Psychological Basis on Literature and Art — Harold Bloom and The Anxiety of Influence

In discussing the psychological basis of literature in his work The Anxiety of Influence outlining his somewhat Hegelian dialectical approach the Jungian archetypes found literature, Harold Bloom quotes Oscar Wilde:

“Influence is simply transference of personality, a mode of giving away what is most precious to one’s self, and its exercise produces a sense, and, it may be, a reality of loss. Every disciple takes away something from his master.”

Bloom says that “Poetic influence, as I conceive it, is a variety of melancholy or the anxiety-principle.” This develops into a stronger psychological dynamic.

Blooms Hegelian anti-thesis provides that six “effects” on literature exist. These are in part based on the Freudian familial drama.[1] The six are:

· Clinamen

· Tessera

· Kenosis

· Daemonization

· Akesis

· Apophrades

One cannot help but notice that “tessera” seems akin to the Greek — τέσσερα — meaning the number four. But it could also mean a token or tile.


Bloom states that clinamen is the “poetic misreading or misprision proper.”

David Cole in the 1986 Yale Law Journal wrote, “Bloom labels this revisionary ratio “clinamen.”’” David Cole, Agon at Agora: Creative Misreadings in the First Amendment Tradition, 95 Yale L.J. 857, 905 n. 20 (1986).


The concept of Tessera means completion. Bloom sees the successor in the literary tradition as acting as a sort of completion from finding the previous error in the clinamen.

David Cole again in his Law Journal article indicates following the thought on “clinamenIn a similarly gentle misreading, which Bloom calls “tessera,”’ the young poet extends the precursor’s line by developing its implications and completing its logic.” David Cole, Agon at Agora: Creative Misreadings in the First Amendment Tradition, 95 Yale L.J. 857, 905 n. 20 (1986)


Kenosis is the “emptying out” where the poet clears and demystifies the “godlike father.” In some sense, this is a Freudian journey that Eric Neuman contemplates. It could also be analogous to the Jungian ideas in Joseph Campbell’s work.


In true Hegelian fashion, the successor poet adopts a sort of animus “antithesis.”


Akesis is the beinging of “truncating” the addition to the former poet’s tradition.


Finally, apophrades is where the successor is so overwhelmed by the predecessor that he “reverses” the father-son relationship. Perhaps, it could be argued this is separate from the Freudian Odepial paradiagm.

It could be argued that the apophrades could occur to ones self.

In the Auroras of Autumn by Wallace Stevens, Harold Bloom triumphantly and heroically “in which he allows himself to enter in his proper person, as a kind of dramatic figure.”[2]

“This is nothing until in a single man contained,

Nothing until this named thing nameless is

And is destroyed. He opens the door of his house

On flames. The scholar of one candle sees

An Arctic effulgence flaring on the frame

Of everything he is. And he feels afraid.”

Harold Bloom’s interpretation is that the scholar presents himself to the aurora borealis, but then falls to fear. This is an analogy of the poet — Wallace Stevens — acknowledges his own genius and becomes fearful of the genius.

I propose two alternate interpretations:

· First: Stevens is not the speaker — but rather it is the Aurora Borealis that sees itself and says “This is” — that is the aurora Borealis — “ is nothing” — a reaction of self-acknowledgement — “until in a single man contained, Nothing until this named thing nameless is And is destroyed” — that is calling for the destruction of itself, nature, the glory of the Aurora Borealis. “He opens the door of his house On flames,” a shit, that is, the Aurora lights up itself. “The scholar of one candle sees” — that is Wallace Stevens as an observer. “An Arctic effulgence flaring on the frame Of everything he is. And he feels afraid” — again a shift back to the Aurora itself that feels fear of itself.

o This is perhaps an abstract or “magical realist” description. “In 1989, Yale literary scholar Harold Bloom solemnly called it “the new Don Quixote”” — referring to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.

· Second: Again Stevens is not the speaker, but the Aurora Borealis is. The first part of the interpretation above is the same, but rather than the shift from scholar to Aurora — it is again Stevens who is frightened (as he was in the Bloom interpretation). This fright comes not from the “Arctic effulgence flaring on the frame” is flaring the frame of the Aurora and Wallace — but the scholar, Wallace, is afraid of the Aurora’s questioning and insight into itself.

o This is not a science fiction piece, but rather the concept of a social group — nature as defined as group — against the individual.

o However, it could be that in this second interpretation that the Aurora is thee natural instincts of man. But I don’t think this poem relies on an Aristotelian of conception like Thomas Aquinas of the levels of the soul. But perhaps it is fair to note that the Aurora Borealis reminds one of the Christian conception in art of the Holy Spirit and of souls.

There has been much movement away from the thought of psychological analysis of literature. As a personal matter, my paternal Grandmother wrote her Ph.D. dissertation published in 1961 on the psychological analysis of literature — Linck, Alice E. The psychological basis of Hazlitt’s criticism. Thesis, Kansas, 1961. I mention this because Bloom seems to point that in the 20th century psychological criticism of Shakespeare waned — I think my grandmother, perhaps ahead of Bloom’s exact time, was bringing back the psychosocial criticism of literature that Bloom wanted.

Currently, the movements of Stephen Jay Greenblatt — one of the most excellent professors of which I had the honor to be in the garden of his turbulence and teaching assistants — work to carry the studies of Shakespeare into a materialist approach. The materialist approach seems to argue that Shakespeare was a product of his time. Harold Bloom’s answer is that — then, why were there not more Shakespeares?

[1] “These “revisionary ratios” include: clinamen, or swerving, where the poet seeks to correct an error in the preceding text; tessera, or completion, where the successor fills out lacunae in the predecessor’s work; kenosis, or emptying out, where the iconoclastic son demystifies the godlike father by showing him to be as fallible as the son; daemonization, where the successor adopts the antithesis of the precursor; askesis, where the poet curtails his gift to truncate the precursor’s achievement in a milder form of kenosis; and apophrades, where the successor so overwhelms the predecessor that he reverses the father-son relationship.” Kenji Yoshino, What’s Past Is Prologue: Precedent in Literature and Law, 104 Yale L.J. 471, 474 (1994).

[2] Bloom, Harold. In “Voices & Visions — Wallace Stevens.” PBS (1986).

© Charles Edward Andrew Lincoln IV



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Charles Lincon

Charles Lincon

Renaissance literature, Shakespeare, Hegelian dialectics, Attic Greek, masters University of Amsterdam.