In recent years, no literary theorist has been more popularized than Harold Bloom has. While some applaud his efforts, others are cautious about his overtly popular appeal. One must ask why, in this era of buzzwords such as "diversity awareness" and "multiculturalism," a man preaching a traditional, Western literary canon is so popular. It is precisely because Bloom does not limit the greats to their Western cultural appeal, but sees within their text a transcendence of any one culture, and identification with humanity as a whole. Shakespeare, Cervantes, de Montaigne, Milton, and Tolstoy: all deceased, Caucasian, and male, but all were geniuses of their times, and Bloom sees no need for anyone to apologize for this.
Born in 1930, Harold Bloom received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Cornell University in 1951, and his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1955. He was hired by Yale as a faculty member in the same year. Ten years later, in 1965, Bloom became one of the youngest faculty members appointed as a full professor in the department of English at Yale, no doubt in homage to his intellect and literary prowess. He has taught at New York University since 1988.
Bloom's career as a leading literary critic began with his work concerning Romanticism. Bloom brought the study of poetry back to a personal level, asserting the most basic claim that if we do not exist, then poetry cannot exist. Poetry and literature serve as commentary on us as humans. While there are dozens of schools of criticism, Bloom's early rivals were T.S. Eliot and New Criticism, and Jacques Derrida and Deconstruction, which flourished at Yale. Since then, he has worked with his own form of psychoanalysis to re-evaluate the Western literary tradition and posit the priority of his Big Four: the Hebrew Bible, Homer, Shakespeare, and Milton. These sources are central to his criticism of poetry. Early in his study, Bloom attributed every poetic thought as stemming from some image in these sources. There were no new ideas, only reconfigurations, whether consciously or unconsciously. After his study of the Romantics and poetic imagery, Bloom consented that primary was the poet's imagination, second to these canonical muses. However, since this, Bloom's critical career has focused on a new criticism that secures the Big Four as precursors to any imaginative reconstruction of their greatness.
Bloom's most recent publication of Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds follows the trend of listing the "100 Best" for categories such as movies and novels. For cultural lackeys this may seem like a spoon-feeding of a prefabricated cultural awareness. However, this survey and commentary of world literature is not the be-all, end-all of literary greatness, but rather Bloom's personal preferences, neatly dichotomized and summarized by his terms, not society's as a whole. Harold Bloom is no more a god than Shakespeare himself is. While he covers not only the traditional Western European greats, Bloom attests to the genius of such authors as Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier, and the Mexican poet Octavio Paz. Critics claim that if this book is simply a conglomeration of one hundred of Bloom's top choices, then what is the point? This is Bloom's homage to the greats, to those authors and poets central to his literary consciousness.
Though his critical sway may seem more conservative than some would prefer, Bloom stays far away from associating literature with a social agenda. For him, sublime aesthetic and spiritual transcendence constitute greatness.