Possessed by Memory
The Inward Light of Criticism(amazon)
Harold Bloom (View Bio)
Hardcover: Alfred A. Knopf, 2019.
In brief, luminous readings of more than eighty texts by canonical authors—texts he has had by heart since childhood—Harold Bloom has written a memoir of an inward journey from childhood to age ninety. Bloom argues elegiacally with nobody but Bloom, interested only in the influence of the mind upon itself when it absorbs the highest and most enduring imaginative literature. He offers meditations on poems and prose that have haunted him since childhood and which he has possessed by memory: from the Psalms and Ecclesiastes to Shakespeare and Dr. Johnson; Spenser and Milton to Wordsworth and Keats; Whitman and Browning to Joyce and Proust; Tolstoy and Yeats to Delmore Schwartz and Amy Clampitt; Blake to Wallace Stevens; and much more. Though he has written before about some of these authors, these exegeses, written in the winter of his life, are movingly informed by “the freshness of last things.” As he writes, “One of my concerns throughout Possessed by Memory is with the beloved dead. Most of my good friends in my generation have departed. Their voices are still in my ears. I find that they are woven into what I read. I listen not only for their voices but also for the voice I heard before the world was made. My other concern is religious, in the widest sense. For me poetry and spirituality fuse as a single entity. All my long life I have sought to isolate poetic knowledge. This also involves a knowledge of God and gods. I see imaginative literature as a kind of theurgy in which the divine is summoned, maintained, and augmented.”
"Admirers of prolific polymath Bloom will treasure this assemblage of 76 pieces, ranging in length from brief reflections to full-length essays, and in genre from memoir to literary analysis. Bloom’s central interest—the role of influence in literary history—is highlighted in selections that showcase his deep immersion in canonical greats (Shakespeare, Milton ), Romantic-era poets (Byron, Keats, and Shelley), and the later Victorians (Browning and Tennyson), whom he sees as undervalued by recent criticism. Bloom also attends to American poets, including Wallace Stevens, Walt Whitman, and longtime friend John Ashbery, and religious writings, with character sketches of biblical figures such as Deborah, Moses, and Ruth and a meditation on the Kabbalah. Ample excerpts illustrate his assertions, such as that Edmund’s speech from King Lear on how ‘we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon and the stars’ illustrates why the villainous character is nonetheless ‘surprisingly attractive’ for his ‘candor and clarity.’ However, general readers may find Bloom’s personal remarks most affecting, such as on how, while ‘nearing 88, I have to consider how little I know of time to come.’ A rich lifetime of readership and scholarship can be found within the covers of this equally rich book." — Publishers Weekly
"Literature serves as consolation for an eminent and prolific critic. Legendary critic and professor Bloom 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." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"America’s foremost scholar of literature delivers his most personal treatise yet in this compendium of musings about eighty-plus seminal texts, from Shakespeare to Keats to Tolstoy. This isn’t the garden variety work of criticism you might expect—at the end of his life, 88-year-old Bloom is plumbing his personal relationship with the greats for a thoughtful memoir of an extraordinary life in letters." — Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire, “The Most Anticipated Books of 2019”