The Anatomy of Influence

From The Telegraph:

Bloom_main_1934545f For Dante, notes Harold Bloom, the “perfect human age” was 81 (9 times 9), and if the author of the Commedia had reached that milestone, rather than dying at 56, he believed “he would have comprehended everything”. Bloom himself will be 81 this month. Blessed with a reading speed of 400 pages an hour and a memory as sticky as flypaper, though he might not know everything, he is one of very few living critics who could reasonably claim to have read everything that matters.

Of the several hundred books he has edited or written, including bestselling defences of the Western canon and Shakespeare, his most famous work remains The Anxiety of Influence (1973). It was the first of Bloom’s many attempts to turn readers’ assumptions upside-down and inside-out. As he described it, the scene of writing was an environment every bit as dangerous as Darwin’s tangled bank. Far from being meek and bookish, poets spent their creative lives trying to elbow each other out of the way in a desperate attempt to catch the eye of posterity. “Strong” poets rewrote their predecessors in order to take their place in the pantheon; lines of poetry were at once a literary genealogy and an imaginary piano wire used to strangle one’s rivals. This self-styled “swan song” is offered as Bloom’s final journey into the “labyrinth” of literary influence. Around 30 writers – all male – form a dense tangle of literary relationships that Bloom unpicks, although roughly two-thirds of the book is taken up by “our two towering precursors, Shakespeare and Whitman”.

More here.