After 50 or so books, it’s not surprising that Mr. Bloom isn’t breaking any fresh ground in his two latest ... Mr. Bloom typically assumes previous familiarity with the many poems, novels, plays and stories he praises or dissects. Beyond that, he is always advancing a Bloomian agenda, arguing for the literary centrality of Emerson...or undertaking a sprightly demolition job on Poe or detecting unexpected affiliations between authors, even finding Whitmanian elements in the laconic Hemingway. Still, Mr. Bloom wins our allegiance when he sounds less the scholiast and more the passionate fellow reader ... Whether you agree or disagree with what he writes, Mr. Bloom always—as the French say—makes you furiously to think. More than that, though, he stands for a rare intellectual purity, being not only a kind of shaggy saint in his devotion to literature but also, like so many saints and prophets, a gadfly, a doomsayer and a great teacher. So here’s to you, Harold Bloom, with thanks for 60 years of magnificent and rewarding provocation.
The American Canon is more inclusive than The Western Canon, as though its author—and its editor, since the book has been assembled by David Mikics from pieces written over the past half-century—was provoked by the reaction to his earlier book into seeing a wider world of writing ... Toni Morrison ('a child of Faulkner') is given shorter shrift than she deserves and told off for being ideological, but some of these chapters—particularly the one on James Baldwin’s prophetic language—are great introductions to writers who might well have made Bloom feel uneasy about his determination to see the American canon as an expression of the homogeneous Emersonian mind of ‘our’ nation ... In general, though, the price of admission to The American Canon (nothing here is got for nothing) is having to do the anxiety thing, or trying to make yourself appear to be your predecessor’s predecessor, or believing that your self is not a part of creation but a sublime and all-absorbing singularity ... Bloom’s preoccupation with literary paternity occasionally makes The American Canon a little too much like a manual of horse-breeding ... the self-propelling magic Bloomschtick often seems to whizz right on past its subject matter ... to identify imaginative activity with spatial expansion and control may well be the root disease of the colonial imaginary and, who knows, of the entire American canon and maybe the wider Western canon too.
As a group, the essays demonstrate some unevenness in depth and timeliness due to being excerpted from other works, but the volume is made cohesive by Bloom’s predominating interests in gnosticism, Romanticism, and Shakespeare, and a critical language free of literary theory or cultural politics ... Ambitious, authoritative, and certainly arguable, Bloom’s compendium is an achievement of immense use and interest to literature students and general readers alike.