But it's worth saying that I grew up valorizing art and artists. My father was a painter who was an heir to the modernist image. And, like everyone, I
didn't only rebel against my inheritance—I also absorbed it totally. I have my sacred idols. I have Hitchcock, and Bob Dylan, who I think about as
these sublime, Promethean figures who invent things that never existed before. But I also—I guess I like to tickle that image, by also noticing
the sublimated fact of their collaborative or appropriative tendencies, which are there to be observed.
Let's talk about the title essay, "The Ecstasy of influence," which you refer to in the introduction as "the eye of the storm of this particular
book." The essay samples author writers' work in much the same way a Public Enemy track mixes and matches and slices up pieces of pre-existing
audio. Does the essay dramatize the kind of borrowing that artists do—whether they're writers, musicians, painters?
Not just as artists, but in our use of everyday language—through the use of our cultural commons of language, any living person is connected to this
So the essay dramatizes the unconscious cribbing and borrowing and referencing that we do naturally and seamlessly when we're writing or speaking.
My deepest wish for this piece is that it be understood as exactly the word you use--the dramatization of something already present. It's not a sudden,
new postmodern development. It's not like we had to wait for digital methodologies to make this possible, and then suddenly art changed. It was always
that way. And like a Public Enemy track, I'm trying to exemplify it and celebrate it in this piece, and make it unmistakable.
Do you think "Ecstasy" is, in any way, is a literary ancestor of David Shields Reality Hunger? I didn't see your essay mentioned very often
in the reviews of that book, or in the controversy it stoked. Is there a lineage there?
Absolutely. I know there is, because David and I were in constant communication. It was a very interesting kind of somersault that we did. We were
already friends—we became much better friends as a result—but we were working without awareness of each other's projects. He was already working
towards that book when I published the essay. He wrote to me with a degree of anxiousness, ironic anxiousness, because he said "I fear you've
anticipated my book's project so completely that I'm just going to be late arriving." But I doubted that. I knew what he's capable of, and I asked him
to show it to me.
I do think that the irony is that in looking for a more provocative gesture, one I never would have made, he ended up attacking the novel. That became
part of his project. When you speak of the controversy around his book, and wonder why my essay wasn't called in to testify more often, I think it's
because the controversy mostly concerned—and I think unfortunately mostly concerned—his attack on the novel. When people were outraged, when people
wrote rebuttals Shields' book, they tended to ignore, or mostly put to one side, the arguments that were common between his book and my essay, in favor
of defending the novel. Because that was where he really hung himself out there. But my essay isn't really in any sense relevant to that particular
part of his book. Still, I feel that the two pieces are in total dialogue, and I know that we were in dialogue as he was working.