Comparative Literature: Harold Bloom and T.S Eliot

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With close reference to The Anxiety of Influence and ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, compare and contrast Bloom’s and Eliot’s views on literary influence. Support your arguments with apposite literary examples.

Literary critics have always recognized the ‘tension between the uniqueness of artistic creation and the awareness of tradition, and the tension between the acknowledgment of literary influence and its rejection’. Nowadays, writers are judged according to their originality and uniqueness. However, as T.S Eliot in ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ and Harold Bloom in The Anxiety of Influence suggest, a writer should not be evaluated in these terms, but rather, on how he produces art by acknowledging his predecessors. Nevertheless, they declare that the poet must not imitate blindly previous poets. Henceforth, this essay will aim to portray further the ideas put forth my Bloom and T.S. Eliot, showing comparisons and contrasts in their arguments. Both critics, in their essays, try to define the great poet. In The Anxiety of Influence, Bloom states that his ‘concern is only with strong poets, major figures with the persistence to wrestle with their strong precursors, even to the death’. Furthermore, he exhorts the idea that the strong poet must not repeat his predecessors but look to them to be original. He claims that ‘poetic influence… often makes [the poetry] more original’. Thus, he employs the idea that the poet must misinterpret previous works to create something personal; the poet must deny influence by intentionally ‘misreading’. A poem must purge itself from any influence but through this purgation should display the particular influence at work. Hence, the ideas of ‘misinterpretation’ and ‘poetic misprision’, advocates the idea that past poets always have an effect on their descendants. Bloom goes so far as to add that ‘the meaning of a poem can only be another poem’. In addition, Bloom introduces six revisionary ratios that represent the poet’s cycle to achieve greatness. Firstly, he discusses ‘Clinamen’ or ‘Poetic misprision’: a type of corrective movement in present poetry. This implies that the precursor poem was accurate to a certain extent, but it should have swerved further, precisely in the direction of the present poem. The second ratio, ‘Tessera’, is the way the poet completes his precursor’s work by reading the ‘parent-poem’ as to keep its terms but to mean something else ‘as though the precursor had failed to go far enough’. Thirdly, Bloom deals with ‘Kenosis’, which refers to the defence mechanism the poet’s mind employs in order to avoid repetition. He moves on to explore ‘Daemonization’ which is the ‘movement towards a personalized counter-sublime’ meaning that the present poet believes that there is a power in the parent poem that does not belong solely to the predecessor. He moves on further to introduce the term ‘Askesis’ which is the poet’s progression to reach a state of solitude. This mode of being allows the poet to ‘yield up part of his own human and imaginative endowment, so as to separate himself from others, including his precursor’. Finally, ‘Apophrades’ is the stage in which the poet ‘holds his poem so open again to the precursor’s work that at first we might believe the wheel has come full circle, and that we are back in the later poet’s flooded apprenticeship, before his strength began to assert itself in the revisionary ratios’. Significantly, many of the ideas put forth by Bloom are clearly seen in many literary works, including Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock. Epic conventions are predominant in Pope’s poem as he uses such conventions to enforce his argument against his society. In this respect, Pope ‘misreads’ epic writers such as Homer and John Milton and uses their works to evoke something of more urgency to him. In his poem, he evokes what his predecessors failed to display through the epic style; he uses epic conventions not to present the reader with...
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