The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry Paperback – 10 Apr 1997
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From reviews of the first edition
"Bloom has helped to make the study of Romantic poetry as intellectually and spiritually challenging a branch of literary studies as one may find."--The New York Times Book Review
"This book will assuredly come to be valued as a major twentieth-century statement on the subject of tradition and individual talent."--David J. Gordon, The Yale Review
This is a study of the Romantic poets and the relation between tradition and the individual artist. For the second edition, Bloom offers a new introduction which explains the genesis of his thinking and the subsequent influence of the book on literary criticism of the past 20 years. It is intended for scholars and students of Romantic poetry, 18th and 19th century English literature, poetry, and literary theory.See all Product description
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In fairness to Bloom, in his later work he has toned down his defensive jargonism, and his recent The Anatomy of Influence (2011) takes the same theme as this book but doesn't bother pretending it has a unifying theory behind it, and is much the better for it. That book is a decent read, and plays to Bloom's strength, which is basically his genuine enthusiasm for the subject of poetry. Anxiety of Influence, though, is a book with no substance and no system, but written so that it takes several readings to actually realize this.
Where did Nietzsche "lovingly recognise in Socrates the first master of sublimation"? The answer -- nowhere. It has become fashionable to attribute to the philosopher any provocative or unusual opinion, or to use him as a back-up for the author's poorly conceived idea.
Nietzsche had an agonistic relationship with Socrates whom he accused of the `tyranny of reason' (in Twilight of the Idols, among others) and charged with the death of tragedy. His attitude to other one-time idols (e.g. Schopenhauer, Wagner) was similar: combative reverence. Nietzsche was gravely preoccupied with `self-birthing' and the `right of priority'; that meant, figuratively speaking, killing anyone whom he had deeply loved and worshipped in order to assert the 'independence of the soul'. Hardly surprising, Shakespeare's Julius Caesar was his most revered play (read his own account in The Gay Science, II: 98). Indeed, as Kaufmann aptly observed, Nietzsche had a sort of `Brutus complex'. Here was an opportunity to label it all as `the anxiety of influence', the opportunity Bloom sorely missed! For one of the most insightful treatments of Nietzsche-Socrates ambivalent dynamics I suggest reading Bertram's `Nietzsche'.
Would Nietzsche have admired Freud as `another Socrates'? Certainly not! Even with all his passion for agon, he wouldn't insult Socrates by making such comparison. Asserting that toddlers plot to kill their fathers in order to bed their mothers(as Freud did with his 'Oedipus complex') is closer to a delusion than to any psychological insight. `Passing by in silence' would have been Nietzsche's likely treatment of him. Bloom's uncritical admiration for Freud's pseudoscience says more about Bloom than it does about Freud. Not to mention the fact that Freud plagiarised so many of Nietzsche's and Schopenhauer's concepts, while publically denying that he had ever read their works. Of this, I imagine, Bloom is also ignorant.
Nevertheless, Bloom's intertextual model also has one major significance:unlike the more mechanistic and formalistic models of other theoreticians, Bloom re-instates into the dicourses on intertextuality the love-hate relationships between texts and authors of texts, the essential eroticism of artistic creation, which, in conjunction with the power relations that are always implicated in discourse, make up for a more nuanced understanding of the creative process.
The book is recommended for advanced users only - and, for that matter, those with enough patience to struggle their way through Bloom's very idiosyncratic mode of expression.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The book may require more than one close reading to fully understand Bloom's dense and complex theory, but in each read, one finds more passages fulfill the book's overarching thesis. The book may not be of much use to someone who is not interested in poetry or literary studies, but worth a read if you're into studying poetry or literary critical theory of any type. Bloom is also one of our century's most important (if debated) critics, and should be required reading for all interested in English literature and theory.
Bloom’s idea is, to any young critic like me, a thought-provoking and engaging idea. However, if you are an established critic, especially an established New Critic, the idea that Bloom presents might disagree with your fundamental assumptions of literature.
All in all, this book presents an idea, a new mode of criticism, most will find exciting. It appeases our desire to focus on the psychological aspects of the poem and the poet, and it appeases our desire to focus on the individuality of a poet.
Although this is not the only way to see a piece of literature, but it has given me a new way to look at literature, added a new examining tool to my handy-bag, and equipped me with a deeper knowledge of literature as a whole. I whole-heartedly recommend this book to anyone who wants to gain a deeper understanding of literature.