The Ecstasy of Influence by Jonathan Lethem

from Harpers an amazing essay that fits hand in hand with my intent for the genealogy:

“[A]ppropriation, mimicry, quotation, allusion, and sublimated collaboration consist of a kind of sine qua non of the creative act, cutting across all forms and genres in the realm of cultural production….

Most artists are brought to their vocation when their own nascent gifts are awakened by the work of a master. That is to say, most artists are converted to art by art itself. Finding one’s voice isn’t just an emptying and purifying oneself of the words of others but an adopting and embracing of filiations, communities, and discourses. Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos….

Whatever charge of tastelessness or trademark violation may be attached to the artistic appropriation of the media environment in which we swim, the alternative—to flinch, or tiptoe away into some ivory tower of irrelevance—is far worse. We’re surrounded by signs; our imperative is to ignore none of them.”


2 thoughts on “The Ecstasy of Influence by Jonathan Lethem”

  1. Wow, that was a fascinating article. It made me think have you thought about putting things besides people in your graph? Artifacts like the magna carta or the bible would have a lot of links I would think. I guess most of your edges currently correspond to a book or manuscript, no?

  2. Yeah – I’ve had lots of people suggest i change from strictly people to basically open ended. I think there is value in both kinds of graphs – James Burke who used to do a show called “Connections” has been working for a while on a graph called the Knowledge Web where anything counts as an influence on anything. Here’s a video:

    I think that usually a person’s influence doesn’t differ much from one book to another. Take Poe or Descartes or Goethe – basically they introduced a mindset and a style to their genre that made them reference points for many to come afterward. I wouldn’t have the knowledge to say which of a writer’s books or artist’s paintings had an influence on which followers.

    But the next version of the Genealogy of Influence, if i ever get around to it, should have the edges labeled to signify teacher-student, parent-child, mentor, peer relationships or the more common generic influence that might fall over centuries. Like Aristotle’s works being rediscovered by Arab mathematicians, or later reincorporated into the Western canon.

    Keith Sutton is working on a graph viewer where people could add connections, people or vote on the strength of connections. I’ve agreed to let him seed this project with the genealogy, so maybe people will start adding things like the Magna Carta anyway.

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