Uses of Influence

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2021

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Abstract

This dissertation inquires into the meaning and value of the concept of influence – namely, how one author’s work may shape or be shaped by the work of others – for literary studies today. Once a common critical topic, the concept has in recent decades had a lowly professional reputation; derided as narrow and uninteresting, it is considered an old-fashioned, even pernicious, subject for inquiry. I argue, however, that the study of influence is highly valuable: rather than simply a vehicle for hoary arguments over genius or reports on attribution, such study may serve as a means of investigating the relations between literary texts and their readers, and thus illuminate questions of meaning and critical method that are widely debated today. To make this case, I both trace the disciplinary history of influence study, revealing its previous intellectual richness and appeal, and demonstrate – using selected relations of influence as case studies – its contemporary insight and relevance. In doing so, I establish both the validity and purchase of inquiry into influence, challenging its long-standing disfavour and mapping its possible uses in future critical work.

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Oldershaw, Myles (2021). Uses of Influence. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/23085.

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