The central illumination of Harold Bloom's theory of influence was his insistence on the negative element of literary inheritance. This aspect of Bloom's work inspired fierce resistance, a resistance whose success may have masked, for many contemporary critics, the importance of negativity in poetic traditions. The article examines Emily Dickinson's “Essential Oils—are wrung” as an instance of a poem that may be clarified by an exploration of its negative response to her poetic predecessors, in this case the tradition of Petrarchanism. It explores a similar negativity in Alvin Feinman's “Relic,” in which a swerve from Petrarchanism threatens to undermine the position of the poet himself. The article concludes with a discussion of two poems by Brenda Hillman, “Remembering Form” and “Styrofoam Cup,” which suggest ways in which Bloomian misprision, the violent misreading of the past, induces an anxiety about the survival of the poetic impulse itself.
Vernon Shetley; Negative Influence. Genre 1 March 2012; 45 (1): 195–213. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-1507083
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