The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST AND KIRKUS REVIEWS
Hailed as “the indispensable critic” by The New York Review of Books, Harold Bloom—New York Times bestselling writer and Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University—has for decades been sharing with readers and students his genius and passion for understanding literature and explaining why it matters. Now he turns at long last to his beloved writers of our national literature in an expansive and mesmerizing book that is one of his most incisive and profoundly personal to date. A product of five years of writing and a lifetime of reading and scholarship, The Daemon Knows may be Bloom’s most masterly book yet.
Pairing Walt Whitman with Herman Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson with Emily Dickinson, Nathaniel Hawthorne with Henry James, Mark Twain with Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens with T. S. Eliot, and William Faulkner with Hart Crane, Bloom places these writers’ works in conversation with one another, exploring their relationship to the “daemon”—the spark of genius or Orphic muse—in their creation and helping us understand their writing with new immediacy and relevance. It is the intensity of their preoccupation with the sublime, Bloom proposes, that distinguishes these American writers from their European predecessors.
As he reflects on a lifetime lived among the works explored in this book, Bloom has himself, in this magnificent achievement, created a work touched by the daemon.
Praise for The Daemon Knows
“Enrapturing . . . radiant . . . intoxicating . . . Harold Bloom, who bestrides our literary world like a willfully idiosyncratic colossus, belongs to the party of rapture.”—Cynthia Ozick, The New York Times Book Review
“The capstone to a lifetime of thinking, writing and teaching . . . The primary strength of The Daemon Knows is the brilliance and penetration of the connections Bloom makes among the great writers of the past, the shrewd sketching of intellectual feuds or oppositions that he calls agons. . . . Bloom’s books are like a splendid map of literature, a majestic aerial view that clarifies what we cannot see from the ground.”—The Washington Post
“Audacious . . . The Yale literary scholar has added another remarkable treatise to his voluminous body of work.”—The Huffington Post
“The sublime The Daemon Knows is a veritable feast for the general reader (me) as well as the advanced (I assume) one.”—John Ashbery
“Mesmerizing.”—New York Journal of Books
“Bloom is a formidable critic, an extravagant intellect.”—Chicago Tribune
“As always, Bloom conveys the intimate, urgent, compelling sense of why it matters that we read these canonical authors.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Few people write criticism as nakedly confident as Bloom’s any more.”—The Guardian (U.K.)
coonskin caps and bearing loaded muskets) at Madison Square Garden, culminating in an American version of a Hitler Youth jamboree. West’s subject is Lemuel Pitkin, the book’s hapless and dismantled protagonist, who becomes an involuntary Horst Wessel, an early Nazi martyr. Of what is it that he [Lemuel Pitkin] speaks? Of the right of every American boy to go into the world and there receive fair play and a chance to make his fortune by industry or probity without being laughed at or conspired
daemonic image of the stone yields to the secret newly named stone; the negative tally (“blind sum”) takes fire, and the voice of the white wind burns away all but the newness. Why is this persuasive? Crane is not preaching Christ: He hymns, as he will in The Bridge, a god unknown since he knows only the hymn, the next poem to be written, if that he can. PASSAGE This is one of Crane’s darkest meditations, akin to Possessions and to The Tunnel in The Bridge. It moves boldly from Wordsworth’s
in Whitman at his flood tide is authenticated by what he calls later in the poem a “Me going in for my chances, spending for vast returns.” How can the critical receiver convert those returns to her own? I read Walt and become, in Hamlet’s words, a wonder-wounded hearer, even as I am when reading Shakespeare. Whitman sustains the comparison, as do Cervantes and only a few others. Shakespeare birthed scores of people, Cervantes but two, and Whitman only the one, but Sancho, the Sorrowful Knight,
my own daemon desired that I read deeply, appreciate, study, and clarify my response to his work. In doing so, my long education began and is ongoing. For my wife, Jeanne — and for John T. Irwin and the outrageous Bricuth Acknowledgments My prime obligations are to my editor and publisher, Celina Spiegel, to whom I am happy to return after so many years away. I am as always greatly indebted to my devoted agents and friends of thirty years, Glen Hartley and Lynn Chu. Isabelle Napier, by her
abandoned him. Unlike the genius of Henry James, Hawthorne’s daemon could not flourish in England or on the Continent. For eight months in 1841, the master of American romance lived as a member of Brook Farm, the transcendentalist commune that is the model for Blithedale, but the romance is not much illuminated by that biographical fact. The Marble Faun is different: Its Roman setting is crucial and I think at last a lessening of what ought to be the book’s splendor. Too much of the romance is a