The Anxiety of Influence, A New Version

Chain-reactionBy publishing The Anxiety of Influence in 1973, Harold Bloom invited both critics and authors to re-read centuries of literary creation as a reactionary act against the haunting shadow of precursors;  a reactionary act from the new author’s side to establish his own voice, already influenced by forerunners, as an original one. Bloom’s theory places a historical anxiety, caused by dead poets, in the centre of both tensions and aspirations of living poets. Each new author is a late-comer shadowed by the whole history of literary creation, haunted by all canonical works, and encircled by gigantic names that have already proved their originality. There is an endless war going on. Driven by the hidden forces of anxiety, a few late-comers succeed in establishing their authorship to become the great precursors for the next generation of late-comers, the rest would be forgotten.

Being the new late-comers of the world of words, we seem to be lucky enough to be the forerunners of an updated version of Anxiety of Influence which does not draw any chronological, linear, or hierarchical lines between subjects and objects. Fitzpatrick in Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy contemplates on the metamorphosed sense of being an author in the digital world while bearing a hidden fear of losing one’s individuality, one’s identity, and one’s distinguished voice. Interestingly enough, this new anxiety is not caused by the precursors any more, as it is the anxiety of being influenced by the contemporary fellows who are suffering from the same anxiety at the same time. This anxiety, according to Fitzpatrick, is partially caused by the fear that “someone else’s opinions might interfere with” the second author’s opinions before letting the second author establish his/her position fully (51). This is not really a pure peculiarity of digital age, even the authors of RW culture could receive influential feedbacks on their serialized or unfinished works before establishing their own intellectual position.  The peculiarity of the digital in this case is the crazy speed by which millions of ideas and words are randomly undercutting each other without establishing any enduring hierarchical orders.

I wonder if the authors’ of digital age are not suffering the historical Anxiety of Influence, described in Bloom’s theory, any more as they are all busy dealing with new fears and challenges of immediate publications and instantaneous responses. Are the shadows of great precursors, those who have been following new-comers for centuries, going to be replaced by the virtual attendance of contemporary rivals who are haunting each other in a collective anxiety? Fitzpatrick’s ideas, along with my personal experiences, imply that a digital author expects to be compared with other digital fellows rather than any non-digital precursors and wishes to establish a distinguished voice in comparison with other digital publications rather than any old canonical works. Fitzpatrick suggests that “we no longer inhabit a world in which originality reigns unchallenged” (78). According to Bloom originality is a distorted offspring of non-original ideas that truly suffered the Anxiety of Influence and tried to get rid of the haunting shadows of the past. I’m thinking about the offspring of our digital anxiety when shadows and authors are coexisting in the same circle without any hierarchical relations in between. Could Harold Bloom, a contemporary and a precursor, be a haunting figure for a blogger who is writing about literary criticism? Or other bloggers, even unknown ones, play a more intimidating role? The new medium seems to  be altering the ancient nature of anxiety.



4 thoughts on “The Anxiety of Influence, A New Version”

  1. Naghmeh,

    Your post really helped me come to terms with something I’ve been mulling over for a while now, which is that I’m not sure “originality” is something that we should be so concerned with in the digital age. The term “originality” in itself seems like some kind of subjective judgment—how can we objectively identify how something is original, especially with Bloom hanging over our heads like a piano ready to fall on us when we’ve made the wrong interpretation?

    With digital technologies now and the rapid increase in “remix” culture, “originality” is no longer the standard for comparison or evaluation; rather, it’s the idea of placing something “old” into a “new” context that becomes an important way to assess our digital creations.

    So, perhaps the digital age breeds not an “anxiety of influence,” but, as Fitzpatrick gets at in her text, an anxiety of “oh-shit-someone-wrote-this-and-made-it-live-before-I-did.”

  2. Nahgmeh,

    I certainly have felt this anxiety before in my own writing online, from when I first started expressing myself digitally on myspace to work on tumblr. If it’s (interestingly enough) something personal, I don’t hesitate much to make a post. But I always hesitate in pressing “post” on any intellectual work I want to share. I think part of it has to do with schooling and the indoctrinated fear of being “wrong” – and “wrong” on a large public scale. I like to relish in the newness of digital writing, though. And the idea that there aren’t much in the way of hierarchies.

  3. Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t see the that significant a wall between traditional print media and digital writing…? It’s not like scholars and thinkers who write online instead of in print texts have sought to supplant great writers and theorists of the past. In fact, many of the blog posts I find the most compelling take on long-standing “original thinkers,” including links to those figures’ essays and books.

    A quick roundup of blog’s engaging with Bloom:
    a 2011 post on a pro-Mormon site about Bloom’s take on Mormonism:

    Harper’s blog, 6 questions with Bloom:

    Personal blog of a Jewish studies theorist:

    In some sense, what I’m trying to say is that none of these blogs are trying to prevent people from reading Bloom. If anything, someone who stumbles across one of these blogs (with the possible exception of the first one) would probably be inspired to pick up a copy or investigate Bloom and his ideas more.

    I’d love to hear what you think of this, Naghmeh. Thanks for bringing anxiety into the mix when we’re talking about obsolescence and online writing!

  4. Janel
    I think anxiety is one of the key terms in Fitzpatrick work. Whether the nature of the Anxiety of Influence , introduced in Bloom’s theory, would change in the digital age or not is the main concern of my post. My reading of Fitzpatrick’s approach is that digital authors are more concerned about the influence of their fellow digital authors rather than any legendary precursors. And I call it a new version of the Anxiety of Influence. My question about Bloom’s influence in the last paragraph serves as a symbolic example rather than a main argument.

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