THE ANXIETY OF INFLUENCE

A THEORY OF POETRY

Professor Bloom (Yale; author of Blake's Apocalypse, 1963, and Yeats, 1970) interprets modern poetic history — the history of poetry in a Cartesian climate — in terms of Freud's "family romance," and advances creative anxiety as its motive principle. The poet's anxiety in the face of a strong predecessor is, in other words, an extreme version of the son's dubious regard for the father; and influence, far from a benign legacy of images and ideas, is a threat of death, smothering his desire and locking his rightful present up in the past. Bloom's emblem for it is the Covering Cherub of Blake and Ezekiel, while the prototype of the poet is Milton's Satan who rises to proclaim a good of his own — only after hitting the floor of the abyss. Each poet must create himself in a kind of damned antithesis to the parent poet and, turning from the language of revelation toward a more phenomenological analysis, Bloom identifies six phases in the process — beginning with a misreading of the forerunner, proceeding through the "revisionary ratios" of self-assertion, and ending in an embrace that is both surrender and appropriation. All this is put forth in support of an "antithetical practical criticism" which Bloom proposes as a corrective to the "tautological" and "reductive" methods now in use. The meaning of a poem, he suggests, is neither itself nor something outside poetry, but a precursor's poem. While he perhaps carries the idea a bit far, its advantages are self-evident in regard to such contemporaries as Ashbery and Ammons. Yet we are not entirely convinced by the author's insistence that his "interests are those of the practical critic"; there is a brooding, obsessive brilliance in the scholarship, in the convening of Blakean third parties (Sphinx, Muse, Tharmas), that indicates a combat of Bloom's own with the Cherub. Imposing, daemonic and — it seems so incidental — written with a mighty adversative flair.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 1972

ISBN: 0195112210

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1972

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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