Harold Bloom and William Shakespeare

The ‘Saints of Repetition’ and the Towers of Babel

in Critical Survey
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Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon (1994) and Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (1999) represent a scholar’s take on a major figure in Western literature, namely, William Shakespeare. All figures, according to Bloom, either converge upon or take their point of departure from Shakespeare in a way that rehabilitates the myth of the Original Englishman and accordingly recreates a Western canon, some universal anthology, whose centre is Shakespeare, while all later generations of writers are, in Elias Canetti’s words, ‘saints of repetition’, who can only translate what they happen to ‘overhear’ from the master and keep vibrant a tradition that can ‘make us at home out of doors, foreign abroad’. Though Bloom hardly uses the term ‘translation’ while tracking the genealogy of such ‘influence’ and the ‘anxieties’ therein implicated, one can readily detect a Gordian knot out of which such theorisations and explorations emanate: translation is here foregrounded as a smokescreen designed to close rather than disclose.