Skip to content

Harold Bloom: Culture Gods from Emerson to Bird

     “If God appeared in 19th Century America,” Harold Bloom told me, “it was as Ralph Waldo Emerson.  In the 20th Century it would have been as Charlie Parker.”


     Who knew that Yale’s monumental literature man was a bebopper?  No mere record collector, either.  Bloom remembers haunting Minton’s and other Harlem hatcheries of the new jazz in the 1940s.  A half century ago he handed the collected poems of one idol, Hart Crane, to another, the pianist Bud Powell, whose “Un Poco Loco” is short-listed with, say, Moby Dick and The Scarlet Letter among Bloom’s all-time all-American aesthetic statements.  And in our long conversation Professor Bloom spelled out exactly what he thinks the connections are.


     The Sage of New Haven helped revive the late Sage of Concord in the 1960s.  This summer, Emerson’s 200th, it is Bloom’s effusive devotion that rules the international birthday party.  Bloom does not quite confer supremacy on Emerson, though he believes Emerson made our greatest writer, Walt Whitman, possible.  Emerson made the rest of our literary culture (Emily Dickinson to Henry James to Robert Frost to Don DeLillo) possible, necessary and perhaps inevitable.  “The whole phenomenon of American culture,” said Bloom, “on every level down to popular culture… is a profoundly Emersonian affair.  He has prophesied everything…  He is the mind of America.  He is not only the first absolutely original mind to appear in the United States, but he usurped everything that could be peculiarly American about thought as such.”


     It is Bloom’s way to digress, and by the end of an afternoon we had littered acres of artistic ground with scores and scores of dropped names.  Part One of this conversation is a modern walk in the Emersonian woods, lit by Bloom’s astonishing memory for people and lines and history, and with several touches of Bloom’s high style of invective.  Richard Rorty and the late Bart Giamatti come up as good guys; Dubya, Cheney and Rummy as fools; Robert Penn Warren and Allen Ginsberg as departed friends with whom the voluble Bloom is still arguing.  Part Two is not least a catalog of people who hated Emerson (Southerners in his lifetime and ever after, including C. Vann Woodward, Allen Tate and “Red” Warren; but also T. S. Eliot and even Herman Melville, who mocked Emerson in his fiction) and those who loved him and/or owed him (including W. E. B. DuBois, William James, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry David Thoreau, Wallace Stevens,  the Argentinian Jorge Luis Borges and the American novelist of Invisible Man, Ralph Waldo Ellison).  Part Three is contemporary and personal.  It was my Emersonian confession, “he speaks to me,” that prompted Harold Bloom.  Lost and depressed in his own dark wood in his mid-thirties, Bloom said, he had read forward and back in Emerson’s Journals “morning noon and night and all night long,” and “I felt that every phrase he had ever written he was speaking directly to me…  I still feel that way,” he said.  “There are many many sentences in which I feel that Emerson is more than speaking to me.  He has gotten inside my inner ear and has become indeed the the best and oldest part of myself.  Indeed, it is the God within, as it were, that speaks.”


     Who speaks with Emerson’s range and affirmation in our lifetimes?  I tried on Professor Bloom my notion that Duke Ellington cut his own original Emersonian figure for the 20th Century.  An enabler who was both major composer and itinerant performance artist, in long forms and short, for dance halls and cathedrals, Ellington was a blues man of surpassing public style and inner ecstasies.  It intrigues me that both Emerson and Ellington were towering individualists set each in his own band of eccentric voices–Ellington in his orchestra, Emerson in the Concord circle.  Harold Bloom was wide open to transferring the modern Emerson search into the music world, but his taste is for the blazing solo voices from Louis Armstrong to Sonny Rollins, with Charlie Parker presiding over the Pantheon.  Listen in.  OneTwo and Three.

{ 67 } Comments

  1. Anonymous | September 4, 2003 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Talk about night and day, following up Robert Fisk with Harold Bloom.

  2. Anonymous | September 7, 2003 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    The egomanical “sage” of New Haven states that Don DeLillo wouldn’t have been posssible but for Emerson. Yeah right, just like Chris’ claim of entitlement to Public radio funds, had “nothing at all to do with money”.

  3. Anonymous | October 18, 2003 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Bloom is an enthusiast of the wonders that the mind is capable of, his meditations on Shakespeare and the creation of humanity – the ability of the Bard to create so many “selves” in his works – is merely one example. RWE is another natural for Bloom – an example of the unexperienced life is not worth living – an openness to experience.

    No, I don’t agree with many of Prof. Bloom’s judgments – but it is the journey, and not the destination that matters most here. If someone, disagreeing with Harold Bloom, can write as eloquently in favor of DeLillo, and draw people into the experience of his works, who is to say that a conversation hasn’t been started?

  4. Anonymous | November 2, 2003 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    What a revelation to hear how conversant and insightful Professor Bloom is on jazz. His description of Bud Powell as an “immensely literate man” is even more eye opening, though I’m not surprised to hear that he’s more passionate toward the incandescent modernists Bird and Bud than he is with Duke Ellington. Bloom’s citation of “Parker’s Mood” and “Un Poco Loco” are choice examples of their “doomed eagerness.”

    But I agree with Mr. Lydon, that Ellington is more Emersonian than Bird or Bud, both in terms of his robust, independent character, and in his stylization of the authentic American musical vernacular. The American grain infuses all of Duke’s work, as does a truly democratic spirit, both in the way he utilized the individual musical personalities of his band members, and in his embrace of the high and low, the sacred and profane, the most refined and the funkiest– in short, the multi-cultural vitality of America.

    Bloom’s friend Ralph Waldo Ellison noted that it was in our appreciation of and ongoing devotion to Ellington’s music that the truth of the “white American’s inescapable Negro-ness,” i.e., our unique American-ness, was most fully revealed.

    Tom Reney

  5. Anonymous | January 5, 2005 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    legal consulting

  6. Anonymous | February 25, 2005 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    I am a student creating a movie for a computer science fair. There will be no fees or money exchanged for this project. I need written permisson for all images and music I use. I will give credit as you request. The image is located at http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/lydon/2003/09/03 Plese e-mail me back asap either way.

    Thank you,
    Meghan Kissinger

  7. Anonymous | February 25, 2005 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    I am a student creating a movie for a computer science fair. There will be no fees or money exchanged for this project. I need written permisson for all images and music I use. I will give credit as you request. The image is located at http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/lydon/2003/09/03 Plese e-mail me back asap either way.

    Thank you,
    Meghan Kissinger

  8. Anonymous | February 25, 2005 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    I am a student creating a movie for a computer science fair. There will be no fees or money exchanged for this project. I need written permisson for all images and music I use. I will give credit as you request. The image is located at http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/lydon/2003/09/03 Plese e-mail me back asap either way.

    Thank you,
    Meghan Kissinger

  9. Anonymous | August 24, 2005 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    You are the best. Thank you http://www.bignews.com

  10. Anonymous | March 19, 2006 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Very nice and informative website.

  11. Anonymous | July 27, 2006 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    I would like to wish you much luck. And a lot of money. Thank you.

  12. Anonymous | August 27, 2006 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    I would like to wish you much luck. And a lot of money. Thank you.

  13. Anonymous | August 28, 2006 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Congratulations on a great web site. I am a new computer user and finding you was like coming home. Continued success.

  14. Anonymous | September 5, 2006 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I would like to wish you much luck. And a lot of money. Thank you.

  15. Anonymous | September 12, 2006 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations on a great web site. I am a new computer user and finding you was like coming home. Continued success.

  16. Anonymous | September 18, 2006 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    I would like to wish you much luck. And a lot of money. Thank you.

  17. hoteles baratos | January 26, 2009 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Where are you hiding?

  18. RickVallen | March 13, 2009 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Nice post and blog
    Thanks for sharing

  19. leke kremi | March 31, 2010 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    You are the best. Thank you

  20. Billi Matherly | September 29, 2010 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    we are going to see, he also explained he’d similar detention features at gitmo inside a 12 months..
    .

  21. BGY | October 10, 2010 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    great thanks

  22. leke kremi | October 27, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    thank, he also explained he’d similar detention features at gitmo inside a 12 months..

  23. sundepil | October 30, 2010 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    we are going to see, he also explained he’d similar detention features at gitmo inside a 12 months..
    Thanks for sharing

  24. selülit | November 1, 2010 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    student creating a movie for a computer science fair. There will be no fees or money exchanged for this project. I need written permisson for all images and music I use

  25. tütüne son | November 2, 2010 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Nice post and blog
    Thanks for sharing

    Thanks for sharing

    I thanks.

  26. AbWorkouts2LookHot | November 5, 2010 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much for this in-depth interview on Professor Bloom. It’s given me a much greater insight into this complicated man. Well done Chris.

    Reviews of the Best Weight Loss Programs

  27. meubles de cuisine | November 18, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    NICE SUBJECT meuble salle de bain

  28. Rick | February 4, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    Bloom was the best!

  29. Yamaha waverunner accessories | March 16, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    no matter how terrible people act, we don’t have a right to judge them. We are just to express our minds, and don’t have to pay attention what other people look like, what’s their real face. It doesn’t matter for me, if someone will say anything about me, I know what I really deserve, and what kind of person I really am.

  30. Metin2 Forum | March 21, 2011 at 3:08 am | Permalink

    You are the best. Thank you

  31. MerchantServiceSales | March 26, 2011 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    I wanted to thank for the great read.I definitely enjoying every little bit of it

  32. Auto Trading Forex | March 26, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Nice Post! Its really good article. thanks for share it

  33. PeakDistrictCottages | March 27, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Great Post Shared. Highly informative. thanks
    Peak District Cottages

  34. plumbers kings lynn | March 29, 2011 at 4:06 am | Permalink

    I agree with Your though…thanks for sharing it

  35. Jessica | April 4, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Nice artilce on Ralph Waldo Emerson, although a bit old it is still very relevant. I recently read a lot about Emerson and found him very inspiring. I also read a lot about Charlie Parker and his Jazz invention and found both guys very interessting. Greetings Jessica from the Schuhe Online team.

  36. The Penthouse | April 5, 2011 at 1:30 am | Permalink

    Yes… There will be no fees or money exchanged for this project.

  37. tente | April 18, 2011 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    deneme 1-2-3- buaya bir donem olur mu?

  38. tente fiyatlari | April 18, 2011 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    hadi canim sende bu böyle gitmwz !!!

  39. Eczema Free Forever | April 19, 2011 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    I agree with your though. thanks for sharing

  40. Voice Over | April 26, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    I must agree with your opinion. thank for share it for us. keep a good work!

  41. American Airways | April 27, 2011 at 5:07 am | Permalink

    Very highly informative. I wanted to thanks for the great read..

  42. dizi | May 15, 2011 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Who knew that Yale’s monumental literature man was a bebopper? No mere

  43. seo | June 10, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    seo uzmanı kimdirki seo yapsım

  44. seo uzmanı | June 10, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    uzman olmak kolaydır asıl zor olan işi bilmek

  45. seo optimizasyonu | June 10, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    optimizasyon optimizasyon dedin kafamızınetini yedin

  46. knock off louis vuitton | June 15, 2011 at 2:50 am | Permalink

    To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Polo by Ralph Lauren, a new fragrance inspired by the vintage signature scent was created: Polo Modern Reserve is the new addition to the incomparable Polo tradition of classic scents.

  47. Travels | August 3, 2011 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    I gotta favorite this site it seems very beneficial handy

  48. funeral home marketing | August 5, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    We’re a bunch of volunteers and opening a brand new scheme in our community. Your website offered us with useful info to paintings on. You’ve performed a formidable activity and our entire group will probably be thankful to you.

  49. Adscend Media | August 6, 2011 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    Good write-up, I am regular visitor of one’s site, maintain up the excellent operate, and It is going to be a regular visitor for a lengthy time. “Time has a wonderful way of weeding out the trivial.” by Howard Aiken.

  50. günlük kiralık daire | August 6, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    ne sacma ya boyle konu olurmu hic

  51. printable coupons | August 7, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Hello, you used to write great, but the last several posts have been kinda boring… I miss your great writings. Past several posts are just a little out of track! come on!”To be content with what one has is the greatest and truest of riches.” by Cicero.

  52. Office Equipment - Printers- Scanners | August 10, 2011 at 2:14 am | Permalink

    Merely a smiling visitant here to share the love (:, btw outstanding pattern . “People forget how fast you did a job – but they remember how well you did it.” by Howard Newton.

  53. Yay google is my world beater helped me to find this outstanding internet site ! . “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

  54. Its such as you learn my thoughts! You appear to understand so much about this, such as you wrote the book in it or something. I believe that you just could do with a few percent to drive the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is fantastic blog. An excellent read. I’ll certainly be back.

  55. Latest News, Live Streaming, Live News | August 11, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    http://www.drakescomputersprojectors.com/

  56. merseyside blinds | August 18, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Thankyou for this tremendous post, I am glad I noticed this internet site on yahoo.

  57. Edu Gov Backlinks | August 20, 2011 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    I say I really love moby dick.

  58. isagenix 30 day system | August 28, 2011 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Hello, i feel that i saw you visited my weblog thus i came to “return the favor”.I’m attempting to find things to improve my website!I guess its good enough to use some of your ideas!!

  59. funny cats | August 28, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    i learn a lot of useful info here

    great post. keep it up.

  60. feed your website with traffic | September 11, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    Some really select articles on this internet site , saved to my bookmarks .

  61. poshta | October 1, 2011 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    A lot of thanks for your own hard work on this website. My mom really likes carrying out internet research and it’s simple to grasp why. Most people notice all concerning the dynamic ways you deliver invaluable guides by means of the website and even invigorate contribution from other ones about this theme so our favorite daughter is always becoming educated a lot of things. Enjoy the rest of the year. You’re carrying out a fabulous job.

  62. maid service los ang | November 1, 2011 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    This is a really nice site. Thank you for the This is a really informative website post, I enjoyed it.thanksss

  63. Secret Story Portugal | January 21, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    I’ve been loving your webblog from the start, many thanks!

  64. pdf document converter | February 6, 2012 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    it can be revised and improved with your words

  65. Trors | February 18, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Thanks for informations.. very nice.. document..

  66. Jerome Thometz | February 25, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    I simply needed to say thanks again. I am not sure the things that I could possibly have carried out in the absence of the entire hints provided by you directly on this problem. It had been the hard difficulty for me personally, nevertheless understanding this expert approach you solved that took me to weep with contentment. I am just grateful for this assistance and trust you know what an amazing job you’re getting into instructing others by way of your blog post. I am sure you haven’t encountered all of us.

  67. Banqueting halls in London | March 31, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    Awesome post! I found it really useful.

{ 1 } Trackback

  1. buy Adobe Photoshop CS 5 cheap oem | November 27, 2010 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    buy Adobe Photoshop CS 5 cheap oem…

    buy Adobe Photoshop CS 5 cheap oemnyaygbwenzbgjvjytofqmiynqmmlbfrvrmddpfhihtoypdeustmgujkwjgoszmmpzmtshsemjoapasfriiicctvrrbkqrxopyiovrmvnvlhtzqdg…