Monday, July 23, 2007

The Anxiety of Influence; the reward of contentment

YES, IT'S ONE of the couple hundred books in the case of Books Waiting To Be Read: Harold Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence. Lou Harrison gave me a copy, years ago, one day when I was visiting him, back when I was thinking of writing a life-and-works book about him.

(Count the abandoned projects.)

I haven't read it, partly because the project was abandoned, mostly because I've developed a distaste for Mr. Bloom, a distaste caused by my lack of enthusiasm for John Milton, and by my disagreement with much of what Bloom has to say about Shakespeare. Both of these are poor reasons, and much countervailed by Lou's enthusiasm; I'll have to move the book closer to the top.

It comes to mind today because of today's post on Ron Silliman's blog. He takes up the familiar device of the Top-Ten List. This surfaced a few weeks back on another blog I find interesting, George (it is George, isn't it?) Hunka's Superfluities, where the question was put: what is the most influential play of the last hundred years? (Most of the response seemed to hesitate between Waiting for Godot and The Cherry Orchard.)

Taken as prescriptive, these projects are never much more than Fool's Errands. Taken as descriptive, though, they can be very interesting. Curtis Faville objects, in a comment on Ron's blog, that one's own list of one's own influences can't be trusted; that "The great danger of autobiography is in re-writing your own history to suit your current preferred version of yourself." Well, no written sentence is good for much more than what it makes you add to it; autobiography, like biography, or history, or even recipe-books, is always "suspect," if you have a suspicious turn of mind.

All that said, since I'm back in an autobiographical state of mind, here are the influences that come to mind—influences on my own mind-formation, I mean. If you're not interested in my mind, that's okay, I can understand that, but it may be interesting to see what one person found stimulating in the middle of the last century:
  • jazz
  • Stein
  • Finnegans Wake
  • Four Saints in Three Acts (the opera)
  • Picasso
  • Ives
  • Mahler

  • Cage
  • Webern
  • Duchamp
  • Wallace Stevens
  • Henry James
  • Mozart

  • cuisine
  • Ponge
  • (Raymond) Roussel
  • By the 1980s, having nudged well past forty, most of the raw influences—I mean those that one discovers in their informative power for the first time—are in place; they continue to work their mischief but subliminally, and few new enthusiasms come along.

    Until 1983, that magic year, when we found this place in the country, and began to build Last House (to borrow M.F.K. Fisher's marvelous name), and finally set aside most ambitions, and began to settle into this Eastside View. Travel and the fitful correspondence with friends provide the new stimuli; re-reading, theater, and contemplation provide context.

    Perhaps one's own life, like one's own time, moves into its own postmodernity. One danger continues: the threat of complacency.

    No comments: