It’s Harold Bloom against the world. The sad-eyed Yale University professor, whose entries in Books in Print fill more than two pages of tiny type, has concluded a lavish six-figure deal to write The Western Canon, a literature survey that promises to infuriate everyone by its inclusions and exclusions.
”I seem to have a dreadful talent for stirring up controversy,” Bloom, 61, says modestly. ”I don’t know why.” Last year, for instance, he had a surprise best-seller with The Book of J, which theorized that a woman wrote parts of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, including Genesis and Exodus. Since then, the author of The Anxiety of Influence and Kabbalah and Criticism has shed his academic mantle for a mainstream audience. His take on The American Religion (in which he’ll tell ”Southern Baptists and Mormons what they really believe, and they’re not going to like that”) comes out in the spring, and Canon will be published in the fall.
Though Bloom will cover the usual suspects — Shakespeare, Cervantes, Tolstoy, etc. — his treatment of 20th-century authors may cause excitement. Bloom is reluctant to give details, but he does admit, ”I find myself in the position of criticizing a great many writers now exalted.” Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, for instance, ”are not poets, merely case histories and hysterics. They could not write poetry that should matter to any serious reader.” And that, promises Bloom, is just an opening shot from his Canon.