Harold Bloom’s lifelong obsession with literary influence can be traced to a precise date. It was on the fateful morning of 11 July 1967, he tells us, after a night of ‘metaphysical terror’ followed by ‘a dazed breakfast’, that he began composing ‘the dithyramb’ which would be published six years later as The Anxiety of Influence. That Nietzschean rhapsody of 1973, still in print, brought Bloom both notoriety and renown. Now, in The Anatomy of Influence, at once a recapitulation and a final summation of his thinking on influence, he laments that his highly original and often audacious works on this subject have afforded him nothing ‘more than forty years of wandering in the critical wilderness’. You might imagine that Bloom’s long sojourn in those trackless wastes was sweetened a little by the many awards and prestigious positions he has enjoyed along the way, from a Sterling professorship at Yale – along with a concurrent professorship at New York University – to one of the early MacArthur ‘genius’ Fellowships. Not a bit of it: Bloom remains a kvetcher of Timonian proportions. As he reminds us repeatedly in The Anatomy of Influence – at least six times by my count – he has taught at Yale for fifty-five years but still feels himself to be an outcast, a mere ‘visitor’, there. Bloom doesn’t just bite the hand that feeds him; he gnaws it to the bone.
A large part of Bloom’s gruff charm has always lain in his irrepressible tendency to hyperbole. He can state, seemingly without irony, that ‘confusing Shakespeare with God is ultimately legitimate’ – an apt example of what elsewhere he amusingly (and accurately) calls ‘Bloomian Bardolatry’. His critical intelligence has