A. Lavretsky (Iosif Moiseevich Frenkel) 1925

On Literary Influence

Author: A. Lavretsky (Iosif Moiseevich Frenkel);
Written: 1925;
First published: 1925 in Dictionary of Literary Terms, Volume 1, pp. 138-140;
Source: http://niv.ru/doc/dictionary/literary-terms/fc/slovar-194.htm#zag-101
Translated by: Anton P.

Literary influence is a complex, from a methodological point of view, question of the history of literature and the psychology of creativity. The imaginary ease of establishing influence is seductive: in literary works there are not a few moments similar or even coinciding. The fascination with these moments by themselves, out of touch both with the context of this work and with the entire creative history of the writer, resulted in some kind of bacchanalia of verbalism, exaggerations, unbridled pedantry, not restrained by either any sustained methodology or critical or aesthetic sense. At present, the issue has been approached with great caution. They are interested in a more fundamental and deeper problem of the affinity of style, techniques, the main motives of creativity than the analogy of certain places. But now, thanks to the increased exactingness to the legitimacy of our statements, it is easier to show that there is no influence, despite all the outward similarities, than to answer the question: where and in what is it undoubted? So, N.K. Piksanov in his valuable work Griboyedov and Molière, having grouped samples of unsuccessful conclusions about influences, in the end, however, did not convince us of the correctness of attributing those moments of Griboedov’s comedy, which the researcher still considers reminiscences, to Moliere’s account. He suggested that we trust our immediate impression, that is, be limited to subjective opinion. For the criteria for establishing “influence” are still not sufficiently clear and precise. Should we consider “organic creative infection” as a sign of the latter, and even “on the basis of congeniality”, as P. N. Sakulin and N. K. Piksanov believe? After all, “congeniality” explains – far from always – the fact of coincidence, but does not confirm influence or borrowing. Finally, the infection may not be “organic”, “creative”, and yet play a certain guiding role in the writer’s work, which must be taken into account and evaluated.

Pure “influences” should perhaps include “suggestions”, that “mental automatism” that often runs counter to the creative individuality of the author and from which it is difficult for him to free himself. And it is hardly necessary for the emergence of this imitative reflex to have a high appreciation of the influencing work or author, as some of the researchers argue. People do not always obey what they consciously approve; on the contrary, it is subordinated the deeper and stronger, the more vague and irrational its motives. Just the denial of dependence, expressed in cruel criticism of a work or a person, is sometimes an indirect confirmation that testifies to the impotence to get rid of this dependence ... Neglect of the imitated is often only a means of self-deception. It is also possible that the author deliberately denies the influence that is undoubted for him. Only on the basis of a detailed psychological biography are at least more or less probable judgments about him possible in every problematic case; within the framework of scientific research, it is currently feasible only to create a kind of “literary analogy”, which, regardless of certain psychological reasons, is a subject-evaluative analysis of literary coincidences. The question of whether the author owes the data, suggestive of analogies, the moment of his work to the influence of another writer or to himself, is now unresolved, and it is unlikely that a reliable answer will be given to it at all. An exception will be such cases about which there are reliable positive testimonies of the authors themselves, confirmed by a thorough critical-psychological analysis, or similar “cliches”; thanks to the latter, it is easy to establish an indirect, that is, psychologically insignificant, dependence on the author of an image or motive that has become a “commonplace.”

From “influence” it is necessary to distinguish conscious borrowing, the use of the product of someone else’s creativity, as material that is independently implemented. So, Shakespeare borrowed the plots of his works, Goethe the plot of Faust, etc. Conscious imitation may also not be an influence when the author fulfills only his own creative goals, for example, parody (see the work of Yu. Tynyanov: Dostoevsky and Gogol).