Influence and Its Opposite: Presence and Absence in the Work of Harold Bloom
KeywordsEnglish Language and Literature
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AbstractIn the years since he formulated and expanded on it in The Anxiety of Influence (1973), A Map of Misreading (1975), and Kaballah and Criticism (1975), Harold Bloom's theory of the "anxiety of influence" has engendered more ambivalence than serious investigation into his theory and its influences. In part, the ambivalence is due to Bloom's persona, which irritates the academic "left" and "right" alike. Surprisingly, it is not Bloom's defense of canonicity against post-structural Marxism, feminism, and New Historical criticism that generates the most resistance; instead, Bloom's dissenters more often come from the ranks of conservative traditionalists who might be expected to support him. The reaction of traditionalist critics to Bloom's work stems from a recognition and rejection of how deeply antithetical Bloom's hallmark theory really is in relation to the prevailing understanding of literary influence. Taking his cues from Deconstruction, the fiercely revisionistic mystical traditions of Gnosticism and Kaballah, the philosophy of Nietzsche, and the meditations of Emerson, Bloom's theory is revealed—to one's delight or dismay—as profoundly agonistic. Nevertheless, a close reading of these influences of Bloom's reveal a profound life-affirming humanism that ceaselessly quests for "Gnosis" in all literature.