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anxiety of influence

MICHAEL PAYNE


Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631207535.1997.x


Extract

A term in literary theory, used especially by Harold B loom to refer to a consequence of the impact of responsive reading on “strong” poets or readers. When a strong poet or reader, such as William Blake, registers the full impact of a precursor's work, Milton's Paradise Lost for example, the initial response is to feel genuinely overwhelmed by the earlier poet's achievement and momentarily to believe that nothing more is possible in the mode of such achievement, such as English epic P oetry . This state of anxiety of influence may make the later poet experience a condition of imaginative claustrophobia, or a sense of the exhaustion of imaginative opportunity by what has been previously written. Rather than being defeated by such a sense, a strong poet sets about the task of interpretatively reducing the predecessor's work by an act of willful misprision, thus claiming, as Blake did, that Milton was in chains when he wrote of God but free when he wrote of Satan, because he was a true poet and unconsciously of the Devil's party. Such productive M isreading opens up the possibility of new creative activity in the reclaimed imaginative space. Although Bloom develops his theory on the basis of meticulous commentary on the practices of English Romantic poets – initially Shelley and Blake – it roughly parallels D errida's independent theory of D econstruction . Although in its early ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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