Historically, literary criticism has looked at the specific works of individual authors and has attempted to judge them as good or bad based on a given set of aesthetic standards established for the art form. This view of the function of criticism has changed dramatically, particularly during the twentieth century. Critics have changed their priorities and have begun to consider such questions as how a poet functions and what a poet is. Harold Bloom has been in the vanguard of the attempt to understand how a poet functions.
Poets are not created in isolation, totally independent of the society that surrounds them. They are subject to a variety of influences, both physical and mental. They are aware of the poetry of those who preceded them, and this poetry creates a natural anxiety within them. How do they produce original poetry, burdened as they are with the influence of the past? The Anxiety of Influence carefully considers this question and postulates a theory of how the poet realizes the existence of this influence and defeats it, ultimately achieving an independent voice. As a result, the reader is given a deeper understanding of the workings of the poetic mind and, tangentially, a deeper appreciation of the poet’s work.