Sunday, October 24, 2010

Influences bring us through the future

I've entertained the notion that at some point my writing skills would improve to the extent that I would no longer feel beholden to the many writing heroes who inspired me to pick up a pen and learn how to type. This around my late thirties to mid forties, when  my resume was long with many stints in unrelated trade, a fact that signaled that what I'd live through constituted the fabled "paying one's dues"; I hadn't made a fortune, but I had my own voice, my particular flair , my signature verbal devices, at last.  Thinking that, my prose became bloated and needlessly baroque, and my poetry ceased in large measure to be about expressing the inexpressible in unforgettable terms--John Ciardi's definition--and became, instead,  a pale, if prolix, carbon of John Ashbery.  While I was rethinking my position about whether a former influence still had relevance to my chosen craft, I came across this in a discussion forum about writer's and writing:
Guys like Pynchon and Barthelme are analogous to the Sex Pistols and the Ramones; we owe them a debt, but their art is no longer a relevant response to what is actually happening now.
I  had been going back to my acknowledged masters --Hemingway, Cheever,  Mailer in an effort to learn again what it was they had learned while on their trek toward their famously distinct styles.Some one you owe a debt to is always relevant to your current situation. This is the reason that we acknowledge what we owe.

Thomas Pynchon is certainly relevant to the current situation, and I agreetake Timothy Mallon's comments aboutMason & Dixon: a original take on the historical novel that skews the mouldy texts of mythology and history in a fresh, "made new" manner. Pynchon, along with Don Delillo with his tour-de -force Underworld, are both at the center of American writing, ironic, one supposes, since we are in a time when the current fashion is to insists on the resolute lack of center, or a knowable, defining presence under the surface of things, under the disguises of material.

While it seems to me that Wallace is something of clever if lazy archaeologist writing funny , and long descriptions of snapshots of a reality he barely even tries to understand, Pynchon and DeLillo are relevant to a that search for coherence, the unifying set of references, that might connect the world that's been made with the universe it's been constructed in. Both authors are relevant because , truthfully, the honor the notion of the Search, the Quest for defining, that is literature at it's most compelling, the books that bring generations back to the shelves looking for the titles.

The late work has only gotten stronger, broader, and more concise with the kind of rigor, style and humor, ultimately, it takes to write a literature that brings a digitized culture into the next hundred years.                   

The things of the world we grow up quickly vanish, the language we learned to express the needs of the self in relation to another is supplanted by another species of cant, unrecognizable as to what psychic wire it's supposed to resonate with.

Both writers are intrigued with systems, hierarchies of meanings, colliding matrix's of name-giving authority that makes the explicated terrain, the perfect sphere of a democratic society, a tag-team wrestling match.

Both authors wonder what went wrong, and seek the language, the metaphors, that can describe the loss, and perhaps give us pause to make sense again of the eviscerated cosmology.

That both writers have stressed a quest, of sorts, at the heart of their post modern fictions nails their relevance in place. The search ultimately collapses, as it usually does in credible fictional stretches, but the relevance is that the language of the writers, of their characters in situ gives us ways to think about ourselves: it furnishes us with an imaginative vocabulary that is revitalized beyond the easy-street defeatism that lurks behind the present vogue for unearned irony. Wallace is a good writer when he cares to be, and he may yet find greatness through a long succession of books. But he still riding the coat tails of his betters.

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