My review of Cynthia Ozick’s new novel Foreign Bodies is on the front page of Jewish Ideas Daily this morning. In her latest book, Ozick rewrites The Ambassadors, the novel that is by most accounts Henry James’s masterpiece. Ozick does not agree. She thinks that James is at his best in some of the short stories.
James is a touchstone for Ozick. Not only has she written about him repeatedly in her literary essays (the kind of writing, for my money, she is best at). What is more, she made him a character in Dictation (2008). Nevertheless, she is of two minds about him. On the one hand, from an early age she was a member of his “cult.” He embodied the life of fiction for her, as for so many other young writers. In “The Lesson of the Master,” an essay originally published in the New York Review of Books and reprinted the next year in Art and Ardor (1983), she testifies to the danger of his influence. “I thought it was necessary—it was imperative, there was no other path!” she wrote—“to be, all at once, with no progression or evolution, the author of the equivalent of The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove,” as if James himself had never served an apprenticeship, turning out lesser works.
On the other hand, a short while later she became a baalat teshuvah, a “returnee” to Judaism, a born-again Jew. She began to read widely in classic Jewish texts, and set about to reconceive literature in Jewish terms. The central text here is her long essay on Harold Bloom. He is a worthy adversary, because in his voluminous criticism, she wrote, Bloom is “engaged in the erection of what can fairly be called an artistic anti-Judaism.”
Bloom’s most famous critical idea is his literary adaptation of Freud’s Oedipus complex: according to Bloom, every writer seeks to liberate himself from a powerful literary influence by the “revisionary act” of “emptying” and “undoing” the great precursor, then taking his place. Ozick responds that no one can stand by this idea and be a Jew:
 Cynthia Ozick, “Literature as Idol: Harold Bloom,” in Art and Ardor (New York: Knopf, 1983), p. 194. Originally published as “Judaism and Harold Bloom” in Commentary (January 1979).