Antithetical criticism: A method of literary criticism proposed and practiced by American critic Harold Bloom in his revisionist phase that involves reading poems as misreadings (by the poet) of earlier poems written by powerful and influential precursors. Thus, a critic practicing antithetical criticism might see Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound (1820) as a strong misreading of John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost (1667).
Antithetical criticism is grounded in a theory of literary influence that Bloom set forth in The Anxiety of Influence (1973) and developed in A Map of Misreading (1975); in these and several subsequent books, Bloom suggested that the writing of all poets involves the rewriting of earlier poets and that this rewriting always and inevitably involves some form of misreading or “misprision.” Bloom also believed that all readers misinterpret works, because they read them “defensively” — that is, with an eye to preserving their own autonomy and creativity. With this in mind, Bloom recognized that the readings of antithetical critics (including his own readings) are necessarily misreadings as well. He justified antithetical criticism, however, by arguing that its strong misreadings culminate in interesting interpretations that differ not only from what poets may have thought they were saying but also from the “weak misreadings” produced by critics taking other critical approaches who purport to ascertain and reveal what a poem really means.