Thoughts on the Anxiety of Influence on Rock Music: A Bloomian Analysis of the Beatles and Nirvana

Charles Lincon
5 min readJun 2, 2020
“The Beatles arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport, 7 February 1964" Image and description from Wikipedia. I claim no copyright.

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).

Here, the Beatles drew quite a bit of influence for Elvis Presley as a musician. The Beatles took the tradition of Elvis and expanded on it. Moreover, there existed an interesting dynamic about use of the electric guitar with Bob Dylan. As the story goes, the Beatles saw Bob Dylan using the electric guitar. However, Bob Dylan later used the guitar.

“The Beatles in February 1964; clockwise from top left: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison” Image and description from Wikipedia. I claim no copyright.

Where did the clinamen occur? Bob Dylan and the Beatles seem to have had a dance of Clinamen.


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).

Here, The Beatles culminated the rock feel of the 1950s and merged it with the folk music of Bob Dylan. They add their “tessera.”


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.

Here, the Beatles fulfilled the kenosis in some sense with their famous meeting with their “father” Elvis Presley. They were diametrically opposed politically and the famous meeting did not allow any photographs to be taken of the group together. Such a concept is virtually unthinkable these days with the ubiquity of iPhones. But the Beverly Hills meeting between Elvis and the Beatles occurred and no known photos.


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

Here, the Beatles engaged in a type of daemoniztion rejecting rock and moving towards other unique influences. This could be shown by their politics opposing Elvis but also in their adoption of non-American styles of making music.

However, they could be interpreted as performing a type of daemonization of themselves. They stopped performing all together and rejected their former mop-head style as the current of the 1960s continued.


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

Here, ultimately this akesis occurred after the Beatles broke up. They are firmly seen as a break from the 1950s rock of Buddy Holiday and Elvis Presley.


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.

Here, at least well into the 1980s and 1990s — and certainly after the death of George Harrison — the Beatles form a part of history. They are firmly in the tradition of rock n’ roll.

[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).

© Charles Edward Andrew Lincoln IV

Texas A&M University Graduation 2016 — Receiving an award for the most pro bono awards of any student that graduating class from Texas A&M Law in 2016. “The Equal Justice Award was presented to Charles Lincoln as the graduate who has performed pro bono legal services in an extraordinary way and contributed the greatest number of hours of public service pro bono work with 674.5 hours, exemplifying the Aggie core value of selfless service. Lincoln has worked with Catholic Charities, the Texas 13th Court of Appeals, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Texas Attorney General’s Office and U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffery Manske of the Western District of Texas.” [Charles Edward Andrew Lincoln IV]



Charles Lincon

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