In one of my earliest years as an assistant professor, the man who hired me at SMU brought to campus Harold Bloom (his friend and former colleague at Yale) and Geoffrey Hartman, for a weekend of lectures, seminars, conversations, and meals.
After what was, for me, the intellectual wasteland of my graduate school experience, this weekend provided a shot in the mind’s arm. I was jolted, delighted to be in the presence of men thinking–to quote Emerson–and I was grateful to learn how greatness dealt with greatness, in this case Bloom and Hartman on the Romantic poets and their legacy. Harold had just published The Anxiety of Influence, so we in the audience felt that even in provincial Dallas we were close to the cutting edge.
Over the years, I saw and heard him occasionally. The last time was two weeks before his death, in New Haven. He was failing, but very much alert mentally. We made plans for a future visit, which, alas, never happened.
Mostly, I read him, sometimes with pleasure, sometimes with perplexity or frustration. He was large, of course, in many ways, and he repeated himself. As a writer and as a thinker he vacillated among three stylistic modes: the opaque, the vatic, and the epigrammatic. He did not, like John Hollander and Helen Vendler, “explain” things. Literary style was of little interest to him.
He remains a model of titanic energy, prodigious memory, and insatiable intellect, an example of a now seemingly old-fashioned, passionate commitment to literature as a high art.