Thursday, May 5, 2011

Creative Destruction and the Anxiety of Influence

In "Can Capitalism Survive?" Schumpeter points out that creative destruction acts as a kind of competition which

acts not only when it being but also when it is merely an ever-present threat. It disciplines before it attacks. The businessman feels himself to be in a competitive situation even if he is alone in his field [...}. In many cases, though not all, this will in the long run enforce behavior very similar to the perfectly competitive pattern. (45-6)

Because of the threat of new ideas, methods, etc., there is in a real sense no such thing as monopoly (unless enforced by government, of course, through barriers to entry, etc.).

But what does this have to do with literature?

Howard Bloom argued that writers have what he called "anxiety of influence." Another way of putting this is that writers believe themselves in competition with other writers, current and past. Of course, you also have to be influenced by many of those same authors, so you find yourself in the strange situation of loving your competition. And then there is the ever-present threat of someone new coming along. So even though one's output is quite literally a monopoly, since there is nobody who could ever writer what you wrote as you wrote it, there is still a feeling of competition. Like with the businessman feeling the gusts of creative destruction, even as no actual competitor exists (oh, but they may someday soon!), the author feels the presence of so many (often imagined) others. But this feeling of their presence is what drives quality -- in art as in economic goods.

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