Literary lists are common on the internet; recently on Facebook there has been a rash of ‘list your favorite’ authors, bands, movies, TV shows etc. I was recently asked to play the game whereby you list 15 of the most influential authors and poets you can think of. I played the game and listed my 15 favorites but it got me to thinking about why those writers influenced me and how. Usually, what I considered to be the ‘influential’ aspects of their respective writings were the aesthetic qualities of the work in question and the way in which it challenged me (intellectually). That is, the work influenced me because of the style and the author’s ability to craft a good story that left a lasting impression on me; the uniqueness of the story and the emotion and imagery it conveyed were also important criteria, as were the use of cadence and language to effectively grab and hold the reader’s attention from start to finish. As a writer myself, the question of influence also reveals itself in my choices due to the ideas that the author’s work manages to inspire. That is, Stephen King’s writing influences my own with the ideas his stories provoke in finding horror in the commonplace, Charles Bukowski’s stories in the idea that material is everywhere and usually some of the best can be found in the lowliest of human experiences, and so on. The fact that I chose many writers who are considered by many to be exemplars of their respective genres is another reason behind my choices. As I mentioned, I write too, and my choices reflect my own genre interests and the writers that I respect and reach for when inspiration is required. In my opinion, poets usually produce more profound and influential work (in terms of ideas) than authors of long fiction, due to the oftentimes use of complex concepts, metaphor, and subject matter. Poets deserve their own list in my opinion because in relation to the question of ‘influence’ their work operates on a level closer to philosophy than fiction. This realization made me think about books and philosophers that had influenced me over the years and the creation of another list occurred.
This list is wholly subjective and is limited to my own shallow years and reading habits. I’m sure that what has influenced me has repelled others. Who I consider of interest and worthy of mention, may fall way short of what others (more knowledgeable than myself) consider as suitable candidates. Whatever it is, it is my list and these are the influences on my thoughts and development as a writer. I have chosen these philosophers because they have caught my attention and their ideas have stayed with me and influenced my own mish-mash philosophy of life. I have no religious convictions to date but I have spiritual aspirations despite being an atheist. I do not support an optimistic world-view without recourse to skepticism and logical pessimism – whether that puts me in the ‘existential’ camp I’m not sure but it works for me. As a proponent of the ‘experiential’ school of learning, if I can’t experience phenomena I don’t believe in it, especially when it comes to theological concepts and mythology. However, even if I don’t believe in something because I haven’t experienced it, does not mean by a long stretch that I am not prepared to engage in the possibility that that thing could exist. The various contradictions in my own safe philosophy are no doubt reflected in my choice of recommended philosophers. Alan Watts for example speaks of an eastern idea of god amongst other theological concepts, yet he also speaks philosophically of things common to the human condition and that is where my interest primarily sits. I personally like visionary philosophers who speak with passion about what they believe and about the myriad possibilities of human and planetary consciousness; (William Blake and Khalil Gibran come to mind) but at the core of their philosophies these visionary thinkers are interested in how the human species has evolved and the possibilities of further evolution. This ability to speak intelligently and convincingly about an idea or a concept strikes me as being the foremost quality that the following philosophers possess. And indeed, it is an essential quality that all other great writers have in their written work. The ability to effectively communicate an idea/concept to the reader in order to influence the way in which they read and by turn the way in which they think. In light of this last statement, I have possibly omitted a crucial work by Aristotle – Ars Rhetorica, however it was not a work of his that influenced me as greatly as Ars Poetica or Metaphysica, hence the exclusion.
‘How do these works influence you?’ – a faint hypothetical question arises from the ether. If you haven’t noticed already, I have a slight interest (bordering on obsession) with things relating to the absurdity and horror of modern life. I have a macabre interest in things that go ‘bump in the night’ and in the apparent meaninglessness of human existence. I just can’t seem to shake the idea that the human species is of no more consequence to the universe than a grain of sand is to the ocean. Yet I hope that there is something else in the cosmos, beyond these mortal years; a hard-wired dream that keeps me alive I suspect. And these are the thinkers that have helped me come to terms with my skepticism over the years; they have provided answers to my questions and further concepts for me to contemplate. Without them, my world would be a lot more dark and depressing than it is, my own writing all the more pessimistic, and for that I thank them. If you haven’t read the works mentioned, I recommend them all without hesitation. Any misgivings you may have about the authors should be separated from the works themselves. Enjoy.
Aristotle – Ars Poetica, *Metaphysica, The Nicomachean Ethics
Marcus Aurelius – Meditations (trans. Graves)
Jean Baudrillard – Simulacra and Simulation
Walter Benjamin – Illuminations: Essays and Reflections
William Blake – The Marriage of Heaven & Hell
Edmund Burke – A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful
Albert Camus – *The Myth of Sisyphus, The Rebel
Thomas Carlyle – Sartor Resartus
Khalil Gibran – The Madman, *Thoughts & Meditations, The Prophet
Immanuel Kant – Critique of Pure Reason, *Critique of Judgment
Jiddu Krishnamurti – Beyond Violence, The Awakening of Intelligence, *Freedom from the Known
Bruce Lee – Tao of Jeet Kune Do
Frederich Nietzsche – *Beyond Good and Evil, The Antichrist, The Gay Science, Thus Spake Zarathustra, Human, All Too Human
PD Ouspensky – The Fourth Dimension (from A New Model of the Universe), Tertium Organum, *The Fourth Way
Bertrand Russell – *The Problems of Philosophy, The Analysis of Mind
Arthur Schopenhauer – The World as Will & Representation, *On the Suffering of the World
Lao Tzu – Tao Te Ching
Alan Watts – *The Wisdom of Insecurity, The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
Colin Wilson – *The Outsider, Beyond the Outsider
Ludwig Wittgenstein – *Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Philosophical Investigations