From a cache of cuttings about Harold Bloom, mainly on his book ‘The Western Canon’ (1994) fell a handwritten letter, unsigned and unsent. For some reason Max Richards (1937-2016) starts the letter, then leaves it alone. Maybe it’s a draft for something else. The letter eloquently reveals the sorts of shifts happening in Melbourne literary studies, Melbourne by then just typical of more widespread changes in attitude and practice.
I was at a loss for words on Bloom,
wasn’t I? What I might finally have got
around to saying is that I doubt Bloom
missed much in the ‘theory boom’. His
earlier criticism tended to be thesis-ridden –
I remember John Butt saying as much to me in
Edinburgh in 1964, and Norman Holmes Pearson
when he visited La Trobe in 1968 or so.
But they were old literary historians and
humanists. Middle Bloom I find tiringly
complicated – forcing his version of the Oedipal
struggle on pairings of poets. I long ago
put myself outside one academic pale by
my persistent feeling that all I wanted
from critics was personal interpretations
and judgments – as part of the endless
conversation of humankind about writing
and theatre and all the other arts. I read
John Berger & Peter Fuller not for their
principles or theory but their appreciations
of artists and their work. So Bloom’s intros
to the Chelsea House anthologies of criticism
are for me Bloom being pleasingly Johnsonian,
& the parts of the ‘Canon’ book I’ve sampled please
me when they are ‘practical’ & bore me when they’re
not. My 1950s & 60s teachers were like that,
my own practice dreams of being effective with a
vocabulary accessible to undergraduates and readers
of book-review pages: London Review of Books, say.
The critics who are of most use to me are
artists like D.H. Lawrence, Randall Jarrell, Seamus
Heaney. At time Bloom is ‘with them’.
Since the time of Northrop Frye, I’ve felt many
academics care more for ideas than for writing.
My devotion to poetry resents the interference of
theory of most sorts. The interest for me is in the
nuances in which theory is not interested – or is it?
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