The Archaeology of Influence: From Influentia to Influencer via Influenza (grad seminar)
"Influence" is a strange explanatory term that everybody uses when they can’t really explain the connection between things in a more rigorous or determinate or mechanical way. That is why this word is used to address everything from the phenomena of contagion through virus or germs that one cannot see or hear (influenza), the effects of alcohol or other kind of substance intaking which affects your psyche (DUI), to a new profession in the era of internet for people who have many followers and numbers of likes to serve as human billboards for corporations to sell whatever they wish to sell (influencers).
But delving into the history of where this strange notion came from takes one all the way back to the ancient lineage of occult philosophy and medieval/renaissance astrology where it was believed that the force emanating from the stars and shining on different things on this earth directed the course of things. The latin influentia addressed the influx of these forces traveling from one place to another. And the word occult, which means something hidden, was originally used to address the workings of such forces that cannot be sensed as such.
It is this notion of celestial influence working over great distances and controlling things from afar that served as the foundation of scientific study into the nature of electricity and magnetism like the one conducted by William Gilbert in 1600, which also had an impact on Newton’s approach to gravity, as well as the occult notion of animal magnetism developed by Anton Mesmer in the 18th century, which then inspired the development of psychoanalysis or spiritualism and so on. And the force of influence has only increased in the recent years with the rise of internet, a virtual world governed by the principle of advertisement—the art of influence par excellence—aided by social media platforms who have come up with ways to quantify influence via the number of likes and retweets.
I am tracing this history of influence—the widespread influence of influence—all the way from ancient influentia to today's influencers, by way of influenza and DUI.