Monday, April 4, 2011

Poetic Networks

Lisa Russ Spaar writes in The Chronicle on Poetic Bloodlines. Such genealogies for literary writers are of course of central importance to understanding literary production as a spontaneous order. The author is the node -- an ever-evolving node -- in a network of influences. To understand the spontaneous order of literary production, one of course has to understand an author's influences. And not just that, but their changing influences. What did they read when? And of course those influences are not just literary. There are philosophical influences. And theological ones. And cultural ones. And personal ones. And of course economic ones. Further, the institutions in each of these orders also matter.

For example, if we take a play I wrote, The Cain Apocalypse, one can point to the influences of the Bible, of course, Shakespeare, Racine, Marlow, the Greek tragedians, and Milton. Less obvious is that one can see the influences of the Koran and Nietzsche. More personally, there is the influence of the poet/philosopher Frederick Turner. I would have never been writing in formal verse, let alone verse plays, were it not for Turner's influence. Probably a good scholar could do an even better job of analyzing the play for influences -- pointing out things I don't even realize I put into the work. There's a variety of spontaneous orders which influenced my producing this work. That is true of every artist, and every work they produced.


  1. Interesting. I wonder how all this relates to Harold Bloom's anxiety of influence, which, if I'm not mistaken, was itself an offshoot of Darwinian evolutionary theory, pragmatism, and other literary movements.

  2. The great thing about spontaneous order theory is that it is simultaneously structuralist and poststructuralist, exhibiting and making use of both unity and variety. It is fully integrative of all ideas (insofar as oppositions are paradoxical only, and not truly contradictory). To the extent that literary theory is analysis, it creates its own spontaneous order; to the extent that it is criticism, it acts as immanent criticism for the literary order; insofar as it influences the creation of new literature, it is either immanent criticism for the literary order, or overlap between its own and the literary order. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that Bloom's anxiety of influence is of course part and parcel of this broader idea.

  3. Interesting post - I particularly like your bit at the end, in which you question the unknown extent of different influences within your own work. I wonder how this can be applied to readers as well. If two readers read your play, one might not recognize any of the influences and references within your work, while another (better read) reader might see many that you were unaware of yourself. It would be interesting to explore the mutuality of this relationship between author and reader influence. I wonder which one wonder be more important to the text's acceptance within society. If an author can be influenced by work without being aware of it, surely a reader can absorb and understand influences that are deeply embedded in our culture, without having any idea where they originated.

  4. I think the best works are those that can be enjoyed by those who are basically coming in as "blank slates," but which are increasingly appreciable by those who know more and more.

    I have a play called "The Existentialists." In Act I, Camus, de Beauvoir, and Sartre are at an underground press in Paris, and the Nazis are coming. After someone read it for me, I was told, "I don't know anything about the Existentialists, but that first act is really exciting!" That's what I'm aiming for. If you don't know anything about Existentialism, you can still enjoy the play; but if you do know about Existentialism, or the break between Camus and Sartre, then you are going to appreciate the play at an entirely different level.

    And of course we never come in as blank slates. We come in with a number of cultural assumptions we may not even be aware of. Reading Shakespeare for the first time, it is not uncommon to go, "Oh! That's where that comes from!"

    One can contrast this to works which you have to have a Ph.D. in literature and literary theory to even understand the work. Such works create a lot of work for scholars, but they won't last, because nobody else is reading them.