The Anxiety of Influence

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The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry
The Anxiety of Influence.jpg
Author Harold Bloom
Country United States
Language English
Subject Literary criticism
Publication date
1973
Media type Print
ISBN 0-19-511221-0

The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry is a 1973 book by Harold Bloom. It was the first in a series of books that advanced a new "revisionary" or antithetical[1] approach to literary criticism. Bloom's central thesis is that poets are hindered in their creative process by the ambiguous relationship they necessarily maintained with precursor poets. While admitting the influence of extraliterary experience on every poet, he argues that "the poet in a poet" is inspired to write by reading another poet's poetry and will tend to produce work that is in danger of being derivative of existing poetry, and, therefore, weak. Because poets historically emphasize an original poetic vision in order to guarantee their survival into posterity (i.e., to guarantee that future readers will not allow them to be forgotten), the influence of precursor poets inspires a sense of anxiety in living poets. Thus Bloom attempts to work out the process by which the small minority of 'strong' poets manage to create original work in spite of the pressure of influence. Such an agon, Bloom argues, depends on six revisionary ratios,[2] which reflect Freudian and quasi-Freudian defense mechanisms, as well as the tropes of classical rhetoric.

Before writing this book, Bloom spent a decade studying the Romantic poets of the early nineteenth century. This is reflected in the emphasis given to those poets and their struggle with the influence of John Milton, Browning and Spencer. Other poets analyzed range from Lucretius and Dante to Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, and John Ashbery. In The Anxiety of Influence and other early books, Bloom claimed that influence was particularly important for post-enlightenment poets. Conversely, he suggested that influence might have been less of a problem for such poets as Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. Bloom since has changed his mind, and the most recent editions of The Anxiety of Influence include a preface claiming that Shakespeare was troubled early in his career by the influence of Christopher Marlowe. The book itself is divided into six major categories, called "six revisionary ratios" by Bloom. They are clinamen, tessera, kenosis, daemonization, askesis, and apophrades.

The six revisionary ratios[edit]

Bloom introduces his six revisionary ratios in the following manner, which he consistently applies in this book as well as his successor volume titled A Map of Misreading.

  • Clinamen – Bloom defines this as “poetic misreading or misprision proper”.[3] The author makes a swerve away from a precursor, alluding to the proposition that the original work was only precise and accurate up until a particular end; at which point, the successive author makes the corrective motion.[4][5]
  • Tessera – Bloom defines this as “completion and antithesis”.[6] The author elaborates upon a precursor’s work, maintaining the precursor’s terms and ideas but constituting them in another sense, with the implication that the predecessor failed to take the argument far enough in the first instance [7] [8]
  • Kenosis – Bloom defines this as a “breaking device similar to the defence mechanisms our psyches employ against repetition compulsions”.[9] The author seeks a state of discontinuity, in the act of isolating themself from the influence of the precursor [10] [11]
  • Daemonization – Bloom defines this as a “movement towards a personalised Counter-Sublime, in reaction to the precursor’s Sublime”.[12] The author manipulates an apparent power of a precursor that they believe is superior to the precursor in an effort to dismiss the originality of the predecessor’s work and perpetuate the greatness of their own. [13] [14]
  • Askesis – Bloom defines this as a “movement of self-purgation which intends the attainment of a state of solitude”.[15] In this process, the author diminishes both his own and his precursor’s achievements, purging themself of all remnants of influence, with a rationale for independent, individual success and achievement. [16] [17]
  • Apophrades – Bloom defines this as the “return of the dead”.[18] The author is encumbered by his previous state of solitude and holds his work open for inspection with that of his predecessors [19] Geddes 1999). Instead of proving detrimental to the author, this instead has the effect of the successor overpowering the predecessor, with the predecessor’s work being read in terms of the successor’s work [20] [21]

References[edit]

  1. ^ antithetical Presidential Lectures: Harold Bloom: Excerpts
  2. ^ revisionary ratios Presidential Lectures: Harold Bloom: Excerpts
  3. ^ Bloom, H 1973, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, viewed 30 March 2015, http://m_avara.w.staszic.waw.pl/hb.pdf
  4. ^ Bloom, H 1973, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, viewed 30 March 2015, http://m_avara.w.staszic.waw.pl/hb.pdf
  5. ^ Geddes, D 1999, Harold Bloom’s ‘Anxiety of Influence’, viewed 30 March 2015, http://www.thesatirist.com/books/anxiety_of_influence.html
  6. ^ Bloom, H 1973, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, viewed 30 March 2015, http://m_avara.w.staszic.waw.pl/hb.pdf
  7. ^ Bloom, H 1973, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, viewed 30 March 2015, http://m_avara.w.staszic.waw.pl/hb.pdf
  8. ^ Geddes, D 1999, Harold Bloom’s ‘Anxiety of Influence’, viewed 30 March 2015, http://www.thesatirist.com/books/anxiety_of_influence.html
  9. ^ Bloom, H 1973, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, viewed 30 March 2015, http://m_avara.w.staszic.waw.pl/hb.pdf
  10. ^ Bloom, H 1973, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, viewed 30 March 2015, http://m_avara.w.staszic.waw.pl/hb.pdf
  11. ^ Geddes, D 1999, Harold Bloom’s ‘Anxiety of Influence’, viewed 30 March 2015, http://www.thesatirist.com/books/anxiety_of_influence.html
  12. ^ Bloom, H 1973, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, viewed 30 March 2015, http://m_avara.w.staszic.waw.pl/hb.pdf
  13. ^ Bloom, H 1973, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, viewed 30 March 2015, http://m_avara.w.staszic.waw.pl/hb.pdf
  14. ^ Geddes, D 1999, Harold Bloom’s ‘Anxiety of Influence’, viewed 30 March 2015, http://www.thesatirist.com/books/anxiety_of_influence.html
  15. ^ Bloom, H 1973, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, viewed 30 March 2015, http://m_avara.w.staszic.waw.pl/hb.pdf
  16. ^ Bloom, H 1973, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, viewed 30 March 2015, http://m_avara.w.staszic.waw.pl/hb.pdf
  17. ^ Geddes, D 1999, Harold Bloom’s ‘Anxiety of Influence’, viewed 30 March 2015, http://www.thesatirist.com/books/anxiety_of_influence.html
  18. ^ Bloom, H 1973, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, viewed 30 March 2015, http://m_avara.w.staszic.waw.pl/hb.pdf
  19. ^ Bloom, H 1973, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, viewed 30 March 2015, http://m_avara.w.staszic.waw.pl/hb.pdf
  20. ^ Bloom, H 1973, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, viewed 30 March 2015, http://m_avara.w.staszic.waw.pl/hb.pdf
  21. ^ Geddes, D 1999, Harold Bloom’s ‘Anxiety of Influence’, viewed 30 March 2015, http://www.thesatirist.com/books/anxiety_of_influence.html

Further reading[edit]