NOEL KING, HOST:
Harold Bloom, an acclaimed rabble-rouser in the world of literary criticism, has died at the age of 89. While he was at Yale University, Bloom spent decades tussling with his intellectual opponents. He wrote hundreds of books and essays, and for a literary critic, he was unusually famous. NPR's Neda Ulaby has this remembrance.
NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Harold Bloom was born in the Bronx to immigrant parents. His father was a garment worker, and the family spoke Yiddish at home. Bloom did not hear English until he was 6 years old, but he fell in love incandescently with English language poetry.
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HAROLD BLOOM: Poetry matters and has always mattered because it answers the deepest aesthetic and cognitive needs and manifests the most extraordinary aesthetic and cognitive values.
ULABY: Harold Bloom on NPR in 2002. After establishing himself as a formidable 20th-century critic, Bloom was scorned by the academic establishment for writing accessible and widely successful works of criticism. He came to poo-poo literary theory that he thought drained passion from works of genius. Many of those geniuses were white and male. Bloom allegedly knew all of Shakespeare by heart and the Hebrew Bible and vast epic poems. Here he is teaching a poem by Wallace Stevens at Yale in 2006.
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BLOOM: (Reading) Clear water in a brilliant bowl, pink and white carnations, the light...
Notice the pause because enjambments are very important in Stevens and particularly in this poem.
STEPHEN GREENBLATT: He possessed a gigantic amount of literature in his head.
ULABY: Stephen Greenblatt is a Harvard professor and former student of Bloom's.
GREENBLATT: It was a thrilling experience when I was a 17-year-old.
ULABY: But Greenblatt would come to butt heads with Bloom in what he calls his absolute belief in the genius of the canon's great writers. And towards the end of Bloom's career, he says Harold Bloom was seen as...
GREENBLATT: Grumpy and intolerant and absurd, theatrical and overbearing and so forth. Somebody can find all kinds of adjectives to describe, but you set that aside to be in a kind of awe.
ULABY: In 2004, writer Naomi Wolf accused Bloom of inappropriately touching her while she was his student. Bloom denied those charges. Bloom's type of passionate engagement with literature has long been unfashionable among academics, but it's actually coming back a bit among scholars who identify as postcritique. To glory in the pleasure of reading, to contain castles of language in your mind, that was Harold Bloom's gift and grace and his legacy.
Neda Ulaby, NPR News.
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