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A few days ago, I finished reading Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence. I really have no reason to write a finished essay on it, but keeps bugging me to post stuff , so I thought I’d share some of my notes here (edited so as to be intelligible), and perhaps spark some interesting discussions/digressions/etc.
The book’s full title is The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, and although it doesn’t have the same popularity today as it did 40 years ago, when it was published, it has altered the practice of criticism in America enough to be considered a classic. Bloom’s book proposes a system for interpreting poetry based on a poet’s relation to his or her predecessors—or, in practice, the poem’s relation to earlier poems— in terms of a struggle for dominance analogous to Freudian Oedipal relations. In three words: kill your predecessor, marry the muse.
I don’t get the impression that Bloom’s theory is currently in favor with significant critical schools or poets (for a given value of ‘significant’), but it is quite common to find relationships between poets expressed in genealogical terms. Even if Bloom wasn’t the first to do so, his book has probably influenced this practice, even for people who haven’t read it. At any rate, it has managed to win over a fair number of critics.
As for poets, they seem to either ignore it, since it is incapable of helping anyone write better, or to loathe it for excluding their favorite poets from the Western Canon, accusing their preferred critical theory of resentment, and/or general pomposity. Poets-as-poets are Harold Bloom’s favorite subject, but they are clearly not his target audience.