Anxiety of Influence (cf. everything ever written)
There are all sort of theories floating around about what Bloom called the anxiety of influence. It’s not a new thing. The pressure of the past is a blip on radars before radars existed.
And yet writing goes on. It always goes on. Music goes on, art goes on, all sorts of creative practice goes on. Critics stand ready to devour, calling it derivative and repetitive. Influence is pointed out as a negative, thievery accusations fly.
So what are we to do? We are always standing on shoulders, whether we mean to or not. Buried under the ground, they sneak up on us. We can never do anything that hasn’t been done before.
This is one of my biggest worries as a writer: the impossibility of originality.
I know it’s something that many artists worry about, too. How to produce something new is a constant worry. The longer you wait, the less new is available.
At some point, a leap of faith is required. An acceptance that everything is stolen, nothing is new, and all is derived from the past is a prerequisite for creative practice, it seems.
My issue is this leap. I know it has to happen, but as soon as words start going down, I hear the echoes of the past. I know who I’m sounding like, I know who I’m inadvertently ripping off.
Maybe this is a problem of being over-read and under-confident. I need to have the ego of Eliot to know that I’m stealing words, but the feeling that I’m doing it better. Even writing that, I feel I can’t possibly top Eliot (well, his early stuff, anyway… the late stuff is dreadful sap).
I write in a world that has already seen Beckett come and go, that has already despatched Chaucer, that has already spit out Wallace. I can choose a subject that has come after their respective death dates, but there is still the living authors to contest with. I will always fear that Pynchon is doing it better, that Delillo could trump my best choice of words, that Franzen is ready to publish while I perish.
But I have to get past this! I have to move on! I have to set the challenge!
To be creative, it is necessary to be a thief. It is necessary to not care. Let the hyenas chew up the words, laughing at the blatant influences.
Maybe I should save them the effort. I’ll footnote everything. I’ll show my work. I’ll admit that I’m stealing it all, that nothing is original. I’ll tell my story, knowing that it’s not my story to tell, that others have told it better, that others will tell it again in the future.