Wednesday, September 21, 2005

"Thought counts."

--for those who stay up late at night leaving coffee stains on unfinished manuscripts...
(be kind as I did not make time to edit / spellcheck)

The above title references my favorite sentence by Annie Dillard. Others have noted that one could live a lifetime and not write a sentence as well as she, but I am merely noting content--not style.

Dillard's thoughts are wrapped in blankets of wisdom--evidence she has done her homework. While she may not be remembered as an academic philosophe, she should be hailed as one of the great intellects of our age. Her ideas are presented with such lucidity she makes complex concepts seem relatively simple. What is important about Dillard, however, is not her contribution, but her technique (ok, maybe that's confusing) which embraces an audience skeptical to her subject matter. This is the case especially in Living By Fiction.

Here, she argues that contemporary modernist (i. e. post-modern) fiction requires responsible readers willing to look at a work's structure, device, technique as an end in itself. She argues for more serious criticism from such readers--yet, at least her audience is an educated, curious reader familiar with her pious Emersonian philosophical works; at best it is those who have read both modernist and post-modernist works and have well-formed judgements on both. She combats the reader whose final comment on post-modernist writers is, "So what, it's still meaningless art. Where's the story? the characterization." Leaving her answers to these questions aside (which are intelligent and convincing), Living By Fiction is not so much a work of literary criticism, but an argument for the purpose, significance, and place of art itself.

Art mirrors thought (not Nature)--and literature does this better than any of the arts. This is not to create a hierarchy within the arts (which even in 1982 when Living was published was passe)--it is merely to solidify a place and purpose for a branch of the humanities that seems to have fallen into disarray as a result of the l'art pour l'art movement. The artist has turned inward, not psychologically, but into art itself--into the techniques that present data. Thus, experiencing art is experiencing and learning about how the mind creates and organizes its passions, impressions, and memories. Here, there is a place for Mondrian, Duchamp, Cezanne and the like. For those who tuned out the third section of their Humanities core class--Dillard reminds us that art begins when social criticism, psychological realism, and religious dogma ends.

In this sense, real, true artists are not those of the past where a learned technique such as portaiture, landscape, or realism, but those who have mastered new techniques. "Anyone can learn how to paint like Michelangelo with enough time," one could argue. This is not to say that random techniques are applied in post-modernist art--quite the opposite--in fact, much of modernist contemporary fiction employs complex structures that stretch the reader's intellectual membrane to new configurations.

Dillard builds up to her point that science and art are not all that dissimilar. That is, pragmatists have been arguing against the legitamacy of the arts for centuries. With science there may be, in fact, more doubt that the atom or the theoretical endless "universe" even exists. With literature, we can agree, at least that there is a text that is trying to say something and that something is usually comprehendible to those who are trained to understand.

One last comment. While I usually object to writers who try to tie in the meaning of life in to their argument about fiction or Kant or Bergman--having not the skill nor wit to pull it off--Dillard has license to do so based on the fact that all of her writing takes this turn, or perhaps her writing never ceases to contemplate this mystery. At this point in the book we know where she is going because we have been there with her. She searches for a governing principle by which we can live by that is not reductive, dogmatic, and exclusive.

...the purpose of people on earth is to counteract the tide of entropy described in the Second Law of Thermodynamics [note: she does not reduce the argument to the Bible and The Fall]. Physical things are falling apart at a terrific rate; people on the other hand, put things together....the universe as it were needs somebody or something to keep it from falling apart....Thoughts count. A completed novel in a trunk in the attic is an order added to the sum of the universe's order.

This is why we create.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The New Event, or, Am I Going Through a Mid-Life Crisis?

What if the whole lot of us Geneva alumni went back and invaded the Shoolhouse / Pearce for a weekend? It could be a spontaneous perrenial event. A commitment to the future of America: to take these young minds away from what seems to be so important: crushes on redheads, term papers, predestination, &, and show them what is truly honorable in art, literature, film, and, of course, alcohol. For the recipeints it would be a taste of, say, some real worldly wisom. It is a way to go back in time and tell yourself what you needed to hear years ago: "Put down that book, pseudo-nerd, we're going to Kathy's." Or, "Are you freaking serious with that Stephen King shit?" "And you! quit sleeping on the couch!" (Ok, those last two Roland and Nate will appreciate.)

Ok, so this is starting to sound like some bad frat boy movie where "the brothers" return for their annual weekend of "let's crap on everybody below us so we can feel powerful," but I see our escapade as more like communal responsibility with salvific overtones. It's mankind's basest religious desire to hear from, have a visitation from, the deity who is all-knowing. Among the late-night games of poker, ping-pong and flip cup there would also be education. We could write their term papers, give them the answers to the tests, and tell them what to say when Niekirk calls on them. There could also be Reunion Night at the fire pit (no undergrads invited) except this time there would be no guilt about smoking on campus. Finally, the weekend would end with us kicking the crap out of Memorial in the Pearce v. Memorial football game and celebrating with a kegger dance party at Pearce (without having to pay the 5.00 citations for dancing on campus). (Ok, so I may need to recruit some Memorial alumni to help with the football game, but that's all they're invited for, unless we can get ahold of Weimer, Ben Good, etc.)

And what of The Girls of The Dorm Whose Name I am Forgetting? well, they (Beth, Sarah, Tina, Frankie, Heather, &) would have their own events doing what girls do (What do girls do?). Of course this plan will inevitably need the help and support of Carly as well: whose expertise (and integrity) in planning Student Activities will certainly ensure its success. Jeremy, Dave, etc. could be the weekend entertainment, you get my drift.

In any case, I've run out of creative juices for the moment. Anything that I'm missing?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Latest AEddition(s)

Of course, an apology is in order for the sparse entries, but I finally landed a day job after the school I was teaching at closed suddenly because God did not drop enough funds from the sky.

God has dropped a blessing in another form, however, and the stork should be stopping by circa de April 11, 2006.

That's right, Lisa is pregnant (9 wks). Amongst other things this news is utterly humbling. One is nearly powerless in assisting in the growing process of a human child. Just as one is powerless in breathing, digestion, or making sure hair continues to grow on one's head. This reality above all else (the miracle of life and the mystery of Nature) transforms a cynical humbug into a God-fearing begger.

In other news, here is a brief list of reading that I've completed lately (at work the phones are not ringing):

D. H. Lawrence. “Democracy.” IN Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and
Other Essays

---, “On Human Destiny.”

Walter Benjamin. “The Storyteller.” In Illuminations.

---, “The Flaneur.” IN Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings Vol. 4 (1938-1940) 19-39.

George Lukacs. The Lukacs Reader. 187-209. “The Ideology of Modernism.”
(Dedicated to Iris Murdoch.)

Raymond Williams. “Metropolitan Perceptions and the Emergence of
Modernism.” IN The Politics of Modernism. 37-47.

Oswald Spengler. “Introduction” to The Decline of the West. 3-40.

Clive Bell. “How to Make a Civilisation.” Civilisation.

I am ashamed to say that this was my first aquaintence with D H Lawrence, but what a find. Lawrence is perhaps one of the most sane writers I have ever read. His critique of democracy
starts with a critique of idealism in general: there are no ideals and thinking thusly is evil. (All men are created equal is his beginning point for a discussion of idealism.) What I love about Lawrence is his conscious ability to make a seeming paradox become true. For instance, he will critique a value or system of thought based on its own internal rules. He says that indeed the ideal world and universe were created out of the Logos (the ideal idea) since mankind formed this ideal himself. Just as a craftsman worships his creation after making it, so mankind has worshiped the ideal God formed out of his own consciousness. Thus what is worshipped is not the ideal but a material reality stemming from the mind of the earthly craftsman. All the while I get the sense that Lawrence is not some blaspheming anti-Christian, but that he agrees with the Judeo-Christian worldview, but is not willing to succomb to its folklike obedience to the power structure setup by those in authority.

Speaking of Marx, Williams, Benjamin, and Lukacs are brilliant and subtle critiques of society from a materialist (i.e. Marxist) point of view--if you're interested.