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The issue is certainly not limited to philosophy; in a sense, every major creative field has to face this, in its own way and on its own terms. Harold Bloom, in The Anxiety of Influence (1973), famously speaks of the burden of the past that any young poet has to deal with when asserting herself. According to him, a new poetic language has to be invented every time another “strong” poet emerges, which is a complicated business given the overwhelming influence of previous poetic languages. There is always a fierce struggle — an agon — in the soul of the poet between her own poetic universe and that which precedes her, and against which she is to make her voice heard. The philosophers who are also creators of philosophical language are rather few and far between, but their influence is enormous, perhaps stronger than that of Bloom’s “strong” poets. Whether they “misread” or “misinterpret” the previous thinkers (as poets do, according to Bloom), or help themselves liberally from their work, or make everything from scratch, these creator-philosophers end up asserting themselves decisively against the existing vocabularies. Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Husserl — to name just a few — are important not just because of the intrinsic value of their ideas, but for their distinct philosophical vocabularies. The conceptual universes they created long outlived them, and shaped the history of philosophy in ways both visible and invisible. These philosophers changed the way other people speak and think and live, including people who never heard their names. These are “strong,” irresistible thinkers.
We fail precisely because we are so afraid of failure....