A while ago Profacero tagged me for the 25 writers meme, to list 25 writers who have been influential to me. I’ve been interested to read the lists I’ve seen, and if nothing else it’s a good advertisement for worthy authors. Like Cero I’m just going to crank out a list here without agonizing over it, and like Lumpenprof I’m just going to send a shoutout tag to anyone who wants to play. I guess the usual rule to link back here applies. In no particular order:
Lewis Carroll – Words at play.
Thomas Pynchon – Turns tragedy into farce, finds the humor in paranoia, captures the reciprocal absurdity of order and disorder.
Ursula K. LeGuin – Always so hopeful and encouraging about what we are and can become, yet without a trace of sentimentality or self-deception.
Octavia Butler – A feast for the imagination. Doesn’t let anything about what it means to be human sit still.
Erving Goffman – An evil genius. Manages to show how full of shit we are about all of it without ever descending to crass judgment like I just did.
Simone de Beauvoir – The best nietzschean of the existentialists, she spun his misogynism into the foundational text of a blisteringly anti-feminine humanism that’s still two steps ahead of the zeitgeist.
Albert Camus – When I come to conclusions without coming to conclusions, Camus is probably to blame.
Karl Marx – Maybe not a good influence, but if you want to know where my critical style comes from, this is a big part of it.
Antonio Gramsci – He said he wanted to write a long synthesis, but why? In the Prison Notebooks he covered just about everything and managed to pack more thinking into short commentaries than most people get into whole books. Today he’d be a master blogger.
Emile Durkheim – Poured philosophy into sociology without spilling a drop.
Max Weber – One of those where you can practically see the forehead bulging while he tries to say everything – everything. No wonder he had a nervous breakdown, but he recovered nicely.
George Herbert Mead – Mostly he liked to teach. His published work consisted entirely of short, highly distilled gems of philosophized self-reflection. Another master blogger before his time.
Chuck Dyke – Dad’s writing is punchy, combative and rich with allusion. If you’re willing to play rough it’s a great workout. The other key source of my critical style.
Bassett Ferguson – My grandpa loved wordplay and used language reverently, an interesting and difficult combination.
Friedrich Nietzsche – Consistently devastating, with a well-concealed tender heart. Another rough workout.
Kwame Anthony Appiah – Calls bullshit on destructive simplifications and shows how to get beyond them without hurting feelings or breaking a sweat. Class act.
Stuart Hall – Bridged Gramsci and critical race studies for me at an important time in my awakening from the dogmatic slumbers of eurocentricity. Elegantly evokes the perils of identity, its contingency and situatedness, without a touch of that genre’s usual melodrama.
Jorge Luis Borges – There’s always another way to look at things, and it usually shows up somewhere in Borges.
Kurt Vonnegut – For gentle, humane irony and the best in nonpartisan bullshit detection.
Michel Foucault – No one better for getting under the hood of power relations and truth claims.
Ludwig Wittgenstein – Late Wittgenstein is so illuminating about how language works to create and dissolve problems. An essential shot of humility any time words seduce me into thinking I’ve got stuff figured out.
Paul Watzlawick – The master of reframing, he never saw a problem he didn’t think could be dissolved, more often than not with humor and a sense of the absurd.
Anne Fadiman – Fadiman stands in for any number of excellent ethnographers who have shown me again and again how to keep after the understanding project without getting sidetracked into the judgment project. It’s a hard lesson I must constantly refresh, so I return to work like her The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down as often as I can.
Bruno Latour – Never, ever lets thinking get lazy. I’ve read We Have Never Been Modern at least three times and each time it’s like stepping into a smartening machine. If only the effect would last.
Pierre Bourdieu – I’ve put Bourdieu last because in some sense he and his workshop are my omega influences, setting the standard of adequate investigation and analysis so high as to virtually silence me. Plenty of people hate him for it, which is one way to cope I suppose. There’s shooting from the hip of various kinds, which I can do, and then there’s this, which I can’t.