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A Conversation with Harold Bloom
Q: When you say that all angels are, in effect, fallen angels, you mean that all representations of angels contain the seeds of our awareness of our mortality?
A: Yes. I would complement that observation with the famous dispute as to the name and nature of the person with whom Jacob wrestles at Peniel all night long. In Christian tradition, this being is taken as God himself. The Hebrew text clearly says some man” struggled with Jacob. In many Talmudic interpretations, that individual, who is one of the Elohim or divine beings, is identified as the angel of death. The doubleness of the word Elohim, which can be taken as either an angel or as a substitute name for the forbidden Yahweh, accounts for part of the disagreement.
Q: How do you respond to those who would fault you for what is a literary approach toin some instancessacred books?
A: All distinctions between the literary and theological seem to me invalid. To say that some literature is sacred and some secular I regard as a purely political distinction.
Q: Whatif you could name but one or twoare the most powerful representations of fallen angels in world literature?
A: The most powerful representation is certainly the Satan of Paradise Lost. And yet he himself is deeply influenced by Shakespeare’s Iago, Macbeth, and Hamlet. It may seem yet another Bloomian eccentricity, but I think the greatest representation of a fallen angel is Hamlet.
Q: Tell me about the artwork in Fallen Angels.
A: Mark is my collaborator in this project. I have long admired his illustrations. At first I thought they had a touch of Chagall but there is a different kind of exuberance in Podwal’s illuminations, a word I choose from William Blake’s description of his own paintings and engravings. I find in Mark’s vision a wonderful fusion of intense singularity and receptivity toward the Jewish visual tradition.
Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University, is the author of twenty-eight books. His best-known publications include his New York Times best-sellers The Western Canon, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, and The Book of J, as well as his pioneering studies A Visionary Company and The Anxiety of Influence. He is a MacArthur Prize Fellow, a member of the Academy of Arts and Letters, and the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees.
Mark Podwal is the author of ten books and has illustrated more than eighteen others, including five by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel. His works are represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Victoria and Albert Museum, Carnegie Museum of Art, and many others.