the influence game

Incidentally, I never could understand why every book of mine in-
variably sends reviewers scurrying in search of more of less cele-
brated names for the purpose of passionate comparison. During the
last three decades they have hurled at me (to list but a few of these
harmless missiles) Gogol, Tolstoevski, Joyce, Voltaire, Sade,
Stendhal, Balzac, Byron, Bierbohm, Proust, Kleist, Makar Marinski,
Mary McCarthy, Meredith (!), Cervantes, Charlie Chaplin, Baroness
Murasaki, Pushkin, Ruskin, and even Sebastian Knight. (vladimir
nabokov, foreword to invitation to a beheading 6)

names dropped about the recognitions: hieronymus bosch, breughel
the elder, rupert brooke, erskine caldwell, joyce cary, céline, madison a
cooper, ee cummings, salvador dali, dante, dickens, dos passos, dosto-
yevsky, norman douglas, dreiser, ts eliot, augusta j evans, faulkner,
fielding, flaubert, james frazer, egon friedell, gide, robert graves,
hawthorne, hemingway, hogarth, aldous huxley, henry james, st john of
the cross, joyce, juvenal, kafka, dh lawrence, wyndham lewis, malcolm
lowry, thomas mann, pater, picasso, alexander pope, proust, ayn rand,
walter scott, sterne, lytton strachey, swift, tolstoy, vergil, rex warner,
evelyn waugh, nathanael west, thornton wilder & thomas wolfe

112 references to 53 names!       only a dozen of the 112 attain
even the mediocre       90% are just playing the influence game      you
cant say anything worth saying about joyce and proust in 1 offhand
phrase       what does it mean to say gaddis "has some of Joyce Cary's
breadth and exuberance"?       nothing!      demarest's just namedrop-
ping to give his writeup a "literary tone"—the easy way      it fills a little
space & looks like it says something       groups of names are even
more obviously gratuitous:

reminiscent sometimes of Laurence Sterne, sometimes of James
Joyce, and sometimes of Norman Douglas. (coldwell)

strange assortment of influences from Dickens to "the Fountain-
head." (dawedeit)

an Evelyn Waugh-Thornton Wilder-Thomas Wolfe hybrid (mccarthy)

  The style is a tumbling together of Wolfe and Joyce (bloom)

theres no such book!       the fakery can be judiciously quantified:
He has learned much from James Joyce and perhaps a little bit
from D. H. Lawrence (white)
or plucked from the blurb:
spiritual forebears are Joyce's Ulysses, Eliot's The Waste Land, and
Gide's The Counterfeiters. (rolo)
ulysses & the waste land are featured on the jacketback of the recog-
& per the blurb its "a novel about forgery" & includes "an
honest-to-God counterfeiter"

its chic to play the influence game but a great novels always at heart
uninfluenced, for it has work to do of its own      the recognitions is
very much its own book

names most often dropped: joyce by a mile1 then wolfe & eliot      j & e
are from the jacketback       alleged resemblance to wolfe a blackmark
for bloom bradley mccarthy because wolfe-gaddis, they dont resemble
nohow       except in cliche terms: wolfe wrote long novels, "ambitious"
novels & even (once) a 1st novel

names most often dropping: hartman managed 17, fremantle 8

playing the comparison game: gaddis inferior to other writers per 15
critics, equal—7, superior—1 (to sironia, texas)      purpose of the
game: to keep the new writers out

dashing off useless phrases on how a character reminds them of
one in another novel       invitation to critics to drive absurdity to its

His hero [Wyatt], a vague ineffectual wanderer, is rather like Kafka's
"K." (highet)

  Mr. Pivner, the all-too-common man, is a try at redoing Joyce's Mr.
Bloom. (time)


& now, some sections on the cliches, those dearest possessions of the
critic       it takes work to see & write what a books own individual
qualities are       its easier to fall back on a cliche, to "work" from the
general to the particular       if you can read the number on the last
page of a novel, you can use—

1ulysses & the recognitions are very "20thcentury" & have a number of technical
resemblances: both are long & closely organized; sharp contrast between
humorous & nonhumorous passages; lots of blasphemy; modeling/parodies on
classics & extensive crossreferences (ulysses having much more of former,
recognitions of latter); "timegrowth" in rereading; many nonfictional references
(miscalled "erudition") to give desired tones to the fiction; passion for other
books; importance of ideas of major characters (dedalus, wyatt); delight in carry-
ing humorous situations to extremes; restraint as basic technique of style      but
the worlds of the 2 books arent alike, nor are the characters      the 2 have little
resemblance in the essential      ie artistic      sense (Back)