Here’s an interview I taped with Harold Bloom in 1994 after the publication of his book The Western Canon: The Books and Schools of the Ages. As with some earlier interviews I have posted here, this comes from a box of tapes in my basement, dating from a time when I produced a weekly radio interview show. I talked to Bloom shortly after the birth of my son Jonah (I mention thinking about The Western Canon while sleepily trying to find his mouth with a bottle) and I was tired and nervous, hence my annoying lisp in the opening sentences.
This is a fascinating and touching interview, which starts with a evocation of the “belatedness” of the Modern, the sense that we have come too late, that the great ones have preceded us. Bloom calls himself a “last stand aesthete,” “a solitary and passionate reader,” and castigates “the ideology of the camp of resentment, which is against imaginative art,” tracing it back not to Marx or Freud but to Plato’s argument against Homer. This was at the peak of the great ideological and canonical debates that swept English departments in the 80s and 90s, a debate that has somewhat died away (as have many English departments) in the aftermath (or afterthought). But Bloom’s easily-worn erudition and his love of books soon lead us to a less tendentious and more personal plane of discussion. We move on to the writer’s relationship to the canon, the idea of competition and contest in art, Nietzsche’s strong writer, and the role of misreading of the ancestor work in the creation of art. Bloom asks, “How, after all, does one become a good writer?” Then he answers the question. And he ends with a beautiful riff on what a reader/critic should ask of a text: not what did the writer hope to accomplish for himself or herself, but what he or she hoped to accomplish as a writer.
Interview with Harold Bloom Part I
Interview with Harold Bloom Part II
The problem may be at my end, but I couldn’t access the last 8 minutes of the first part of the interview. Regrettable, since what’s here is splendid. Bloom at least three times describes your questions as “shrewd.” They certainly were, eliciting full and revealing responses about the relationship in Bloom’s thought between belatedness and critical resentment; Bloom’s cyclical paradigm as a fusion of Vico and Joyce’s “vicus of recirculation”; his stance as a self-professed “last-ditch aesthete” of a Paterian and Wildean sort.
The interview reveals Bloom’s profound critical relationship with Kenneth Burke; and even readers aware of Bloom’s debt to Nietzsche (and his mentor, Emerson) may be surprised by the centrality of Nietzsche in Bloom’s thought, not least, as he indicates here, as the precursor of Bloom’s “strong poet,” able to cognitively and imaginatively engage much of the tradition and, rather than being overwhelmed by it, absorb it, “recast” it and make it different.
Though Harold would not at all like the comparison, he comes close here to T. S. Eliot’s thesis in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” and to Ezra Pound’s imperative to “make it new.” Bloom would doubtless reject that comparison as a “weak” misreading; and he can, of course, often be dismissive of critics and interviewers who misread HIM. He is the opposite of dismissive here. Along with his characterizations of many of the questions as “shrewd,” he concludes that he found this “a moving and useful interview.” And you can tell by his tone of voice that he meant it.
I’m glad you found this tape, and I hope that the loss of a section of Part 1 can be rectified.
Pat, The missing section isn’t missing here. So let’s wait and see if anyone else is having trouble. It’s possible that it just takes a long time to load on your computer.
I am glad the tape surfaced, too. I was a bit loathe to listen to it, not sure if I hadn’t embarrassed myself.
And, yes, the Burke segment and the lines out to Nietzsche both seem so central and perhaps surprisingly so to many people.
And I had forgotten how pleasant he was during and at the close of the interview.
This now means I should see what else I have in that magical box.
Doug, I’m happy to see the return of the missing minutes, especially since they are among the best in the interview, with Bloom striking through the mask to reveal his conviction that that the primary target of the resentniks is the concept of the aesthetic itself, which they are determined, for all sorts (Left and Right) of ideological reasons, to reduce and despoil. Having recently spent three happy hours with Bloom and his wife Jean, I’m delighted to report that, while his voice is weaker than it was 20 years ago, his conversation is as effortlessly erudite,eloquent, and lucid as it was in your 1994 interview. Pat
Pat, Thank you for this. And I’m glad the missing minutes showed up. But also very glad to hear he is well and articulate as always.