Thursday, February 26, 2009

25 Writers Who Have Influenced Me

So, I've been tagged with a Facebook note on 25 writers who have influenced me. I'm not sure how to respond. Influenced me how? Influenced my pretend career as novelist or poet? Influenced my negligible career as a literary critic? Or influenced the way I see the world, or think about nutrition, politics, teaching, etc. ? I tried to make a chart that included the writer, a key work, and the nature of the influence, but soon realized I'd never finish that. Instead I've opted for a chronologically arranged list of writers who influenced me in one way or another at some point in my life. I did this to capture ways of thinking that might not hold sway over me now, but nevertheless have had some lasting impact on me. After completing the initial list, I had way too many writers, but I cut away mercilessly to (almost) twenty-five.
Phase One: The comic book and Fantasy years. I start here because, starting around the age of ten, I started to make completely independent choices about what to read. As a young boy, I read what was given to me and might have picked up something laying around the house, but since nobody particularly encouraged these interests I had to go out of my way to get them.

1. Marv Wolfman. Writer of the adult-seeming super hero soap opera The New Teen Titans
2. Michael Moorcock. Creator of the anti-hero wizard king Elric. I didn't realize Moorcock was parodying Tolkein and Robert E. Howard, both of whom I read and loved. I checked out some of his books lately and found him to be unreadable.
3. Ursula K. LeGuin. Loved her Wizard of Earthsea trilogy. I reread those books with interest recently, and enjoyed other of her social science-based science fiction too.

Phase Two: The Don Quixote years. Named after Don Quixote's Bookstore in Everett WA where I bought bales of used paperbacks while in high school. Now firmly self-identified as a reader, I read more comprehensively in more 'serious' literature.

4. Albert Camus/Herman Hesse. Now that's what I mean by serious! I alternated between The Stranger and Steppenwolf as my favorite book for a few years, though I can't remember what Steppenwolf is about anymore. Perhaps I never knew.
5. Philip K. Dick. "The Empire never ended"; “The symbols of the divine show up in our world initially at the trash stratum." That's freaking my shit out man!
6. Jack Kerouac. Ah, I will live a life of bohemian freedom!
7. William Blake. Romantic poetry, along with beatnickery, seemed a way out.

Phase Three: College. My main sources for books were the Student Co-op bookstore, the University library, the smelly used bookstore downtown, and the non-smelly store that opened up across the street and drove the smelly one out of business. This list was really long, as I took a heavy load of lit classes and was transformed by virtually everything I read. As you see, this is a pretty canonical list, and in paring it down I removed Homer, Ovid, Tolstoy and Yeats.

8. Chaucer.
9. Shakespeare. Everyone who uses English (for things like, you know, thinking) has been influenced by Shakespeare.
10. Borges.
11. Nabokov.
12. Beckett. "I had just crawled out of the shelter for my evening guffaw and the better to savour my exhaustion." In a ranked list, Beckett might come in number one.
13. Ezra Pound.
14. Sam Hamill and Kenneth Rexroth.
15. Ralph Ellison and Maxine Hong Kingston. There's a dearth of minority writers on the list, I know. I studied Ellison and Kingston with an old school New Critic who was fascinated by the formal innovations of these two, and showed me that formalism and cultural identity are closely linked.

Phase Four: Twenties In the last half of my twenties I hung around, got an MA, moved to Seattle. I got back into comics in my twenties, but am limiting the number of comics writers I let onto my list. I have to think of them as "writers" rather than "artists," so I'm arbitrarily ruling that anyone who draws as well as writes is ineligible. That's stupid and I'm embarrassed for writing it.

16. James Joyce
17. William Carlos Williams
18. Raymond Chandler
19. Steven Shaviro: His book Doom Patrols was a "theoretical fiction" that helped me wrap my head around critical theory and also introduced me to the work of Grant Morrison.
20. Alan Moore/Grant Morrison: Two pretty darn similar writers of comic books.
21. Greil Marcus/Glenn MacDonald: Two music writers with radically different tastes and writing styles.

Phase Five: Thirties
In which I moved to Austin to go to grad school. While I have continued to read after finishing my dissertation, I don't know what's influenced me yet.

22. George Oppen would appear high on a ranked list.
23. Lyn Hejinian. I've gotten deeply into the "Language" poetry that descended from Stein and Zukofsky. I chose Hejinian because I read both her poetry and criticism with great interest--for other poets it's one or the other.
24. Guy Davenport and Hugh Kenner were friends. Any subject either of these critics write on I am immediately interested in because they write with a comprehensivness and authority I could never approach. I also like the poetry and short fiction of Davenport. (One of the obsessions of his short fiction is a bit off putting)
25. Louis Zukofsky and Charles Olson did not like one another. They did, however, both write gigantic poems that are by turns perplexing and incandescent and that you could read for the rest of your life.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Down the Rabbit Hole!

I missed the official Down the Rabbit Hole day when bloggers made posts which were significant departures from their normal styles. In that spirit, here is a list of 25 random facts about me personally.

  1. I am likely to be evasive, coy, or chary when talking about myself.
  2. "I get confused every day" is a line from a Sonic Youth that I like.
  3. I used to go to the comic book store almost every week. Now, it's more like every other week. (But I know what comes out every week.)
  4. I've taught a university course on comics.
  5. I got married in Las Vegas. Her name was Lola. She was a dancer.
  6. The preceding item is partially false.
  7. I'm pretty good at identifying Republicans by sight.
  8. I think fences built with the inside facing out are sociopathic.
  9. I think the work I do is important.
  10. Almost every day I think of Ben Franklin's advice to end the day by thinking "What good did I go today?" and "What good will I do tomorrow?"
  11. I have never uttered the phrase "President Bush" except when quoting a source. Not during the reign of 41 and sure as hell not during 43.
  12. 44 is my new favorite number.
  13. It used to be 11.
  14. Before that it was 3.
  15. I giggle to myself at the thought of adding "For a long time I used to go to bed early" to my list.
  16. "I lived through the eighties one time already."
  17. I like extreme heavy metal (your black metals, the death metals, the grindcores), but only as an intellectual, analytical appreciation usually associated with avant-garde concert music.
  18. I like avant-garde music (your Alban Bergs, your Bartoks, your Morton Feldmans) but only in a very visceral, instinctive way.
  19. I love making lists. The most ambitious is my Top 100 songs. The last time I did it, my top 5 was "Tonight’s the Night," Neil Young and Crazy Horse; "Divorce Song," Liz Phair;
    "Idiot Wind," Bob Dylan; "Tracks of My Tears," Smokey Robinson & The Miracles; "Brompton Oratory," Nick Cave.
  20. I'm having trouble thinking of things to add that don't have to do with books, films, and music I like.
  21. I like punctuation. I also like prepositions.
  22. One time, during a sensitivity training (there's no story there; I just work for a university), I had to write down the five most important things in my life. Then I had to talk to someone I didn't know very well without mentioning any of those five things. That really wasn't a problem.
  23. In A Pack of Two, when Carolyn Knapp writes, "I seem to spend a great deal of time just staring at the dog, struck by how mysterious and beautiful she is to me and by how much my world has changed since she came along," she could be describing my life.
  24. A rare steak and some roasted brussels sprouts sounds like a perfect dinner to me.
  25. My top ten lists of all time list: all those "begats" in the Bible; the catalogue of ships in The Iliad; all the stuff Gargantua ate in Gargantua and Pantagruel; All Known Metal Bands; the ways that Elizabeth Barrett Browning loves thee; "Top 10 Albums of 1986" by The Rocket staff; "The Comic Journal's Top 100 English-Language Comics of the 20th Century"; "Top 5 Break-up Songs" in High Fidelity; "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover"; Seven Deadly Sins/Heavenly Virtues (tie).