Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence is a theory of ambivalence that “strong poets” feel toward influential predecessors and techniques successors use to fight resulting anxiety of influence. One detects hints of a parallel story in Richard Posner’s encounters with Benjamin Cardozo.
Bloom highlighted Wordsworth’s struggle with Milton. The thesis is that poetic influence is no simple transfer of method from strong predecessors to strong successors. The process makes life difficult for successors when predecessor influence is so hefty that strong successors cannot absorb it passively. They fight to avoid having predecessor’s power subordinate the successor to the status of imitator.
Strong successors fight the anxiety of influence to secure creative space. The fight is hard, given how predecessors influence not only a successor’s world but the successor’s contemporaries, equally under the influence that produces the anxiety. Strong successors cannot ignore strong predecessors but cannot passively absorb them. Strong predecessors must be reread (even misread), revised, undone, and completed—and still their shadow persists.
Posner may be Wordsworth to Cardozo’s Milton, or so I speculate in the conclusion to a draft article called Cardozo and Posner: A Study in Torts (companion to my 1995 Cardozo and Posner: A Study in Contracts). Bloom posits four phases of the process strong successors endure to battle the anxiety of influence against their strong predecessors, that I adapt and rename: (1) revising Cardozo down; (2) completing Cardozo; (3) undoing Cardozo; and (4) the haunting Cardozo.