8th Week of Hilary

Today is the end of term here. These 8 week terms are seriously hard to get used to. I haven’t even considered when and for how long to go home for. Not that terms mean much for research students anyway. In fact, I’m sort of hoping that the lack of events will mean I’ll get more work done. I am now officially two terms into my thesis though…

The tail end of 8th week was taken up with re-working parts of my MA dissertation for an article. I’m returning today to theories of influence, looking this time at Gilbert and Gubar’s Madwoman in the Attic. Most of what I know about this text comes from the infamous Rivkin and Ryan critical theory anthology, which is to say nothing about their theory of the ‘anxiety of authorship’, and also raises some questions about extracts of theory!

I should add, since I know that my old friend Jonny has asked me about the workload of a PhD, that I don’t normally work on weekends. I’m pretty busy for the next week with choir rehearsals for a CD recording, so I’m just making up time.

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The Anxiety of the Poet-as-Male

At the moment I’m reading Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence (1973) with a mind towards my thesis overall and in particular the sample of work I have to produce for my transfer of status. Bloom’s is a very robust theory, and occasionally quite difficult to grasp. I can already see how some of his points can be used to highlight the intra-poetic relationship between the generations of Northern Irish poets in the contemporary era.

One thing that bugs me when reading criticism is the seemingly glib characterization of the poet-as-male, although it is certainly ironic in the context of my research. Bloom wallows in this, and this gendering for some reason makes me imagine a David Attenborough voice-over observing the male of the species – ‘from his start as a poet he quests for an impossible object, as his precursor quested before him’.

This stands as a fairly stark reminder that until relatively recent years the poet, in popular and critical imagination, was male. It also opens itself up rather nicely for a feminist re-imagining of the theory – done in this case by Gilbert and Gubar in the late 1970s. This is probably what Bloom would have termed clinamen – ‘which implies that the precursor poem went accurately up to a certain point, but then should have swerved, precisely in the direction that the new poem moves’.

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