Friday, November 03, 2006

The Geneology of Influence

For reasons that may remain murky, I was thinking recently about how my aesthetic was shaped. Why, for example, do I love the marriage plot, mystery novels and experimental fiction? Why do I love lack of closure in short fiction and despise it in movies? Why do I love fiction that pretends to be non-fiction or that quotes from non-existent non-fictional books?

This musing sent me back to Whittenberger, summer 1985. For two weeks, I lived in the dorms at College of Idaho, went to writing and literature classes, left campus illegally with my friend Suzi, went to the Idaho Shakespeare festival, fell in love for the first time (there will be no more references to that), and basically hung out with those who would become English major nerds in college.

The reason I think back to that experience is that during that summer I read both "The Metamorphosis" and "Lost in the Funhouse" for the first time. For some reason, my friends and I were also reading from Buddhist texts. So lines like "For whom is the funhouse fun?" mix with "Three things are not long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth." Of course, I would write notes to my friends during class that said things like "Three things are not long hidden: the sun, the moon, and Suzi's butt." And when we discussed "The Metamorphosis" my posse and I would say, often and with feeling, "Monstrous vermin? How poetic!"

And, somehow, in conjunction with those thoughts I was revisiting the Frog and Toad books. I think these were the texts that had a huge influence on me when I began writing. Remember, for example, the story about The List? Toad makes a list and then proceeds to work his way down the list. But when he loses the list he is immobilized and can't do anything. He can't chase after the list because it is not on the list. Finally he remembers that Go To Sleep was on the list and so he writes it in the sand, crosses it out, and goes to sleep. Is that not post-modern? Does it not, in some way, represent the Post-modern Condition? Our lives mediated by language and text. It's probably no surprise, as well, that the first novel I read was Charlotte's Web. It also focuses on textuality, language, character. All the things I love.

Also in high school, same summer, I read Jane Austen for the first time, Pride and Prejudice. And I had just read Waiting for Godot in my English class, and then I saw a production of it during Whittenberger. I also read Catch-22 that year, and still remember the paper I wrote about the prostitutes. My senior year I read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. All these texts were influential.

So my aesthetic (if I can call it that) is a strange mixture of plot and no-plot, closure and openness. I think this leads me to feel split, often. From my dissertation I now have two story collections. One, more traditional, is called When I Say Idaho. The stories in this collection have some plot, characters, closure. The other, more experimental, has gone through several name changes: In the House, The Infinite Cages. Lately I'm favoring Dioramas of the Domestic Landscape. The stories in this collection have little to no plot. They are not chronological. Some have no logic. One is "Knives in the Kitchen." It's about knives. One is "The Shopping Habits of My Neighbors." It's about shopping. They are thematically linked, but often they are episodic and more about ideas than about narrative arc.

I'm thinking of writing an essay about my aesthetic development. But I'm not sure how I'd decide to address my scizophrenic nature. So often, I think, we are asked to choose sides. But what if I don't want to choose sides? Can't I like both?

My favorite intersection is that of "Lost in the Funhouse" and Buddism. I'm definitely going to have to turn that into a story.


Sir James E. Watkins said...

Hello. I've been waiting for you.

Anonymous said...

While I really really love the title "Dioramas of the Domestic Landscape," the first thing that comes to mind is those books about the tiny yellow chick, where the artist has assembled entire little scenes around her... This may not be a bad association, of course!

I love the idea of the essay on your aesthetic genealogy...maybe I could do one on my intellectual/inquiry genaelogy...

And you know, of course, the presence of two divergent ideas at once is a sign of intelligence, rather than schizophrenia. Now if, like Toad, this causes you to freeze in modern angst, well, that may not be a good thing...