Harold Bloom writes about the anxiety of influence, about the writerly anxiety in situating what is being written into what has been written. But there is also a reader’s anxiety.
I settle down to read an essay about Russian literature…
“The Russian realist novel, like the realist novel in the west grew out of existing genres while often using them as foil. Gogol’s Dead Souls is formally a picaresque novel. Dostoevsky’s Poor Folk uses the sentimentalist form of the epistolary novel. His The Double is a ‘realised’ version of a gothic novel. Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time and Tolostoy’s Cossacks ‘realise’ the exotic novel made popular by Aleksander Bestushev-Marlinsky in the 1830s. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina came from the tradition of the family novel…”
…and get no further. I am beset by an impulse to (re)read immediately all of the works cited to ascertain whether the statement is true, or whether at least I agree with it. This impulse manifests itself as a kind of omnivorous desire: I haven’t read enough, I must read more, I must read everything, in fact, preferably simultaneously, and preferably now. The impossibility of this creates a readerly anxiety. I read Dead Souls, and while I read, I am conscious of all the other Gogol I have not read. These unread works jostle around my reading self, clamouring for attention: I’m next they cry. My desire to do them all justice creates a further anxiety in the attempt to situate what is being read, into what has been read, what has been remembered, and what has not.