It’s As Personal As Poetry

Harold Bloom interviewed at the Boston Review nails what criticism should aspire to be:

B: Oh I can’t do anything that isn’t personal. That was true when I started publishing in 1957. I am nothing if not personal, that’s why a lot of people don’t like what I do. I don’t see any point to literary criticism or literary editing unless it’s as personal as poetry, or some varieties of the novel, the story or drama. Literary criticism is either part of literature or shouldn’t exist. I teach, think, read and write personally. What else could I be? What are we all here for? Objectivity is a farce. It’s a myth. It’s shallow. Deep subjectivity is not easy—it’s very difficult—it’s what you try to educate people into.

I certainly don’t agree with all that Bloom thinks about the canon and criticism, but this quote epitomizes the best of what he’s about. Probably no critic has had a greater influence on my own idea of literary criticism as a “creative” enterprise. This is partly an accident of where and when I read Bloom and partly because he said it first and best in The Anxiety of Influence and A Map of Misreading.

Bloom is very easy to caricature since he doesn’t mince words and has very strong views about political correctness–and I will say that he too often caricatures the views of his adversaries, to the detriment of his arguments–but you will not find a critic who takes literature as literature more seriously. If anything, he borders on being too willing to wallow in art’s uselessness, as least as the marketplace defines “useful.” That, in my opinion, is worth a lot.

Particularly in an era when the erstwhile advocates of the arts force tripe like this upon us:

“Art works” is a declaration that with two million full-time artists and 5.7 million arts-related jobs in this country, arts jobs are real jobs that are part of the real economy. Art workers pay taxes, and art contributes to economic growth, neighborhood revitalization, and the livability of American towns and cities.

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