The high priest

Harold Bloom’s unworldly notion of literature
by
May 2021, no. 431
Buy this book

Take Arms Against a Sea of Troubles: The power of the reader’s mind over a universe of death by Harold Bloom

Yale University Press, US$35 hb, 663 pp

The high priest

Harold Bloom’s unworldly notion of literature
by
May 2021, no. 431
Harold Bloom, photographed in New Haven CT (Randy Duchaine/Alamy)
Harold Bloom, photographed in New Haven CT (Randy Duchaine/Alamy)

Harold Bloom died in 2019 at the age of eighty-nine. Always prolific, he continued working until the very end. Throughout his final book, he digresses at regular intervals to record the date, note his advanced age, and allude to his failing health. At one point, he reveals that he is dictating from a hospital chair.

Could a book composed under such circumstances be about anything other than death? Take Arms Against a Sea of Troubles: The power of the reader’s mind over a universe of death, the prolix title of which combines an instantly recognisable line from Shakespeare with a less obvious reference to Milton, can certainly be read as Bloom’s attempt to bring his career full circle. In its pages, the venerable literary critic presents us with his final reflections on a select group of canonical poets (Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Keats, Tennyson, Browning, Whitman, Lawrence, Frost, Stevens, Crane). He also, pointedly, returns to the subjects of his earliest critical studies (Shelley, Blake, Yeats) and includes a lone chapter on Freud, whose ideas he adapted into his idiosyncratic theories of literary influence and canon formation.

James Ley reviews 'Take Arms Against a Sea of Troubles: The power of the reader’s mind over a universe of death' by Harold Bloom

Take Arms Against a Sea of Troubles: The power of the reader’s mind over a universe of death

by Harold Bloom

Yale University Press, US$35 hb, 663 pp

Buy this book

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Comment (1)

  • Yes, point well argued. In the final pages of his popular book on Proust, Alain de Botton puts the view that Proust concludes that even the finest books should be cast aside as spent objects, once the reader has taken from them all that they are capable of providing. I think this is apt - a little more scepticism is healthy. I think today we see literature less as something we learn lessons from, but rather a part of a layering of ideas, images and notions that interweave with our experiences to create a larger comprehension or perspective. Bloom's idea quoted here that books 'teach us how to go on living’ seems very archaic and even a tad embarrassing.
    Posted by Patrick Hockey
    04 May 2021

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