Paul Blackburn's Crane
Nebulous declarations of “influence” have long been a regular feature of the canon formation game, a means of sorting writers into camps, clans, and traditions. For many critics—Harold Bloom most notably—authorial influence is analogous to parental authority. As chapter 1 indicates, Bloom and his followers believe that the literary field is generationally divided and oedipally organized. A writer's greatness is measured by his or her ability to reinvent “transumptively” the poetry of a chosen precursor. This logic reduces literary history to a connect-the-dots parent-child family tree: Bloom's favorite run is Wordsworth-Emerson-Whitman-Stevens-Ashbery. In turn, these descent lines define the scope and character of literary scholarship. One need study only these heroic individuals and their intergenerational conflict in order to contribute to the larger field.
This reductive deployment of “influence” depends on an impoverished sense of how and why poets write. Poets rarely if ever limit themselves to extended, insistent imitatio of a single precursor. In the course of learning their art, apprentice poets tend to read widely and deeply. They are also likely to explore their interests forward and backward in time. Why not read Jonson, Marlowe, Webster, and Donne—as Crane did—in addition to or in place of work by one's immediate poetic elders? Why not, too, prize the work of one's contemporaries—as Crane did Allen Tate's, Laura Riding's, Gertrude Stein's, and James Joyce's? “Influence” is not a slow stream with easy stages. It more closely resembles the U.S. telephone system: a web of ephemeral far-flung connections that take place via legacy equipment, new hardware, multiple operating systems, and improvised software patches.
Poststructuralism did literary history a great service by replacing “influence” with “intertextuality” as a foundational concept.1 Intertextuality as the