Negotiating the anxiety of influence (threads of yoga ephemera)

An excluded section from threads of yoga.

There is a Oedipal subplot to this book that I would like to make transparent. It’s been fuelled by a subconscious drive: by definition, I won’t be able to tell the whole story. But I think I have some idea of how I’ve loved and hated Patañjali, how I’ve wanted to steal his fire, strip his book down for parts and bury him – but then, still dream of him in my bones. I’m at least partially aware of how this desire is but one shade of my general feeling within the grip of history and language.

In my introduction to this text, I described the process of “remixing” — how an intrinsic blend of ancient and postmodern influences has seemed to gel within me as the psychosomatic practices of yoga have challenged wherever I avoid integration. Patañjali inspired me, but from the first moment of hearing of him and reading his book a decade ago, I wanted to go further: to change him, to change history, to forge another path. Philosophical revisionism is an act of quiet patricide. As such, it is riven with fear and doubt.

I am reminded of how helpful the work of Harold Bloom was to my self-inquiry as a young poet, when everything I read crushed me with both admiration and the silent complaint: But your truth isn’t mine. You don’t understand me. I must make my own way. In his seminal Anxiety of Influence, a Theory of Poetry (1973), Bloom describes how contemporary poets of every age are psychically overwhelmed by the eloquence and gravitas of their precursors, and struggle towards originality using six rhetorical patterns that simultaneously mimic and overwrite the old songs. A brief outline of these gestures brings the question of what we do when we remix our sources and paths into sharp silhouette.

The younger poet commits clinamen: a deliberate correction of the original poem at key junctures, as though it had to be saved from its false direction.

I walked with him down his path of subtraction, and I needed to add the newness of my world. I forced it in between the lines, the threads.

The younger poet commits tessera, a “completion” of the original poem by interpreting its language with more richness or ambivalence than originally intended.

I turned consciousness into an evolute, and awareness into its child. I turned non-violence into protection, and purity into ecology. I took the things he was sure of, and unfolded their facades.

The younger poet commits kenosis: a break in the precursor’s rhythm and voice that emphasizes uncertainty. He empties himself into the gap of his deconstructing.

The more forcefully he spoke, the more I challenged him. Not with my certainty, but with my not-knowing, my emptiness.

The younger poet daemonizes his precursor, finding within the old poem a power that does not belong to the precursor alone, but that should now be generally accessible.

You were a collector, a syncretist. I was fascinated by what you loved. You tapped into something, you put things together, you were inspired. I listened for the breath beneath your words.

The younger poet commits askesis: abstaining from the conventional reading of his precursor to reject the social endowment that comes with it. He removes himself from the lineage of the canon to be uncontaminated by approval and acclaim.

Forging my own path made me as obscure as you once were. Being alone in my verse let me read myself newly.

The younger poet commits apophrades: a resurrection of his precursor. Bloom writes that the younger poet, “in his own final phase, already burdened by an imaginative solitude that is almost a solipsism, holds his own poem so open again to the precursor’s work that at first we might believe the wheel has come full circle, and that we are back in the later poet’s flooded apprenticeship, before his strength began to assert itself…. But the poem is now held open to the precursor, where once it was open, and the uncanny effect is that the new poem’s achievement makes it seem to us, not as though the precursor were writing it, but as though the later poet himself had written the precursor’s characteristic work.”

I began to dream we were the same writer. Sometimes you guided my hand, sometimes I guided yours. We wrote for each other. We wrote each other.

Canadian poet and general cultural roustabout Irving Layton (1912-2006) wrote a poem to his son sometime in the early Sixties called “For Max Who Showed Me His First Good Poem”. In the last stanza he gives a somewhat grandiose aspiration, some honest fatherly advice, and then acknowledges and invites the necessary rebellion of growth.

I fathered you for holier ends

To live with greatness from day to day,

Avoiding the common joyless ruck;

Your emblem the proud scanning eagle

Alone under the pitiless sky.

Be gentle and have a loving heart.

Then kick your dear father in the balls

And go your own way to renown,

Knowing you’re one of the lucky ones.

Now I read this as though it comes from all of my mentors and influences. As I become a father myself, I understand why children must rebel. I love my child (and my child-self) so desperately I sometimes feel I could keep him folded in my arms forever. But then he would never grow.

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