Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Writers/Works People Have Said My Literary Efforts Remind Them Of

Garrison Keillor
Woody Allen
Oscar Wilde
James Joyce-"The Dead"
Thomas Pynchon-V
Jean-Paul Sartre-No Exit (this is the one in which the famous line "Hell is other people [l'enfer, c'est les autres] appears)

In the comparative fire of my youth I inwardly took great offense at the Garrison Keillor comparison and fantasized momentarily about spraying the person who made it with machine gun fire but I have cooled off since that time. The resentments, jealousies, indignations, etc, with which authors are commonly supposed to be consumed towards their superior or more successful fellows don't make a lot of sense from the point of view of production once one is well past adolescence. I understand that if one is protecting a professional livelihood or a precarious spot on the rolls of fame it would be easy enough to be emotionally affected by the recognition of one's inferiority, but I think it is made too much of, and treated by the more secure authors as an amusing occupational hazard when dwelling on it really does no one any good. Also Keillor's attempts at reviving poetry by reading Eugene Field and Edward Arlington Robinson and so forth on his radio program make me think we are probably on the same team in the great existential struggle for America's soul. I doesn't look like it's going to be a winning team, but if one is on it one has to accept the mission to a certain degree.

Joyce's stories, along with Dickens's earlier and effusive efforts, were the first conscious models I took for my own writing, so it is not surprising that one could find hints in them in what I do.

Superficially I don't write anything like Thomas Pynchon--he's so zany and brilliant and all of that--but actually it seems like most American male authors under 45 or so ending up writing a little bit like Thomas Pynchon whether they want to or not--the over the top contrivances, the mishmash of cultural references pulled from anywhere, the sense that modern life as experienced by any human sensibility is actually insane. These attitudes, relationships towards language and knowledge and society, etc, seem to permeate the atmosphere.

Like a lot of modern French writers, Sartre seems to me to have a much more instinctive talent for writing novels and imaginative works than philosophy but seems to have considered himself more of a philosopher, especially as he got older. In Nausea, for example, which is a novel whose pages are mostly taken up with philosophical ruminations, I am confident in asserting that the more novelistic, imagistic, etc, parts, are by far the better parts of the book. Kierkegaard, for the sake of offering a counterpoint, does some similar experiments where the philosophy is more clearly the stronger component. I actually have more of a formal academic background in philosophy than literature, and people in the field who have primarily BAs in English and MFAs complain that this influence tends to, in their opinion, negatively intrude upon my fiction writing.

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