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.