It is in this respect that Bloom’s understanding of influence
and its inherent “anxieties” allows us to reexamine the problem of
tradition and the role that individual authors play within it.
“[w]eaker talents” tend to “idealize” and faithfully reproduce the
work of those who come before them, “stronger” ones are “figures
of capable imagination” who “appropriate for themselves” by
misreading others and thus clearing an “imaginative space for
themselves” (Bloom, 1997: 5).
While the outlook of an
individual author is largely determined by the work of her forebears
who have left a lasting mark or influence, the process of
self-individuation requires a misprision or a “creative
interpretation” of such sources (Bloom, 1997: xxiii). Since the
world in which we are born is always “belated” in the sense that
culture never appears as a
but as a set of pre-established
traditions or canon, it remains vital for a writer to individuate
herself without necessarily breaking away from those traditions,
which can only be achieved through the process of misprision. In
order to acquire a sense of her own worth or individuality, a writer
must avoid merely mimicking the work of her predecessors and
therefore be unfaithful to their work. Only through the process of
misprision, “a complex act of strong misreading,” can a writer
(whether she be a poet or a critic) acquire her own voice and style
(Bloom, 1997: xxiii).
Like Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, I am critical of Bloom’s masculinist
reading of literary tradition. And by adopting the general outline of his theory, I
do not discount the validity or importance of the feminist critique of his work,
particularly Gilbert and Gubar’s discussion of the Anxiety of Authorship. See
Gilbert and Gubar (1979).
Bloom uses the term “strong poet,” which I will avoid here. Although the scope
of his analysis is largely confined to English poetry, there is no reason why it does
not apply to any “story, novel, play, poem, or essay” (1997: xxiii). While poetic
misinterpretation tends to be “more drastic than critics’ misinterpretations or
criticism,” this difference, as Bloom points out, is only “a difference in degree and
not at all in kind” (94-95).
Although many critics have viewed the “anxiety of influence” in terms of
“Freudian Oedipal rivalry,” Bloom denies that there is any merit to this reading