Literature serves as consolation for an eminent and prolific critic.
Legendary critic and professor Bloom (Humanities/Yale Univ.; Lear: The Great Image of Authority, 2018, etc.) has created a literary biography from brief essays on the poems, plays, and prose—many committed to memory—that he has reread, with growing insight, throughout his life. He calls this book “a reverie” that meditates on what it means to be possessed by the memory of “dead or lost friends and lovers” and by works of literature. “When you have a poem by heart,” he writes, “you possess it more truly and more strangely than you do your own dwelling place, because the poem possesses you.” Now 88, Bloom suffers the debilities of aging: “a tremor in my fingers, my legs tend to hint at giving out, my teeth diminish, incipient macular degeneration dims my eyes, deafness increases,” and, even using a walker, he is constantly afraid of falling. He has been hospitalized several times, and he mourns the deaths of many friends, who include colleagues, fellow critics, and poets (John Ashbery and A.R. Ammons, for example) whose works he admires. For spiritual sustenance, religion fails him. “I am a Jew who evades normative Judaism,” he writes. “My religion is the appreciation of high literature. Shakespeare is the summit.” In one of the book’s four sections, Bloom insightfully examines in Shakespearean characters the strange act of “self-otherseeing,” by which he means “the double consciousness of seeing our own actions and sufferings as though they belonged to others.” Other sections focus on biblical verse, American poets, and, in the longest section, elegies. “I seem now to be always in the elegy season,” he writes. Among these poems of praise are lyrics by Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Byron, Keats, and Tennyson, whose “Morte d’Arthur” provided comfort to Bloom as he was recovering from two serious operations. Although the author has written about these works throughout his career, these essays reveal a deeply personal attachment and fresh perspective.
An eloquent and erudite rereading of the author’s beloved works.