What’s a novelist supposed to do with contemporary culture? And what’s contemporary culture supposed to do with novelists? In The Ecstasy of Influence, Jonathan Lethem, tangling with what he calls the “white elephant” role of the writer as public intellectual, arrives at an astonishing range of answers.
A constellation of previously published pieces and new essays as provocative and idiosyncratic as any he’s written, this volume sheds light on an array of topics from sex in cinema to drugs, graffiti, Bob Dylan, cyberculture, 9/11, book touring, and Marlon Brando, as well as on a shelf’s worth of his literary models and contemporaries: Norman Mailer, Paula Fox, Bret Easton Ellis, James Wood, and others. And, writing about Brooklyn, his father, and his sojourn through two decades of writing, Lethem sheds an equally strong light on himself.
BONUS MATERIAL: This edition includes an excerpt from Jonathan Lethem's Dissident Gardens.
Novelist Lethem's collection of new and previously published works is embedded with cultural influences; particularly prominent is Norman Mailer's 1959 Advertisements for Myself, which functions like a template for this compendium of obscure writings, liner notes, book introductions, memoir, early unpublished fiction, and even blog bits. The title essay, which first appeared in Harper's in 2007, is a "collage text" in which Lethem borrows the words of others, from T.S. Eliot and Muddy Waters to Disney films, creating a commentary on plagiarism, allusions, and appropriation. Lethem writes: "Art is sourced. Apprentices graze in the field of culture." Like Mailer, self-exposure commentaries are interleaved throughout, and Mailer's notorious "Evaluations: Quick and Expensive Comments on the Talent in the Room" gives Lethem a springboard for evaluations of writers: J.G. Ballard, Paula Fox, Shirley Jackson, and especially the cosmic consciousness of Philip K. Dick, a major influence on Lethem. In a tsunami of literary and cinematic references, familiar and obscure, Lethem easily rises to the surface as a brilliant, incisive essayist who loves to sing the body eclectic. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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November 07, 2011
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