Sunday, August 30, 2009
Recently, I've been discussing Raymond Carver with a few other writers. Some people insist that his work was influential. My contention has been.....not so much. However, this dialog has made me think of something that is worthy of discussion: what is literary influence and how is it qualified or quantified?
In a response to Joe's blog posting on Carver, I have to ask is someone like Carver or Wolfe, or Bellow or Malamud (all important writers) more significant in their influences on the world of literature and that world's affect on popular culture and the American identity than someone like Anne Rice. Whoa. Relax and hear me out. I'm not going to defend Anne Rice. I enjoyed "Interview with the Vampire" and her sequels, but I never considered these books to be bold and artful works. However, Anne Rice's work, much to her reborn Christian chagrin, has given birth to such writers as Charlaine Harris, Laurel K. Hamilton, and Stephenie Meyers. The tsunami of vampire novels and urban fantasy that has swept over us, producing a storm in the marketplace has definitely affected younger readers and many older ones as well. We can scoff at the literary quality of some of this writing, but they nonetheless have influence. Especially those works which find their way into theaters and onto our television screens. By insinuating themselves into our national psyche, they open doors for many other writers and also for ideas that might have been less palatable outside of genre.
Lovecraft had tremendous influence as well. I would argue more than Mr. Carver. Lovecraft's bleak view of the cosmos and many of his literary concepts would find their way through much of our culture, in book and film, without us being aware that he was the source of its influence. Kids reading Lovecraft in the fifties and sixties grew up and remembered his work as they churned out their own material. Bradbury and Bloch, both who corresponded with Lovecraft, were quick to give him the kudos he deserved. Stephen King has freely admitted the affect that Lovecraft has had on him. And while most people haven't read Lovecraft (he isn't for everyone, much of his work is dated and plods along), most people have encountered him in some form, without realizing it. I remember mentioning the name Arkham (a fictional town created by Lovecraft) and having someone chime in: "You mean the insane asylum in Batman"?
I will be exploring this in more detail at some other time, the idea of what constitutes literary influence, what we mean by the phrase. It seems to be thrown around rather liberally. I think it would be the subject of several fascinating essays.
Posted by Stewart Sternberg at 11:08 PM