Study Guide

Harold Bloom - Canon or Bust

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Canon or Bust

Kind of like the House on Un-American Committee (HUAC) that rooted out communists during the Cold War, Canon or Bust keeps a list of every new scholar who disrespects the canon of Western Literature by hiding behind identity politics, serving up fresh dishes of politically correct gibberish for scholarship, or destroying all that is lovely, life-affirming, and consequential about poetry. The aim is not to be mean to the so-called "resentniks" —just to track the enemy's numbers. In the effort to defend all writers who are "authoritative in our culture," as Bloom puts it, the group meets twice weekly to dialogue in a frenzied manner, always struggling to get a word in edgewise before Bloom takes the mic. Usually to repeat one of his best-known quotes: "To read in the service of any ideology is not, in my judgment, to read at all" (source).

William Shakespeare


Old Bill is the muse for the group—a bust of him sits at the front of the room. According to the groupies, he is the standard by which every piece of literature must be assessed and he is the supreme example of originality.

Helen Vendler


Vendler is one of Bloom's greatest supporters, so she was a shoe-in for VP. Bloom knows he needs all the good press he can get, so he dispatches Helen for press conferences when journalists and other nosey parkers start to question the integrity of the group. Bloom also just needs someone by his side to remind him that he is "the foremost critic of his generation" (source).

Frank Kermode

Charter Member and Cheerleader

Thank goodness for Frank. He's always there to offer words of cheer to Bloom while making sure to constantly update the list of canon violators.

Philip Roth


Few actual authors were members of the group (conflict of interest), but Roth made the cut. Bloom just loves his rejection of political correctness, and he likes to rib Philip by saying that he would polish off one novel and commence with the next on the same sheet of paper. (Inside joke!) Bloom and Roth have their own little "Mutual Congratulation Society" which involves constantly saying fabulous things about each other in the press. Check it out.

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