In an interview with The New York Times from 19 April 1992, novelist Cormac McCarthy freely admits that “The ugly fact is books are made out of books.” To recognize this truth claim in the words of a contemporary literary giant like McCarthy is not to identify it as novelty. Rather, such an assertion reminds us all – writers and readers alike – that literary production does not happen in a vacuum. Literary influence, as famously scrutinized by Harold Bloom in The Anxiety of Influence, plays a pivotal role in the development of all literary genres, new and old.
I begin with McCarthy’s statement because it provides a sturdy foundation of explanation for a rather beautiful comment I came across in a letter Gretel Ehrlich wrote to Edward Hoagland. “[I]t’s you & your work,” she states, “that took me in the first place – was & still is an inspiration & encouragement to be anywhere in the world & see everything with my heart in my eyes & my eyes in my heart” (handwritten letter, two pages, 22 January 1985; emphasis added). A cursory skim of the correspondence between Ehrlich and Hoagland, both sides of which the Sowell Collection possesses, immediately demonstrates the deep bonds of friendship and professional inspiration that both authors shared with one another. But a detailed study reveals comments like this, in which Ehrlich not only thanks Hoagland for his works’ effects on her, but also qualifies it with an explanation of the effects themselves.
Ehrlich, in a sense, posits a co-evolution of cognition and feeling – sight and sensation – in her own process that owes its existence and practice to Hoagland. So not only does the initial argument that her books are made (to a degree) out of his gain strength, but so does another point of contention. The point that the passionate visions and visionary passions that Ehrlich’s works beautifully, if not hauntingly, demonstrate owe their existence to the writer’s process and the influences that drive it. Influence is neither a one-way street nor a two-way road. Rather, it is an amorphously complex bundle of thoughts and feelings absorbed directly and indirectly by the influenced party.