By Clyde Davis
The writing student with an exceptional talent for storytelling was talking with me about his fiction, a field to which I’d encouraged him to devote some time and energy. It became a discussion of style and approach when I told him there was a certain element in his writing that resembled the work of Ernest Hemingway. “I haven’t ever read anything by Hemingway,” he said with a puzzled look.
There followed one of those “Ah ha!” moments as he realized that, yes, he probably had, in high school English class, or maybe a magazine, or an anthology, or maybe even the dramatized version on a television show. The student was about 15 years out of high school, and had doubtless done a fair amount of reading between then and now.
So it was with myself when I realized the impact of the recently deceased Hunter Thompson. I don’t ever consider myself a journalist, rather a columnist, and would never have consciously modeled anything after that journalist, excellent as he was. Then I went back and re-read sections of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas …”
The “Ah ha!” light came on again, realizing that anyone who has made a practice of writing, of learning to write in the time span since 1970, of reading journalistic efforts with an eye to analyzing and benefiting from, has probably integrated aspects of Thompson’s approach into his or her writing style.
All of this forms a backdrop by reminding me of something my sculpture teacher used to say in class: We stand upon the shoulders of giants. Whatever our endeavor, be it culinary, musical, literary, gardening, or science, we have been nurtured and influenced and shaped by those who have gone before us.
There’s a real tendency to want to claim that one stands alone, that one has invented something new and totally unforeseen, that one has moved outside of tradition or that one can even function outside of tradition. Wrong.
We see it in churches that want to preach a theology without foundation, wish to ignore 2000 years of church and Christian history, want to claim they stand unique in the Christian community and imply that the rest of us aren’t Christian.
We see it also in churches that want to cut themselves off from our Jewish roots, pretend that the Christ event happened in a vacuum instead of a context. How arrogant can you get?
We see it in art forms that want to promote themselves as something totally new, failing to acknowledge that their roots are somewhere. Do abstractionists learn from the stylized work of primitive artists? Do rap masters learn from beat-generation poetry? Do artists who create wildlife wood sculptures trace their roots to the old-time decoy carvers?
We are communal creatures, connected to those who have gone before us and evolving and innovating, not necessarily inventing from scratch. This is a lesson it never hurts to learn again.
Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and an instructor at Eastern New Mexico University. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org