I decided to take this column on the road and pay a visit to the very office where so many of the books I gush about begin their lives. Around London, like New York, a prideful smile spreads across my face when I see advertisements for upcoming shows like “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan” at the National Gallery, London, knowing that we will be distributing the catalog when it is released this fall.
But here at Yale University Press, London, overlooking the beautiful Bedford Square, the distance of a few thousand miles hardly seems noticeable. The books are familiar, the people, whom I’ve only previously met via e-mail, are wonderful; it is in every sense to me: home. Within the larger Bloomsbury neighborhood, I’ve already been to the British Museum (smiling again at the copies of Ex Libris: The Art of Bookplates in the gift shop), and I feel as though I’m long overdue to trace the walking paths of Virginia and Leonard Woolf.
Still, there is something in the name Bloomsbury that also makes me instantly think of home. Bloom. Bloom. Harold? If you have not heard his name by the time you arrive at Yale, you will have approximately 10 hours to figure it out before more than a dozen mentions have been made in your introduction to the university and you are confounded by this ubiquitous figure whom everyone seems to know. Once you learn: this guy is a big deal.
For literary die-hards like me, his contributions (an understatement) to cultural analysis through reading and literature are unmistakable. It was Bloom who rescued so many of the British Romantic poets from the wasteland of obscurity (Eliot doesn’t haunt this neighborhood, I hope), many of my favorites included: Blake, Byron, Shelley, Keats. As I myself contemplate the importance of Jewish American Heritage month, I fondly remember delivering a manuscript of Max Weinreich’s History of the Yiddish Language to the professor’s house, which Bloom subsequently reviewed for the New York Review of Books. I rang the bell and stood, somewhat awkwardly, with over a thousand pages wrapped in my arms as I waited for him to answer the door. I was expected, but when he appeared, I knew that he was reading me like a text, drawing out every bit of meaning from my figure, stance, and regrettably sweaty appearance (it was quite a walk with all those pages). He smiled and re-pronounced my oddly Slavic name, and I smiled, knowing exactly that bit of surprise that comes when people expect to find themselves face-to-face with a Russian giant. The giant part is true, at least.
Bloom’s new book, The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life, reflects exactly that inimitable quality and ability that Bloom has to read into the cultural and literary influences that shape our every day life. I flatter myself to think of my appearance as a poem or book, but I’d like to think that readers know readers once they meet, and play the parts of the stories we know ourselves to love. When asked about the subtitle to the book, he responded: “I am made desolate by all formalist or historicist attempts to sever literature from life. Why would we read at all if we did not seek the blessing of more life into a time without boundaries?” Viably a mantra for readers like myself, The Anatomy of Influence presents Bloom lending his critical eye and ear to the great tradition of writers—Shakespeare, Tennyson, Browning, Crane, to name only a few of my own favorites—who have made our modern times. “Literary criticism, as I attempt to practice it,” writes Bloom, “is in the first place literary, that is to say, personal and passionate.” For connecting literature to its quotidian altar, for the appreciation of art as an inextricable component of the human experience, there can surely be no higher calling.
Ivan Lett is Online Marketing Coordinator for Yale University Press.