Often, I find myself wondering how the symphony of each moment, situation, biophysical and other conditions have shaped me into who I am today. Particularly, I am curious about the “anxiety of influence,” a concept reviewed by contemporary literary critic Harold Bloom, whose central thesis was that poets in their creative work are often hindered by the ambiguous relationship they maintain with their precursors. In his book “Anxiety of Influence” Bloom argues that in order truly to be an original poet, it is necessary to rid oneself of the influence derived from the works of the poets who came before. He then offers six pathways to achieve this goal.
How is Bloom’s concept applicable to the influence that our immediate environment exerts on us continuously? Where does the scepter of discrimination draw a line between my boundaries and the other’s, the inner from the outer? And what should be the guiding principle for choosing what to keep and what to discard or leave unnoticed? Does influence stop at hindering or can it usurp the complete psychic persona and halt the natural processes of growth and maturation?
I think the idea of “original” can be confusing if it is treated as an event that is unlike anything else that has existed hereto. There is hardly any reliable tool to measure the validity of such a claim. However, if we treat the concept of originality as an open state of being relatively free of assimilated boundaries and beliefs, and rather a willingness to be in contact with our experience, with all that it entails, then, it doesn’t matter if our character happens to carry threads of previous influence. And we just might discover that depending on our cultivated capacity to discern finer aspects, the range of what is available to us in the realm of human experience, can expand beyond what we deem possible.
Ultimately, I think both the anxiety and the influence are unavoidable, and not all influence needs to be rejected and discarded. Possibly, there is an alchemy, a synthesis and a digesting of all we know leading us to connecting the abstract with the conceptual, bringing about a wealth of experience to draw from both the known and the “untouched” in us, to satisfy our need to understand and become that understanding. Perhaps, an attitude of curiosity about both the known and the unknown can transform the hindering aspect into one of integration, where one can identify the processes universal to human beings and thus “originate” the digested material via an individual unique sense and understanding.
Psychology deals with the question of historical influence extensively, and various therapy modalities explore ways to identify and address the ripples of such affects. Is it truly possible for me to rid myself of all influence etched into my character and behavioral tendencies? Thinking about this question leads to another one: does striving to rid myself of the influence and be different possibly take me past the opportunities to find freshness and innocence hidden in the folds of the ordinary?
Let me look into the shuffling cards of the present. Since it is in constant flux, some facet of it must be original to this instant. Can I find out? (Sofia, Photo: Haleh)