cultural authorities.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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