Summary: And lots of other literature
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In article <CMMJys.A5E@watdragon.uwaterloo.ca> tmdbutch@jeeves.uwaterloo.ca writes:
>In article <852_9403100510@cjbbs.com>,
>Brett Pasternack <Brett.Pasternack%juicebar@cjbbs.com> wrote:
>> Yet Dr. James Sauceda, in "The Literary Lennon", notes that quote but
>>ALSO quotes Lennon as describing his OWN work as "Joycean". (No source,
>>regrettably.) Sauceda, who is an expert on both authors, feels that
>>Joyce WAS at least something of an influence on Lennon, and I'm inclined
>>to agree.
>There are several quotes establishing that Lennon hadn't read any Joyce
>by the time _In His Own Write_ came out, but I'm sure I read somewhere
>that he had looked at Joyce's work once the comparisons between the two
>started appearing. I've looked through several likely sources and can't
>find the reference - does it look familiar to anyone here?

John was interviewed by the Beeb on the "World of Books" show, July 1965, and said when questioned about literary influences: "...I bought all the books they said it [In His Own Write] was like. I bought one book on Edward Lear, I bought 'Finnegans Wake', Chaucer, and I couldn't see resemblance to any of them" (quoted in Coleman's biography of Lennon, p. 338).

Influences such as James Thurber, Edward Lear, and James Joyce were adamantly denied by John; he said he simply hadn't read their works. Other influences, such as Dickens or Shakespeare, John also denied, although he admitted to having read them in school while retaining an antipathy toward them once his so-called scholarly career had ended.

It's important to see the distinction here, though. No one can say that Lennon's writing is extrinsic to the literary tradition of nonsense/portmanteau writing (of which "Finnegans Wake" was a prime model); Lennon's first two books are wonderfully accessible examples of that genre. But for anyone to say (as Sauceda has in his book "The Literary Lennon") that "Finnegans Wake" influenced John's writing is to ignore the reality of John's literary make-up. (All English majors know, for instance, that "Finnegans Wake" is not a book one forgets having ever read. Had it played any part in John's formative years, John would have recalled it---though he'd no doubt have been inclined to deny its importance. :-)

One can certainly say however, that Lennon and Joyce shared styles which are generically related; this makes Lennon's writing arguably "Joycean", or "Finnegans"-esque (even John could have gone this far!), but it's not the same as ascribing a direct influence from Joyce's writings (and with all due respect to Mr. Sauceda, I see nothing Joycean in Lennon's work via "The Dubliners", "Portrait of the Artist..." or "Ulysses" either).

A critic can certainly argue that Lennon is related to Lear, Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson (a prime influence readily acknowledged by Lennon), Joyce, and a host of other writers whose style involved wordplay and linguistic inventiveness. But a critic ought to consider whether the writer in question works in avenues parallel to others of his type, or whether there is some directly provable influence. It's even worth noting that Joyce himself cited *Lewis Carroll* as an influence; no wonder literary sorts got hot for the Lennon/Joyce connection!

Lennon was no slouch when it came to books. His aunt said that John was an inveterate reader from childhood, and it's entirely likely that John read a great many authors whose names or works failed to register consciously in his mind (Mimi thought Balzac showed up in Lennon's lyrics!) He admitted to only two direct influences however: Arthur Conan Doyle and Lewis Carroll. With the latter (whose "Alice" books and "Hunting of the Snark" were a passion for John well into adulthood), one can argue that a wealth of English literature automatically becomes an influential inheritance. Carroll parodied poets such as Wordsworth, Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Hood, as well as commonly known nursery rhymes of the preceding centuries. Through Carroll, John was heir to a rich literary legacy indeed. But one really needs no more than Carroll's works to see what launched Lennon's own idiosyncratic style. John needn't have absorbed much Chaucer or Shakespeare to ingest the rhyme schemes used in his own books (scansions which also bring to mind Robert Burns, if one wants to be picky, or even traditional ballads of Middle English). They're already in Carroll.

Prosodically, Lennon was relying on another usually-overlooked area of influence: that of popular culture, mainly newspapers and radio. His lampoons of gossip columnists and deadly-dull reportage combined with his own sense of fairy-tale stylistics and inventive malapropistic spelling (the latter a feature of John's writing from the time he first learned to print). John was not a rampant consumer of films so much as he was of the daily press (his Uncle George, Mimi's husband, had taught John to read from "The Liverpool Echo", the local paper); when adult, John read a number of newspapers each day.)

The "wireless" was also John's lifeline as a child. Not only was he besotted with The Goon Show (cowritten by Goon Spike Milligan in a style best described as anarchically hilarious) throughout the fifties, John was also taken by a British comic called Stanley Unwin, whose platform was radio and film, and whose forte was a type of "gobbledegook" jargon which defies transcription. Later on, as an adult, John devoured television, but this played almost no part in the formation of John's literary sensibilities (there was no telly in Mimi's house before John's late adolescence).

Like many artists, John seems to have resented the sudden onslaught of critical acclaim revolving around his books. Not that he didn't appreciate being seen as literary, though his former schoolmasters probably thought this odd. John failed his O-level exams at sixteen and never bothered about A-levels, which might have set him on a proper path toward university; and John's tenuous connection to academia was his artistic, not literary, talent, through which he achieved his association, such as it was, with Liverpool Art College.

I suspect, though, that John denied a lot of what critics were saying because he resented others telling him what it was he'd put into his own work. He was equally bothered by deeper meanings read into his lyrics. It probably amused as well as irked him that The Times Literary Supplement was going off the deep end about his endlessly highbrow literary talent when he knew (as do we now) that most of "In His Own Write" had been completed between ages 15 to 21, in the form of "The Daily Howl", a private notebook of witticisms, and occasional publications in "The Mersey Beat", via friend Bill Harry.

Had John's academic breadth been a little more developed, he might have accepted his own inclusion into a literary pantheon by virtue of his intuitive artistry and whatever allusions he was able to retain from brief exposure to the classics (no matter under how much duress!) during schooldays. I don't think, for instance, that it entirely pays to brush off the Chaucerian connection; John admits to having studied him, at least; and the bawdiness alone surely must have appealed to the semi-innocent schoolboy. Too, Lear's poems were often read to children as a matter of course, though Mimi's own idiosyncracies regarding the propriety of children's literature may have precluded Lear as well; John surprisingly got no exposure to A.A. Milne, either.

I still think it's worthwhile listening to the man himself, viz., Lennon, to get some semblance of what *he* considered vital to his own development as a writer. But I'd hardly let John dictate the only path towards our enlightenment. As with all artists/musicians/writers, there are elements the analyst/critic/explicator can see, and is in fact *trained* to see...and, odd as it may seem, these are subtleties which remain outside the grasp of the work's own creator. A good critic tries for a balance between his own vision and that of the artist, knowing (as is inevitable) that truth of how a work of art came to be, and what it all really means, is somewhere in the middle.

"Their range invites comparison with Yma Sumac, their intensity of emotion with the victim in a Hitchcock film, and Caruso would envy their volume."
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