At 3am

Tequilla and roast-garlic salsa and chips. What more could a man want at 3am?

Maybe to lighten up. I need to do some heavy revising this weekend, of an essay that I am thoroughly unsatisfied with. Yoder tells me: “You’re judging yourself by the wrong standard. You can’t expect to write like Harold Bloom yet. You’ll get there, don’t worry— it takes time. It’s good enough, just finish the damned thing already!” Silly me. I can’t help it. I feel like an idiot 80% of the time.

I feel like my massive paper on Blake says way too much about far too little. Fifty pages on two plates; focusing mainly on the context required to fully unpack them. Some critics are just so damnably concise; I’m just not one of them. It doesn’t help me with my self-esteem level when I pick up Bloom’s book on Yeats and read:

Poetic influence, as I conceive it, is a variety of melancholy or an anxiety-principle. It concerns the poet’s sense of his precursors, and of his own achievement in relation to theirs. Have they left him room enough, or has their priority cost him his art? More crucially, where did they go wrong, so as to make it possible for him to go right?

It’s easy to find fault with many of Bloom’s ideas; he’s not the one I’m arguing with in my paper on Blake. But I think on the “anxiety of influence” he hit the nail right on the head. In Speech-Act theory, one of the principles is that all utterances serve some purpose. If you say something that is common knowledge, then it automatically generates inferences that you don’t really mean what you said at face value, but are trying to generate some other response— otherwise why would you say it? This applies easily to conversation; to only restate what someone else has said before in an essay or story is likewise to invite the invocation of the “so what?” rule of writing. It has to contribute something new, otherwise why the hell would someone want to read it?

Consequently, the more well-read you are, the harder it is to feel like your writing is worthwhile. For a writer, reading becomes quite a different sort of activity, more analytic, and more concentrated on trying to find the spaces between the words that open up into new creative possibilities. Reading becomes predatory, and sometimes it seems like you do better to read people you don’t like, because they are easier to challenge. But all the same, reading becomes sharply focused. Bloom cites in the same introduction, a thought from Valéry:

One only reads well when one reads with some quite personal goal in mind. It may be to acquire some power. It can be out of hatred for the author.

I’m really afraid to read Bloom’s take on Shelley’s influence on Yeats. I have a paper on Yeats as well, which I was told would be of publication quality with some additional work. If I find out that Bloom said the same thing I did, I’ll be really pissed. Maybe ignorance is bliss, but it would be really embarrassing to find out that I’m only repeating something I haven’t read yet. There is always something more to read; the road just seems to stretch forever. Only an idiot (and I’ve known lots of musicians that fit this category) would think they were safe from influence, and guaranteed of producing somehing novel by NOT paying attention to what other people are doing in their medium.

On a slightly related note, Dr. Kleine said tonight that learning about discourse theory has the side effect of making you not want to talk, for fear of being misread (or misheard) because you gain a deeper understanding of just how complex things are. Bloom’s thought makes it even more complex from a “poetic” standpoint: he posits that misreading isn’t just a possibility, it’s a guarantee.