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STUDIES This page intentionally left blank 3 Was It for This? and the Study of Influence And what is Poetic Influence anyway? Can the study of it ­ really be anything more than the wearisome industry of source-­ hunting, of allusion-­ counting, an industry that ­ will soon touch apocalypse anyway when it passes from scholars to computers? Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence Source Hunting Harold Bloom’s question in The Anxiety of Influence (1973) is at once derisive and prophetic. Derision is directed at the intellectual wage laborers who perform the nearly mechanical task of recording the way words and phrases, plots and characters, formulas and conventions move between literary works. For ­ these laborers, Bloom prophesies a radical transformation in the means of scholarly production. Like the manufacturing jobs replaced by increasing automation, this “industry” ­ will eventually be populated solely by weariless computers that can better perform the chores of “source-­ hunting” and “allusion-­ counting.” The move “from scholars to computers” is apocalyptic ­because with it the typical study of “Poetic Influence ” ­ will fi­ nally become the spiritless activity, mechanical in truth, it had always been. Bloom’s purpose in envisaging the unraveling of the source-­hunting industry is primarily to clear room for his own theory of poetic influence, which replaces sources with Oedipal ­ fathers and allusions with strug­gles for priority, yet as far as prophecies go, his has fared well. Computers are indeed transforming the means of scholarly production, the conditions of literary-­ critical ­ labor, and especially the study of influence, as work by numerous Studies 64 digital humanists, such as David Bamman, Gregory Crane, Franco Moretti, Matthew Jockers, and ­ others, amply shows.1 But while Bloom’s prophecy captures the profundity of the change, it nevertheless misconstrues its character. This chapter offers a corrective vision in which the consequence of digital tools for the study of influence (including study conducted ­ under the aegis of intertextuality) is less apocalypse than revelation. ­ Labor does not merely “pass” from scholars to computers. Nor do computers simply allow us to do what we already do with greater speed and efficiency. Rather, computers have the capacity to deepen, complicate, systematize, and ultimately transform the study of influence. A change in the conditions of academic­ labor amounts, in this case, to a change in the possibilities of understanding. More specifically, full-­ text searchable archives allow us to turn our attention from the local task of hunting and counting to the systematic proj­ ect of discovering and reassembling literary networks of diffusion. Modeled on the “actor networks” of the sociologists Bruno Latour and John Law, such networks reveal the reductionist assumptions that underlie many of influence study’s basic concepts, concepts as basic as “commonplace,” “source,” “author,” and “text.”2 By helping us to reassemble networks of diffusion, digital tools allow us to do justice to the plurality, materiality, and irreducible heterogeneity of literary influence.3 As a case study in reassembling a network of diffusion, this chapter focuses on a phrase that has already received intense critical attention, Was it for this, which initiates the poem that became the seed of William Words­ worth’s The Prelude (1850). Attending at some length to previous scholarship on the phrase’s origins ­ will give us a starting point for further investigation , and it ­ will also allow us to differentiate the digital study of influence from its pre­ de­ ces­ sors. An untitled draft manuscript fragment of 150 lines that Words­worth composed in Germany in October 1798 begins midline and perhaps midsentence: was it for this That one, the fairest of all rivers, loved To blend his murmurs with my nurse’s song, And from his alder shades and rocky falls, And from his fords and shallows, sent a voice To intertwine my dreams? For this . . . (lines 1–6)4 65 Was It for This? Lines 20–23 ring the note again: “Was it for this that I, a four years’ child/  . . . ​ /Basked in the sun, or plunged into their streams?” The question serves both as introduction and also, in the truncated variation, “For this,” as structuring refrain. The second verse paragraph begins, “For this in springtime” (30), and the fourth, “For this, when on the withered mountain-­ slope” (76). When Words­ worth incorporated the draft fragment into the two-­part Prelude of 1799, he jettisoned or wholly altered many of its lines, yet he still began the poem with Was it for this. The 1804, 1805, and 1850 versions of the Prelude retain...


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