I was flipping through Simon Reynolds latest book “Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to its Own Past” when this paragraph caught my eyes.
According to Harold Bloom’s theory of creativity, outlined in books like The Anxiety of Influence and A Map of Misreading, a ‘strong’ poet is one who’s heavily influenced by a predecessor but who resists that influence, fights it with every ounce of its strength. In Bloom’s Freudian-mystical account, the resulting Oedipal struggle entails the younger poet (who will have been initiated, turned on to the glory of poetry by a primal encounter with the elder’s work) swerving from the ancestor’s style, willfully misreading it or doing violence to it in some other way. The strong artist is impelled by a despairing sense of belatedness, the feeling that nothing new can be said because the precursor said it all. A titanic psychological struggle to self-birth oneself as an artist is required before the descendant ceases to ventriloquise the dead elder and finds his own voice. But a ‘weak’ poet (or painter or musician) is simply inundated, flooded by the ancestor’s vision.
Does this theory about creativity applies to research? Is a strong researcher one who’s been heavily influenced by predecessor’s work and makes violence to it to find his or her own voice? I believe there’s some truth in this. I do not mean that software engineering research should be like poetry. I’m with Bertand Russell, I like clarity and exact thinking. There are nevertheless strong parallels between creativity in research, poetry, and in fact most other kinds of creative work. All require some form of obsession with your work, and an urge to explore the unknown and move things forward.
I cannot finish this without some poetry. So here’s Niall Spooner-Harvey, one of London’s finest contemporary poets, and his already classic “All My Conversvatories Have Won Awards”.