Professor Jacob Strona
29 September 2014
Influence of the Human Soul
As human beings, we are not immune to influence, we could almost say it is wired into our DNA to be inspired by those around us. With a constant need to be original, there is an internal war going on in our minds and deep down in our souls even to find a balance between the two. When this balance is found, art is created. In Jonathan Lethem’s essay The Ecstasy of Influence, he argues that for an artist influence is the building blocks of everything.
Lethem tells us writing is not possible without pulling information from another outlet or source. “Any text is woven entirely with citations, references, echoes…”Lethem, Jonathan. “The Ecstasy of Influence.” Harper's Magazine 1 Feb. 2007: 68. Print. Writing anything, a novel, a newspaper article or even an entry into a journal without using information received from a book, an interviewed person or even a conversation heard in passing, would be impossible. For example, if someone was locked in a blank room their whole life, with no contact with the outside world, with life of any kind then it might be possible to write something completely free from the tainting grasp of those around us. This would only be possible if said person knew how to write, which would require a teacher, which means contact, therefore nulling the whole idea. Every essay, journal entry, poem and even drawings I’ve made have slivers of other personalities in them, not because I have multiple personalities, but because the works I’ve sewn into my own are as different from mine as night and day. This difference is unavoidable and yet pleasant. Had I not had the opportunity to witness the works of artists much more successful and talented than myself, I would not be able to grow or learn from our differences. The influence their work brought upon my own allowed me to become a better writer and open my eyes to the numerous ways to approach my writing.
Because of this, it is impossible to track down and cite every source used in any form of text such as a paper, an article, or even a song. “The citations that go to make up a text are anonymous, untraceable, and yet already read.” Lethem describes the writing process perfectly here. How can it be possible to know every phrase taken from someone else? Maybe it was heard on the radio or read in a book and it stuck and your brain chose now to dig it back up and use it. Some quotes are common knowledge such as Lincoln’s famous opening lines to the Gettysburg Address “Four score and seven years ago…”; most every seventh grader in the United States has heard the Gettysburg Address opening line at least once. But what about lesser known quotes that might just stick with you for an unknown reason? One that’s stuck with me for as long as I can remember is “Everything was once impossible until someone did it”. Every word or image that holds on to our inner self gets drawn out through our writing, our drawing, anything we do that opens a doorway to who we are when we aren’t looking. This is influence at its most basic state. Artists draw from this influence to create some of the most famous works of all time- such as the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa. Each of these creations were inspired by women, one very real and one simply a religious deity. Neither of these beautiful works of art would exist if these two beautiful women did not inspire them.
In addition, our minds aren’t even free from this influence. Lethem describes a neurological study showing that “memory, imagination, and consciousness itself is stitched, quilted, and pastiched”. Our minds aren’t completely our own minds. They are made up of images, sounds, words, etc. picked up from loved ones, strangers and the environment around us. We used to believe that our own heads were completely our own, safe from copying and pasting those we know. What does this mean? Are we even “individuals” then? How can we be our self