UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Where, then, shall Gnosticism be found? : an intellectual and reception history of Gnosticism in the work of Harold Bloom and the shift towards a new methodology Boleslawsky, Lara-Sophie


Harold Bloom’s self-professed “strong Gnostic tendencies” manifest themselves in the works that comprise this controversial literary critic’s legacy. This project argues that to neglect Bloom’s preoccupation with Gnosticism is to miss a profound opportunity to shift from the conception of Gnosticism as a static entity capable of study to a Gnosticism that takes the form of a methodology, or dynamic process. Bloom’s early fascination with Gnosticism in the late 1970s offers a unique chance to understand Gnosticism through his most well-known theory of the anxiety of influence. Bloom’s anxiety of influence offers a process of interpretation that foregrounds transgression and attempts to re-conceptualize authoritative traditions in a new light in order to draw from their authority, while attempting to reject the very principles that govern the precursor work. As such, the concept of “heresy” becomes a unique characteristic of Gnosticism, though the term “heresy” functions differently in Bloom than in the works of early Church Fathers such as Irenaeus (c. 180 CE). This project isolates key works written by Bloom in the 1970s, subjecting them to a close reading in order to parse out how Bloom’s literary theories and Gnosticism are intertwined. A reading of the Prologue in 1973’s The Anxiety of Influence, for example, yields a striking relationship between Bloom’s personal spiritual struggle, Gnosticism, and his theories of poetic anxiety and influence. What is uncovered here, however, does not seem to have been developed in the works of Gnostic scholars like Ioan Couliano and Michael Williams, both of whom offer unique facets of the reception history of Bloom in a field outside of Bloom’s cherished Department of English Literature at Yale University. It is only in reading Bloom and holding this close reading up against his reception and use in Couliano and Williams that a deconstructive ‘failure’ can be perceived. This failure, fissure, opening, prompts further inquiry as to Bloom’s significance in a field not his own, and seeks to break the aporia seen in debates surrounding the viability of “Gnosticism” as a category in future studies.

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