The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfictions, Etc.

Jonathan Lethem, Introduction by
Jonathan Lethem. Doubleday, $32.50 (480p) ISBN 978-0-385-53495-6
Reviewed on: 08/22/2011
Release date: 11/01/2011
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which functions like a template for this compendium of obscure writings, liner notes, book introductions, memoir, early unpublished fiction, and even blog bits.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.)
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