The novelist Jonathan Lethem has
written produced a long essay for Harper’s entitled ‘The Ecstasy of Influence. Where he passionately celebrates the debt artists pay to their predecessors and decries the corporate over-enclosure of what should by now be the public domain. (The song Happy Birthday was written 108 years ago but a corporation still collects ‘royalties’ on it… Royalty have been republicanized for much less in the past.)
It’s long but it’s worth it.
The surrealists believed that objects in the world possess a certain but unspecifiable intensity that had been dulled by everyday use and utility. They meant to reanimate this dormant intensity, to bring their minds once again into close contact with the matter that made up their world. André Breton’s maxim “Beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table” is an expression of the belief that simply placing objects in an unexpected context reinvigorates their mysterious qualities
Jonathan Lethem is the author of seven novels, including Motherless Brooklyn and You Don’t Love Me Yet, which will be published in March.