Harold Bloom: The Rhetoric of Romantic Vision

By David Fite | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Early in 1959 a young scholar from Yale named Harold Bloom published his first book, a brief, polemical study of Shelley major poems entitled Shelley's Mythmaking. Blessed with the imprimatur of the prestigious Yale University Press, and armed with a thesis derived from the Jewish theologian Martin Buber which condemned almost every major previous critic of Shelley for the "sin" of reading the poetry as philosophy rather than poetic "mythmaking" ( SM, 118),1 Bloom's book guaranteed itself considerably more attention than fledgling scholarly efforts typically receive. Much of the attention was unfavorable. The anonymous reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement of 21 August 1959, in a review entitled "Elephants and Shelley", is representative of the scandalized:

From a point de départ of nth degree remoteness, namely a distinction made by the theologian Buber between I-Thou and I-It relationships, [ Bloom] proceeds, through the ritually prescribed cloud of witnesses, to offer, as his general interpretation of Shelley, a "mythopoeia" that involves the omission of "Adonais," and such other essential poems as do not fit it, and leaves both the reader and the truncated cadaver of the poetry at a point n degrees remote from any easily ascertainable point d'arrivée. (P. 482)

Closer to home, another scholar who had already made his mark in Romantic studies, Earl Wasserman, joined the chorus of detractors with his critique of Shelley Mythmaking in the Yale Review, but offered at the same time a perspective that saw into the life of things to come. Despite the fact that Bloom has "repeatedly misread the poems," despite all the distortions he has forced upon Shelley by imposing "irrelevant or only partially relevant a priori assump-

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