Why Influence?

As I’ve noted before, my thesis plan in the my first year of research has come to circle almost obsessively round the ideas of ‘tradition’, and the inter-related term ‘influence’. These two quotes below are useful to me in that they indicate some of the reasons why the study of inter-generational poetic influence in Northern Irish writing is so fascinating and fruitful.

‘No word comes easier of oftener to the critic’s pen than the word influence, and no vaguer notion can be found among all vague notions that compose the phantom armory of aesthetics. Yet there is nothing in the critical field that should be of greater philosophical interest or prove more rewarding to analysis than the progressive modification of one mind by the work of another’

Paul Valéry, ‘Letter about Mallarme’ in Leonardo, Poe, Mallarme trans. by Malcolm Cowley and James R. Lawler (1972), 241-2.

‘applications [of the term “influence”] include the impact of climate, locale, historical events, literary movements and conventions, social and cultural traditions, and individual writers or works; its forms include borrowings, forgeries, debts, and literary aftermaths, side-effects, and residues of many other kinds.’

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Victorian Afterlives: The Shaping of Influence in Nineteenth-Century Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 3.

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