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This article is taken from PN Review 104, Volume 21 Number 6, July - August 1995.

Death of a Critic: on Harold Bloom Nicolas Tredell

HAROLD BLOOM, The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages (Macmillan) £20.

Would you buy a used canon from this man? Judging by the laudatory quotations on the dustjacket of The Western Canon, the overwhelming answer seems to be yes: Harold Bloom appears to have closed the deal with Christopher Ricks, Frank Kermode, M.H. Abrams, A.S. Byatt and Malcolm Bradbury: the last-named has even gone so far as to select Bloom's opus as one of his 'International Books of the Year' in the Times Literary Supplement, 2 December 1994. Many others, it seems, have handed over their dollars or pounds for what certainly looks as though it ought to be a bumper read, a distinguished critic's tour through the canon from Shakespeare to Samuel Beckett But this imposing casket, when opened, reveals only the punctured costume of a belated Falstaff, who, pushing forward to claim his seat beside the throne, has found himself cast out by the monarch of Cultural Studies: 'I know thee not, old man….

It did not always seem that the story would end this way. In the 1970s, Bloom was a critic with a very definite and desirable product to sell: a theory. What was more, in contrast to the theoretical approaches of his Yale colleagues such as J. Hillis Miller and Geoffrey Hartman, Bloom's theory was not derived from Derrida: and though drawing upon Freud, it did so in a characteristically American way, turning it into a form ...


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