Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Whitesell, Lloyd. "Men with a Past: Music and the 'Anxiety of Influence.'" 19th-Century Music 18 (Fall 1994): 152-67.

Harold Bloom's theory of "anxiety of influence" sees an Oedipal struggle between the poet and his forebears, in which the poet is forced to misread his predecessors, assert priority over them, and clear creative space for himself. Some musicians, including Benjamin Britten and Robert Schumann, have cited the past as a supportive rather than threatening presence. Rather than a metaphor of male aggression, these composers and others like them see artistic creation as a form of "gift," using a metaphor suggested by Lewis Hyde. In this view the individual becomes "vulnerable" and thus feminized under Bloom's model. In Bloom's mythology, the artist is confronted with two obstacles, sexual anxiety (the Sphinx) and creative anxiety (the Cherub). Because Bloom's model has eliminated the female element of the classical Freudian interpretation of the Oedipal triangle, the model that emerges is one in which homosexual desire becomes a strong element. Social homophobia represents a reaction against traditional structures of gender and power; thus, the homoerotic impulse must be channeled into more acceptable avenues of rivalry and violence. At the end of the nineteenth century, changes in the Victorian definition of "femininity" forced men to "remythologize their claims to authority." It is not a coincidence that Bloom formulated his theory in the 1970s, when feminist, gay, and lesbian voices were challenging the cultural definition of masculinity. Bloom's model remains in "mythical space" by failing to take into account other arenas of cultural conflict, such as nationalism, artistic attitude, and personal psychology. In the final analysis, Bloom's theory perpetuates old ideologies and prevents a thorough consideration of the work of art.

Index Classifications: General, 1800s, 1900s

Contributed by: Felix Cox

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