A Theory of Poetry: The Anxiety of Influence

It’s tempting to begin this essay, “It all started with…” But when talking about the origins, history, and future of the Internet, all starting points are more or less arbitrary. Progress – the notion that things can be improved over time – in any endeavor owes much to a phenomenon that scholar Harold Bloom identified as the “anxiety of influence.”

Each generation, eager to separate itself from the one that came before, wants to make its own mark. Yet each knows it’s only a pigmy standing on the shoulders of a giant, though it may see farther than the giant can – each strives to break away from its forebears, but is painfully aware that it can really only build upon the knowledge passed down to it since the beginning of time. Although Bloom ascribed the phenomenon to the Romantic poets, the same anxiety doubtless dogs the minds of technologists, pushing them to ever-greater efforts.

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