The American Canon: Literary Genius from Emerson to Pynchon

Harold Bloom, edited by David Mikics. Library of America, $32 (500p) ISBN 978-1-59853-640-9
Literary critic and scholar Bloom identifies the classics of American letters and what makes them so in this rich compilation of five decades of criticism. The 47 featured writers and the chronological discussions begin with Ralph Waldo Emerson, “the pragmatic origin of our literary culture.” While some essays offer a close reading of Bloom’s favorite works—Walt Whitman and William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying receive the loftiest praise—most analyze authors by their preoccupations—Bloom reads Flannery O’Connor, for instance, through the lens of her Catholicism—and their precursors, following Bloom’s formative theories about the anxiety of influence. As a group, the essays demonstrate some unevenness in depth and timeliness due to being excerpted from other works, but the volume is made cohesive by Bloom’s predominating interests in gnosticism, Romanticism, and Shakespeare, and a critical language free of literary theory or cultural politics. Bloom’s values are aesthetic beauty and rhetorical originality; he admires “self-reliant, self-radiant” Emily Dickinson and the “vast consciousness” of Henry James and calls Ursula K. Le Guin’s “sensibility... very nearly unique in contemporary fiction.” Ambitious, authoritative, and certainly arguable, Bloom’s compendium is an achievement of immense use and interest to literature students and general readers alike. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 07/18/2019
Release date: 10/15/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
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