Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

One of the primary considerations in modern literary criticism is the question of how a poet deals with two major problems: How does he come to terms with the idea that all the great poetry has already been written, and how does he maintain his own sense of originality in the face of the influence that all preceding poets have had on him? Harold Bloom in The Anxiety of Influence deals with these two problems and proposes a critical theory of how the truly original poet deals with his predecessors. He develops in this book a psychological model of how a poet creates himself, essentially eliminating in his own canon of works the image of the poets who have gone before him and developing a strength and originality in his own being, making it appear that the poets who preceded him were in fact his heirs and not he theirs.

The work is in essence a meditation. Bloom begins with the simple question of how a poet functions as a creative originator while laboring under the burden of the greatness of the poets before him. From this point Bloom builds a careful psychological account of how the poet functions. This pattern for the development of the truly independent poet has roots in the works of Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud. Each poet considered is assumed to have had one major precursor. The pressure of this precursor’s influence must be confronted and eliminated by the emerging poet if he is not to be crushed by it and reduced to a marginal...

(The entire section is 600 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Culler, Jonathan. “Reading and Misreading,” in The Yale Review. LXV (October, 1975), pp. 88-95.

de Man, Paul. Review in Comparative Literature. XXVI (Summer, 1974), pp. 269-275.

Hartman, Geoffrey H. “Way in Heaven,” in Diacritics. III (Spring, 1973), pp. 41-56.

Mudrick, Marvin. “Bloom, Bloom, Go Out the Room!” in Harper’s Magazine. CCLXV (August, 1982), pp. 65-68.

Vendler, Helen. “The Poetics of Power,” in The New Republic. CLXXXVI (February 17, 1982), p. 31.

Wieseltier, Leon. “Summoning Up the Kabbalah,” in The New York Review of Books. XXIII (February 19, 1976), pp. 27-31.

Wood, Michael. “In the Literary Jungle,” in The New York Review of Books. XXII (April 17, 1975), pp. 15-18.