Monday, 26 December 2011

New Author Woes: The Anxiety of Influence

“Imitated By Ancestors”

No, this is not a literary essay meant to scare you. This is one of the best ways I have found to break ice with new authors-  The Anxiety of Influence theory. ( of course it allows me to show off a bit)

Harold Bloom proposed in 1973 that poets ( I normally ascribe this with most artists)  are hindered in their creative processes by ambiguous relationships ( no not those) they maintained with their precursor poets.  He believed that these ‘influences’ produce work that are at best derivatives of existing work, and, therefore, weak.
Simply saying- every new author/poet faces this ‘anxiety of influence’. Sitting back to weave your first story and you soon realise that every plot has already been covered by the masters. There is nothing left to write.

 Getting your first story out, showing your first major poem, displaying that first virgin painting is no mean feat. One should be awarded just to be able to ship the first project.

Going back to Bloom, one thing to understand is that studying the masters is not a sin. Going beyond them makes one an artist. Shakespeare, as was widely known at that time, was troubled in his early career due to the overpowering influences of Christopher Marlowe.

So what do we do –  Great poets, such as Keats, Shelley, Browning and Dickinson developed such a style and vocabulary that ‘for startled moments’ one could say that ‘they are being imitated by their ancestors’.( Harold Bloom,1973, OUP, The Anxiety of Influence)

How many of you remember that Sir Don Bradman commented that he( Don himself) played like Sachin Tendulkar! 
So what do you make of it? You suffered from this anxiety?


Sana Rose said...

Well, you said it. :) Anton Chekov said in his famous short story The Bet, "The geniuses of all ages and of all lands speak different languages, but the same flame burns in them all..." So, are we guys on fire?
Stories are all the same, written, rewritten and mixed up and written again in some way or other. But still there would be some difference. These days, most of the writings are more about emphasizing and agreeing with a fact than discovering or establishing a new one. But then, that's how the world moves. Round and round to the same place.
My own experience has been different though, derived from the constant feedback I get from my readers. Some readers of my poetry were like, "You should read more of those classic poets," "You should make your poetry more indirect." etc. They are right in both sense, but that doesn't make what I do wrong. It only makes what I do different. The influence is almost absent in the verses. As for the novel I am writing, yes, the influence is there. Not in the storyline. Not in the theme or the story. But the language. I read western contemporary women writers and my writing style and language corresponds to them rather than Indian. That sure does make me a little anxious, considering the fact that majority of Indians are concerned about patriotism and cultural blending in the strangest matters. :)

Hersh Bhardwaj said...

Thanks Sana for your insights as an author.
For the lack of a better word- I believe that all artists 'copy' the masters. Let's put it more politely- All artists start up by imitating their idols. Is that wrong...Never! But 'style' makes one a James Joyce or Salman Rushdie. 'Style' is your signature. Strive to achieve your style that's the key to becoming a great artist.

My humble tuppence!

Hersh Bhardwaj