- Oxymorons of AnxietyOr the Influence of Baba Ram Dass on Harold Bloom
In 1974, when I initially submitted this article to diacritics, it was rejected, despite my being a member of the editorial board. I had previously agreed that the piece should first be sent to Harold Bloom for his reaction; he was not pleased. The editor (and founder of diacritics) judged, I think correctly, that it was better to have Bloom well disposed toward the young journal than not. He had been very generous, since its inception, giving us articles and interviews, and lending his weight to this early attempt to translate French theory into America. I was naturally deflated by the rejection, but since I believe in institutions more than individuals, I acquiesced, gracefully I think. Perhaps I shouldn't have. It has been forty years and in that time Bloom has grown even more dismissive of major theoretical developments and contemptuous of efforts to expand the canon. In his latest work, his "virtual swan song," The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life (2011), he evokes the critical developments long championed by this journal, which have evolved over forty years, and lumps them together as: "what I shall call the New Cynicism (a cluster of critical tendencies which are rooted in French theories of culture and encompass the New Historicism and its ilk)."1 Note the ilk: making alike, in a single cluster of cynicism, what he will not differentiate. Currently, he is motivated to return to his earlier work on influence, "galvanized in part by the New Cynicism's reductio of all literary relationships to base self-interest."2 In The Anatomy of Influence, Bloom returns to the Bloom of The Anxiety of Influence to find and redefine a canonical interpretation of literary relationships that depends from his immense erudition. Against the cynics, he is excited by a nobler, disinterested perspective—a view more universally shared than what might be found, for example, in the pages of diacritics.
In any case, I always hoped this article, excerpted from a much longer chapter, would one day be published. I didn't think the moment would wait forty years and for my retirement. For allowing this to see the light and for their kind indulgence of my valedictory vanity, I especially want to thank my colleagues deeply, as well as the editors of the new diacritics.
Harold Bloom brings bad news. Geoffrey Hartman calls him a kakangelist; he calls himself a necromancer.3 The news is the death of poetry—an event, as Bloom at moments seems to believe, that began with Milton. Since then, things have only gotten worse and are no way bound to improve. What Bloom is saying may well be no news at all, if poetry in fact and in principle has always been dying, if its death were simultaneous with its birth—its possibility permanently implicated in its impossibility. But, if not what the man is saying, surely the way he kakangelizes, raises the most surprising questions about the possibility of something he continues to want to call "literary criticism." Hartman's carefully poised review neglects to insist on the question of Bloom's style. His opening sentence, however, does proceed straight to enumerate—with no further comment—the unwonted diversity of elements that compose Bloom's short theory of poetry: "Six essays emerge from this dense, eloquent and experiential brooding, flanked by two prose poems, and accompanied by a synoptic introduction and an interchapter on 'Antithetical Criticism.'"4 Hartman pretends to take all this perfectly for granted, as if we were quite prepared to understand, with no explanation, the nature and necessity of something called a synoptic introduction, or the status of an interchapter, or the force of a notion like [End Page 7] antithetical criticism, and, as if we should hardly be surprised to discover, the whole thing quite naturally flanked by two prose poems! Hartman picks up the new style, but for reasons not clearly readable in his text, chooses not to dwell on this most surprising news of...