Canon Lover, Brontosaurus Bardolator Bloom (made that one up myself), Vogon, Satan of Literary Criticism
Male, and proud of it
I'm a Bronx boy. From a Jewish neighborhood in the East Bronx, to be exact. I had to tough it out on the rough streets fighting Irish kids who called themselves the Silver Shirts, an Irish-American Nazi organization. Broken bottles and baseball bats were definitely involved.
I picked up a PhD at Yale in 1955 and never left. It's pretty cushy here, actually. I usually just teach two classes: one on the plays of the immortal Bard (a.k.a. Shakespeare) and another on poetry from Geoffrey Chaucer to Hart Crane, i.e. Dead White Males. Oh, and no graduate students need apply.
Like all good intellectuals, I experienced a "crisis" of sorts that turned into a productive writing binge, so I tore it up with books on the Bible, Christianity, Mormons, and Jesus himself. But even with the Good Book in the running, my favorite dude is and always will be William Shakespeare. Only 24 out of 38 of his plays are masterpieces, but a .630 patting average ain't bad, right? I stand by my belief that the Bard "invented" humanity.
I've had a career of ticking people off. I started as an English professor, but my book The Anxiety of Influence freaked people out so much (maybe because it assaulted all the trendy beliefs of the Yale English Department?), that I had to get out of Dodge. I officially became a Professor of the Humanities—a department of one.
First, let it be known that I ripped through every significant work of Western literature before I hit puberty. I basically provided my own education. Reading Hart Crane and William Blake was, for me, the equivalent of seeing Jesus on a tortilla: a revelation. I fell madly in love with great poetry. I also took to reading the twenty-volume Oxford English Dictionary at the Fordham Library in the Bronx. And then, of course, I worked my way through the inventory of books at the New York public library system.
Also, I know I speak English perfectly, but get this—I'm not a native speaker. My family actually spoke Yiddish (oy!), so I took it upon myself to learn English. But clearly that happened quickly, and I was all set by the time I was six. I mean, come on, what else is a six-year-old supposed to do, sit around and eat boogers? I didn't need teachers and homework to put a fire under my toushie.
Post-puberty, I went to the Bronx High School of Science. Hated it. Hello—no ladies. Plus, science? Not a fan. Then, in order of appearance: Cornell, Pembroke College, Cambridge, and Yale. A Fulbright and a PhD really do wonders for your reputation, let me tell you.
Now hear this: I am strictly a literature and aesthetics man (I call it "the fight for truth and beauty"), not a political cheerleader. I'm not one of those critics who uses literature to make a political point (ahem, Edward Saïd). It's probably not surprising that I made some enemies when I spoke out against Bush and the war in Iraq—oh, and don't get me started on the national debt, Guantanamo Bay, and Abu Ghraib. I hate that "Benito Bush." As for his successor? Eh… Obama tried his hand at poetry, but, um, don't quit your day job.
My religious beliefs made me the scholar I am, so listen up. I grew up in a culture of Eastern European, Yiddish-speaking Jews. My home was Orthodox Jewish, and my first language was Yiddish. I've always been into studying religion so, as an undergraduate, I was naturally drawn to classes in New Testament Greek. Because, seriously, who wants to read the Greek Testament in translation?
I've written plenty on the subject. I can't list everything because it would fill a phone book, but here are some highlights: First, I wrote a little number called The American Religion(1992), where I look at important texts from Mormons, Christian Science, Seventh-Day Adventism, Southern Baptists, and a whole slew of other denominations. I wanted to get closer to "the workings of the religious imagination." By the way, I predicted that some day Mormonism would become the most significant religion in America (hello, Mitt Romney!). And I truly believe that people will just wake up one day and find that those crazy Republicans have turned the U.S. into a religious state. You heard it here first.
In The Book of J(2004), I explain that the author of Hebrew Bible was—drum roll please—a woman! Yeah, my wife liked that one. I also wrote Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine (2005), in which I offer penetrating criticism about the "fiction" of Judeo-Christian tradition (that's right—I said "fiction") and the mess that is religion in America. In a nutshell: we're going full bore toward a theocracy—what happened to the separation of church and state?
Bottom line: even though I don't go to temple every week, I always have religion on my hyper-intellectual mind.