Listen up, peeps: I'm not into buzzwords. Those kinds of clever little catch phrases like "diversity awareness" and "multiculturalism" actually make my ears bleed. But in all fairness, there are a few expressions that come up pretty consistently in my work, so let's define them.
For a lot of literary critics, "aesthetics" is a nasty word. To me, aesthetics are the beauty of a literary work—forget about making a big deal about its moral or political message.Take King Lear, for example. Such a beautiful work of poetry. Sure, Lear's daughters are brats, but does that mean we have to do a feminist reading of Goneril's bad attitude? I say nay. Literature cannot (and should not) be reduced to politics and ideology. As readers, we must have faith in the sovereign soul.
So this is the name of my most famous book, but it was such a big deal that the title actually became a term used in literary studies. (Can we take a second to reflect on how cool that is?) Anxiety of Influence refers to the tough relationship poets have with the poets that poeted before them. It's like having a really smart big brother who's also on the football team. How do you compete? Do you do basketball and ditch school to differentiate yourself? My conclusion: poets have to get past the (sometimes overwhelming) influence of their poet ancestors and formulate an original vision or they just won't, er, make the team.
It's really hard to be original. Just ask Lady Gaga—zing! My point is that poets have had a really hard time overcoming the poets who came before them. In my humble opinion, a work cannot enter the canon unless it's original or mostly original. So what is originality? I define it a "strangeness, a mode of originality that either cannot be assimilated, or that so assimilates us that we cease to see it as strange" (source). The work's "strangeness" is what prevents it from being compared to any other work. My two biggest examples are Dante and Shakespeare, in that order.
Look, I've said it before: Feminists hate me. So do multiculturalists, Marxists, and plenty of other other "-ists." That's okay, though, because I hate them, too. They're ruining everything I care about. They punish me with their obscene mindlessness, turning everything into a political cause. We need an island for them—hmmm, maybe Guantanamo?
Here's my who's who of authors worth reading (ignore at your own risk): Shakespeare, Cervantes, de Montaigne, Milton, and Tolstoy. All dead, all white, and all male, yes. But they were geniuses, so who cares what they looked like?
I wrote this little book in 1984 called The Western Canon whose appendix lists of all books I've dubbed literary classics. Now, in my defense, my editor, publisher, agent—the devil himself!— made me do it. I came up with the list off the top of my head in, like, three hours. Oh, the remorse I feel about some books I put on that list! Interviewers constantly badger me about that list, even when I feistily tell them to fuggedaboutit.
While we're on the topic, I cope by insisting that said list doesn't, in fact, exist. People don't realize that by defending the canon, I'm trying to rescue intellectual standards in the humanities and social sciences from "a dungeon horrible, on all sides round, As one great furnace flamed; yet from those flames." (That's Milton, not me—but you get the point). I am so alone; so above everyone. Sniff.