Presidential Lecture Series
spacer
spacer spacer Harold Bloom

spacer

ARCHIVE
CALENDAR
LECTURERS
HAROLD BLOOM
BIBLIOGRAPHY
EXCERPTS
INTERVIEWS
REVIEWS
LINKS
LINKS
SYMPOSIA
HUMANITIES AT STANFORD
spacer

INTERVIEWS WITH HAROLD BLOOM




On his own intellectual roots...

On Jewish identity...

On mortality...

On his critics...

On deconstruction...

On the Agonistic nature of reading...

On the creative act of writing poetry...

On the study of Shakespeare...

On Freud...

On psychoanalysis...

On contemporary curriculum studies...

On his colleagues in the universities...

On the state of literary studies...

On multiculturalism...

On victimization...

On the pull of poetry and the importance of reading... (Links to an external site.)

On television versus literature... (Links to an external site.)

Why Should Children Read? (Links to an external site.)





On his own intellectual roots...
"In terms of my own theorizations, one would have to say that one's attempt to find precursors here and there merely evades the truth, which is that the precursor proper has to be Northrop Frye. I purchased and read Fearful Symmetry a week or two after it had come out and reached the bookstore in Ithaca, New York. It ravished my heart away. I thought it was the best book I ever read about anything. I must have read it a hundred times between 1947 and 1950, probably intuitively memorized it, and will never escape the effect of it. I wouldn't want to go and read it now, because I am sure I would disagree with all of it - but it doesn't matter, agreeing or disagreeing. To compare lesser things with greater, my relation to Frye's criticism is Pater's relation to Ruskin's criticism, or Shelly's relation to Wordsworth's poetry: the authentic precursor, no matter how one tries to veil it or conceal it both from oneself and from others. Frye is surely the major literary critic in the English language. Now that I am mature, and willing to face my indebtedness, Northrop Frye does seem to me - for all my complaints about his idealization and his authentic Platonism and his authentic Christianity - a kind of Miltonic figure. He is certainly the largest and most crucial literary critic in the English language since the divine Walter and the divine Oscar: he is really that good. I have tried to find an alternative father in Mr. Burke, who is a charming fellow and a very powerful critic, but I don't come from Burke, I come out of Frye."

Excerpted from "An Interview with Harold Bloom" by Irme Salusinzky
Scripsi v4, #1 July,1986 PAGES 69-88.

On Jewish identity...
"What is supposed to be the very essence of Judaism - which is the notion that it is by study that you make yourself a holy people - is nowhere present in Hebrew tradition before the end of the first or the beginning of the second century of the Common Era. It is perfectly clear that the notion reached the Rabbis directly or indirectly from the writings of Plato, because it is a thoroughly Platonic notion. And yet it has become more characteristic of normative Jewish tradition than of any other Western tradition still available to us. I take that to be an instance of why one should distrust any statements about the ontological or historical purity or priority of any spiritual tradition whatsoever."

Excerpted from "An Interview with Harold Bloom" by Irme Salusinzky
Scripsi v4, #1 July,1986 PAGES 69-88

On mortality...
"I mean, one reaches one's sixties, one's friends start to die of one disease or another, or one accident or another. It's difficult to maintain one's old friendships. It's very difficult to make new friendships. One tries to be benign. One tries not to be self-aggrandizing. One tries to avoid relationships which might be self-aggrandizing. I mean all human beings are like this. Sometimes one succeeds, sometimes one fails. But in the end, in the end one is alone. We are all of us alone. I mean I'm told these days we have to consider ourselves as being in society... but in the end one knows one is alone, that one lives at the heart of a solitude. That we all live at the heart of a solitude. That we all have the consciousness of mortality... I've taught tens of thousands of students, and some of them occasionally come back or send me a letter and let me know that something was communicated to them, that something in their spirit is a touch less lonely."

Excerpted from "Harold Bloom Interviewed by Eleanor Wachtel"
Queen's Quarterly v102, #3 (Fall 1995) PAGES 609-19.

On his critics...
"If I were to sum up the negative reactions to my work, I think there are two primary causes: one is that if there is discourse about anxiety it is necessarily going to induce anxiety. It will represent a return of the repressed for a great many people. The second, and I think this is the much more overt and I think it is the main cause, I have been increasingly demonstrating or trying to demonstrate that every possible stance a critic, a scholar, a teacher can take towards a poem is itself inevitably and necessarily poetic. That it is tropological, that no matter how humble, earnest, devoted, on his knees the critic or scholar or teacher is, that is just as much a fiction as any other stance towards a poem, as say, my stance towards a poem is. This is found intolerable, deeply unsettling by many, many people, whether they are professional journalists or, even more, professional academicians. I think they find that it calls their status and function much more into question than they can bear...the supposed positivistic basis for their activity is put into question, and their humility is exposed as a self-deception."

Excerpted from "Interview: Harold Bloom interviewed by Robert Moynihan "
Diacritics : A Review of Contemporary Criticism v13 , #3 (Fall, 1983) PAGES 57-68.

On deconstruction...
"What I think I have in common with the school of deconstruction is the mode of negative thinking or negative awareness, in the technical, philosophical sense of the negative, but which comes to me through negative theology...There is no escape, there is simply the given, and there is nothing that we can do. In fact all we can do is keep increasing it, and this of course is where Hegel is the prophet. Hegel prophesied that this must finally mark the death of art, because this growing self-awareness, this growing self-consciousness must finally be destructive of the esthetic. Indeed the three prophecies about the death of individual art are, in their different ways, those of Hegel, Marx, and Freud. I don't see any way of getting beyond those prophecies."

Excerpted from "Interview: Harold Bloom interviewed by Robert Moynihan"
Diacritics : A Review of Contemporary Criticism v13 , #3 (Fall, 1983) PAGES 57-68.

On the Agonistic nature of reading...
"Criticism starts - it has to start - with a real passion for reading. It can come in adolescence, even in your twenties, but you must fall in love with poems. You must fall in love with what we used call 'imaginative literature.' And when you are in love that way, with or without provocation from good teachers, you will pass on to encountering what used to be called the sublime. And as soon as you do this, you pass into the agonistic mode, even if your own nature is anything but agonistic. In the end, the spirit that makes one a fan of a particular athlete or a particular team is different only in degree, not in kind, from the spirit that teaches one to prefer one poet to another, or one novelist to another. That is to say there is some element of competition at every point in one's experience as a reader. How could there not be? Perhaps you learn this more fully as you get older, but in the end you choose between books, or you choose between poems, the way you choose between people. You can't become friends with every acquaintance you make, and I would not think that it is any different with what you read."

Excerpted from "Harold Bloom : The Art of Criticism I" Interview by Antonio Weiss.
Paris Review v33, #118 (Spring, 1991) PAGES 178 - 232.

On the creative act of writing poetry...
"What we call a poem is mostly what is not there on the page. The strength of any poem is the poems that it has managed to exclude. No poem, not even Shakespeare or Milton or Chaucer, is ever strong enough to totally exclude every crucial precursor text or poem. If that way of talking about poetry has any force - and I'm probably still unique in the world in believing it has more force than any other way - then clearly what you have called 'indirect' or 'revisionary' allusion would be considerably more relevant than overt or calculated allusion."

Excerpted from "An Interview with Harold Bloom" by Irme Salusinzky
Scripsi v4, #1 July,1986 PAGES 69-88.

On the study of Shakespeare... "We have to read Shakespeare, and we have to study Shakespeare. We have to study Dante. We have to read Chaucer. We have to read Cervantes. We have to read the Bible, at least the King James Bible. We have to read certain authors...They provide an intellectual, I dare say, a spiritual value which has nothing to do with organized religion or the history of institutional belief. They remind us in every sense of re-minding us. They not only tell us things that we have forgotten, but they tell us things we couldn't possibly know without them, and they reform our minds. They make our minds stronger. They make us more vital. They make us alive...Shakespeare is universal. Shakespeare is the true multicultural author. He exists in all languages. He is put on the stage everywhere. Everyone feels that they are represented by him on the stage...I don't know who Shakespeare was. He has hidden himself behind all of these extraordinary men and women...One cares about wisdom, and in the end one wants to be judged by wisdom. If one hasn't got it, one has to ask the biblical question "Where shall wisdom be found?' And I suppose, for me, the answer is: wisdom is to be found in Shakespeare, provided you get at it in the right way."

Excerpted from "Harold Bloom Interviewed by Eleanor Wachtel"
Queen's Quarterly v102, #3 (Fall 1995) PAGES 609-19.

"Shakespeare will not make us better, and he will not make us worse, but he may teach us how to overhear ourselves when we talk to ourselves...he may teach us how to accept change in ourselves as in others, and perhaps even the final form of change."

Excerpted from "Choice interviews: Harold Bloom interviewed by Terry Farish"
Choice v32, #6 (Feb, 1995): PAGES 899 - 901.

On Freud...
"My interest in Freud comes from the increasing realization that Freud is a kind of codifier or abstractor of William Shakespeare. In fact, it is Shakespeare who gives us the map of the mind. It is Shakespeare who invents Freudian Psychology. Freud finds ways of translating it into supposedly analytical vocabulary...I think Freud is about contamination, but I think that is something he learned from Shakespeare, because Shakespeare is about nothing but contamination, you might say. The Roman stage trope of contamination has to do with taking characters, with the names they have had in other plays and in history, and giving them the same names but making them wholly different characters. It is the way we live, it is the way we write, it is the way we read. It is, alas, the way we love: we are always taking the names of the dead or past characters and applying them to others."

Excerpted from "An Interview with Harold Bloom" by Irme Salusinzky
Scripsi v4, #1 July,1986 PAGES 69-88.

On psychoanalysis...
"I take it that a successful therapy is an oxymoron. I do not know anyone who has ever benefited from Freudian or any other mode of analysis, except for being, to use the popular trope, so badly shrunk, that they become quite dried out. That is to say, all passion spent. Perhaps they become better people, but they also become stale and uninteresting people with very few exceptions. Like dried-out cheese, or wilted flowers."

Excerpted from "Harold Bloom : The Art of Criticism I" Interview by Antonio Weiss.
Paris Review v33, #118 (Spring, 1991) PAGES 178 - 232.

On contemporary curriculum studies...
"I am very unhappy with current attempts throughout the universities of the Western world by a group I have called 'the school of resentment' to put the arts, and literature in particular, in the service of social change...pseudo-Marxists, pseudo-feminists, watery disciples of Foucault and other French theorists...are transparently at work propagating themselves in our universities...I would say that there is no future for literary studies as such in the United States. Increasingly, those studies are being taken over by the astonishing garbage called 'cultural criticism.' At NYU I am surrounded by professors of hip-hop. At Yale, I am surrounded by professors far more interested in various articles on the compost heap of so-called popular culture than in Proust or Shakespeare or Tolstoy."

Excerpted from "Bloom and doom." Harold Bloom interviewed by Ken Shulman.
Newsweek v124, #15 (Oct 10, 1994) PAGE 75.

On his colleagues in the universities...
"What I understand least about the current academy, and the current literary scene of criticism, is this lust for social enlightenment; this extraordinary, and, I believe, mindless movement towards proclaiming our way out of all introspections, our way out of guilt and sorrow, by proclaiming that the poet is a slumlord - whether he wants to be or not - and that there is no distinction between Yale University - or the University of Melbourne - and the New York Stock Exchange. This is clap-trap. The poet is not a slum-lord; the critic is not a hireling of the stock-exchange. I am weary of this nonsense, and I will not put up with it. It has nothing to do with my experience of reading poetry, of writing criticism and teaching other people how to read poetry and write criticism. If they wish to alleviate the sufferings of the exploited classes, let them live up to their pretensions, let them abandon the academy and go out there and work politically and economically and in a humanitarian spirit. They are the hypocrites; the so-called Marxist critics, and all of this rabblement that follow them now in the academies. They are the charlatans, they are the self-deceivers and the deceivers of others. If that is bitter, it understates my contempt for them."

Excerpted from "An Interview with Harold Bloom" by Irme Salusinzky
Scripsi v4, #1 July,1986 PAGES 69-88.

On the state of literary studies...
"I don't believe in myths of decline or myths of progress, even as regards the literary scene. The world does not get to be a better or a worse place; it just gets more senescent. The world gets older, without getting either better or worse and so does literature. But I do think that the drab current phenomenon that passes for literary studies in the university will finally provide its own corrective. That is to say, sooner or later, students and teachers are going to get terribly bored with all the technocratic social work going on now. There will be a return to aesthetic values and desires, or these people will simply do something else with their time. But I find a great deal of hypocrisy with what they're doing now...There are so many tiresomenesses going on. Everyone is so desperately afraid of being called a racist or a sexist that they connive - whether actively or passively - the almost total breakdown of standards which has taken place both in and out of the universities, here writings by blacks and Hispanics or, in many cases, simply women are concerned...It is clearly a time when social and cultural guilt has taken over...Criticism in the universities, I'll have to admit, has entered a phase where I am totally out of sympathy with 95% of what goes on. It's Stalinism without Stalin. All of the traits of the Stalinist in the 1930's and 1940's are being repeated in this whole resentment in the universities in the 1990's. This intolerance, the self-congratulation, smugness, sanctimoniousness, the retreat from imaginative values, the flight from the aesthetic. It's not worth being truly outraged about. Eventually these people will provide their own antidote, because they will perish of boredom. I will win in the end. I must be the only literary critic of any eminence today (I cannot think of another, I'm sad to say, however arrogant or difficult this sounds) who always asks 'How good is it? What is it better than? What is it less good than? What does it mean?' and 'Is there some relation between what it means and how good or bad it is, and not only how is it good or bad, but why is it good or bad?'...There has to be some relation between the way in which we matter and the way in which we read. A way of speaking and writing about literature which addresses itself to these matters must seem impossibly na´ve or old-fashioned or not literary criticism at all to the School of Resentment."

Excerpted from "Harold Bloom : The Art of Criticism I" Interview by Antonio Weiss.
Paris Review v33, #118 (Spring, 1991) PAGES 178 - 232.\

On multiculturalism...
"You know, there are certain inescapable books that I really do feel all of us should read as early as possible. What does education mean if it does not expose children and young people to Shakespeare and Cervantes and Dante?...But unfortunately what is called 'multiculturalism' in the United States never means Cervantes. It doesn't mean replacing a writer in English by Cervantes...It means fifth-rate work by people full of resentment, who happen to be women, or who happen to be Chicano or Puerto-Rican, or who happen to be African-American, and they are by no means the best writers who are African-American, or women, or so on. They are simply the most resentful and the most ideological. The function of an education is not to make people feel good about themselves, or to confirm their sense of division, of being in one group rather than another."

Excerpted from "Harold Bloom Interviewed by Eleanor Wachtel"
Queen's Quarterly v102, #3 (Fall 1995) PAGES 609-19.

On victimization...
"We have lost all our standards. We're afraid to be called racist and sexist. I am not racist or a sexist...This myth of victimization produces African-American students who are under pressure to segregate themselves, peer pressures not to study, peer pressures not to read. I think the myth of victimization is more of a danger now to black and Hispanic students in the U.S., but of course I will be called racist for saying that. Surely it is a social tragedy that there is enormous pressure on the African-American not to mix and mingle with other groups. This is peer pressure not placed on Asian Americans. My best students are Asian Americans. These students will work and will brood about literature and will think about it at night and will take care to write very well. This (debate on the canon) is an intellectual and perhaps a spiritual matter. Authentic literature doesn't divide us. It addresses itself to the solitary individual or consciousness."

Excerpted from "Choice interviews: Harold Bloom interviewed by Terry Farish"
Choice v32, #6 (Feb, 1995): PAGES 899 - 901.





DISCUSSION || CALENDAR || LECTURERS || SYMPOSIA || HUMANITIES AT STANFORD

Top of Page || Home Page || Stanford University Libraries || Stanford University