Friday, December 21, 2018

The Anxiety of Influence

The Anxiety of Influence is the title of a famed tome by Harold Bloom. But it’s become a term that's applied to situations that have nothing to do with literature. If you have any interest in being a professional basketball player, how do you deal with LeBron James? Then there was Wilt Chamberlain famed for his prowess off the court. How do you live up to Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, who were so impossibly good? If you can’t be God then why not be the devil incarnate? With the legion of temptations available to humans that’s probably an easier act to follow. Getting back to words, imagine how a youthful poet in Williamsburg feels with Auden, Ginsberg and Ashbery looking over his or her shoulder. How, for that matter, does the average fiction writer do anything facing the tsunami of works by Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates? Life throws a lot of curves and you may find yourself ending up being the only person who leaves Thailand with sexual problems, but “so it goes,” as Kurt Vonnegut said in Slaughterhouse-FiveLiving is an anxiety producing affair and for some people human existence can crock up to be a perennial embarrassment in which they want to do nothing more than crawl up into a hole, where no one is there to see their paltry leavings.

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