Thursday, July 16, 2009

Homage or Bust

Okay, can we talk about appropriation and homage for a second, fashion aside? Familiar territory, right, but I need some reminders.

I'll come right out and say it and probably feel embarrassed later. Is it possible to write anything OTHER than homages to our heroes? I want to, badly. I think in the past, my influences were more vague. They were vague and hidden even to me and by hidden I mean ignored. I don't think I was writing better stuff then but maybe it would have been harder to call me out. I'm wondering to what extent each of you is aware of your influences and how you play or don't play with them. Should we attempt to disguise our heroes? Should we admit from the get-go? Should we just hope that no one gets the reference or should we hinge the work on the reference? Transparency?

A friend's writing could be reduced to Woolf + Wilde + Theory Curveballs + Artworld Curveballs + Friend. Totally brilliant.

Another friend could be Proust + Foster Wallace + Wittgenstein + Multiple theory curveballs + Friend. I think it's genius but I haven't read much Proust or Foster Wallace and don't know the theory well so I'm blown away.

As someone's influences become more clear what affect does that have on the reading experience or on your perception of the writer? Does it ruin it for you? Does it enhance your appreciation? Does it MATTER?

I could offer other algorithms but I am completely afraid of pissing one of you friends off. Of course, everyone's algorithm is a perpetually shifting, mutating thing with parenthetical subtractions and additions: a + b + 2c(d-e) = f. I wonder if there is a mathematical symbol for "sometimes". Maybe it's the mixture (alchemy, duh) that is exciting. Synthesis, yeah. Maybe it's when we're stuck on just one that we get into trouble.

I can't stand those music reviews that do the A is like if B and C had a lost weekend in Maui, drinking Mai Tai's spiked with acid and came back to their hotel and puked in the same bag and then froze it and smashed it into a million pieces with a sledgehammer and then gave you the dust to snort and this new record out from X label is like the dream you had after you came down and fell asleep. I can't stand that as a framework for critique but it is maybe inescapable on some level.

Now I'm rambling. Can someone help me with this? I'm already embarassed.

p.s. I've been reading a lot of psychoanalytic theory and want to share with you some titles of self-help books that I would like to write, just to be cheeky. They are:

If You're Angry and You Sorta-Kinda-Maybe Know it, Clap Your Hands"
If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say, Don't Say Anything at All: Repression for Dummies/Children


Nada said...

Hi Lindsey,

Forgive me, because I'm about to step into "wise auntie" mode. It's not a mode I often inhabit, so it might feel a little unnatural...

but my experience is this: I felt as you did towards my own writing until, I would say, my mid- to late thirties. Then I got free of heros and homage, really. It's not that I don't see still obvious traces or influences in my writing; it's just that I now recognize what Nada Gordon writes like.

I suppose that's an ironic statement given that so much of my work is literally appropriated from more or less anonymous sources. But still, I have lost that feeling you describe.

Maybe not everyone does. I'd be curious to hear from people of my generation and upwards how they feel about this.

I don't mind noticing the influences of others in their work, if I am interested in their influences. Everything is derived from something, so I don't necessarily use "derivative" disparagingly. It is only a problem when people seem to be copycatting what was originally not very interesting to begin with, and I'm afraid that this happens in poetry an awful lot.

The sort of music review that you mention, with the hybrid description, I quite like, actually. It seems to me that we understand things by analogy, and often such descriptions can be quite clever.

Wise auntie again: twenty years from now, when you look back on the writing you are doing now, you will see that it was you all along, with your influences as a kind of formative coloration. You'll see your kernel. Something congeals as we move through life, as our experiences accrete. At least, that's how I've experienced it.

OK, Auntie has spoken. It feels weird to be able to talk this way.

Pirate Station said...

If You're Angry and You Sorta Kinda Maybe Know it, Clap Your Kids.


Bones, I don't have to talk about "discourse" and the "conversation" of literature——how poets and writers speak to one another, influence one another, through the misty ages and so on. Everyone reading this bLog understands the basics. I can speak for myself though, and say that I plagarise constantly, that I write with borrowed structures and decorate them with new nouns. That is to say, I borrow the voices of other writers, but hide them behind modern objects and place names. That's all. If I am not accused of mimicry, it is only because I lack the talent to mimic adequately.

morgan said...

the equation for 'sometimes' is 'all the time' - a lost weekend in Maui...

Adam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adam said...

(minus typos)

Hi Lindsey,

Have you read of Harold Bloom's theory of creation? I haven't, but I've read about it. On Wikipedia. It goes along the lines of

(see early career)

"strong misreadings" of a poet's heroes, which are the cause original work. Do you think that the algorithmic approach described comes in part from being grounded in a certain scholastic model? I personally like valuing academic knowledge of a thing...does art which is grounded in a specific cultural role (religious veneration, ancient greek ideals, etc), for those artists, escape your questions?

I think, for me, that I'm nothing but influences poetically. I barely have influences to influence me. With music, something with which I'm much more knowledgeable and practiced, I've had experiences of powerful creation a few times. Though the results still wore obvious influences, they sounded a little more like 'me,' or moved towards an individual style. The muse, I guess. Is that really trite to say?

Clark Terry has a great, trite phrase on the issue for jazz musicians: "Imitate, assimilate, innovate."