Thursday, February 16, 2006

Hemingway's influence on Chaucer

An old English professor of mine (in many ways: it was a long time ago, he was fairly old, and I also had him for Old English, the language) once said he had the shortest PhD thesis of his university, titled "Hemingway's Influence On Chaucer."

Under post-modernism all things come to pass. In a typically brilliant and confusing essay, Borges in Kafka and his Precursors notes that time runs backwards as well. After listing a series of oddities that he feels somehow might have influenced Kafka, Borges notes this:
If I am not mistaken, the heterogeneous pieces I have enumerated resemble Kafka; if I am not mistaken, not all of them resemble each other. The second fact is more significant. In each of these texts we find Kafka's idiosyncrasy to a greater or lesser degree, but if Kafka had never written a line, we would not perceive this quality; in other words, it would not exist. The poem "Fears and Scruples" by Browning foretells Kafka's work, but our reading of Kafka perceptibly sharpens and deflects our reading of the poem. Browning did not read it as we do now. In the critic's vocabulary, the word "precursor" is indispensable, but it should be cleansed of all connotations of polemics or rivalry. The fact is that every writer creates his own precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future.
On this subject he cites T.S. Eliot, Points of View (1941), pp. 25-26. I'll be looking this up soon. I love this overall image. I found E.M. Forster's discussion in Aspects of the Novel of fiction as a conversation in a room, with all writers writing simultaneously, to be immensely powerful. Perhaps Borges's reversal of time is even more illuminating than simultaneity.


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