'Tis Both: A Curved Line and a Boobie

Your blog is pretty chaotic, alright, but poses a couple of interesting questions. I was going to reply to it, but 1,024 characters would NEVER do for an old windbag like me. So here I am.

Running through it is the old conflict between spontaneity and control, between unbridled creativity and studied artifice. Refusing to submit to "conventional methods," you said, "Am I naive or stubborn?" Both, I say. You voice the fear that "Learning conventional methods might erase all of my natural..." what? There is no "what," unless your natural state is incommunicable gibberish. Everything you write is conventional, filtered through grammar and syntax, or you would be alone in a cave.

I mentioned a conflict this morning and a coin flip, you mentioned Barth's coin flip and doing the opposite (which is really no opposite, just an additional layer of substitution — you still flip the coin and obey the results, merely re-labeling the two sides). The "convention/creativity" opposition is just a red herring. All artists chase it. Read Bloom's "The Anxiety of Influence" for one version of how poets struggle with it. Yeats developed an elaborate system in "A Vision" that many readers have used (with futility) as a prose gloss for his poetic imagery. It is based on subjective and objective modes of perception and ideation. His "objective" source is spiritual voices, but he writes later, "They did not give me the truth, but gave me images for poetry," images that "allow me to hold reality and justice in a single thought." Reality, of course, is the subjective "I Am" and justice is the ideal, "I ought to be."

The opposition you set up between "convention" and "what" is the same, and is eternal. Blake said, "I must build my own system or be enslav'd by another Man's." It is the opposition between Classicism and Romanticism, which informs all art. The best (I use the term guardedly, but ask your indulgence) artists (Bach, Mozart, Shakespeare, Goya) set up a dialectic, a coin flip between two sides of the same self, the one that looks outward and the one that looks inward (Yeats imaged this contrary as a spinning gyre, where the movement of the thread back and forth between extremes never exhausts itself but merely reverses back toward the other extreme, and as the fully expressive eye of early Greek art vs the blank eye of late Roman statuary). Another image he built came in the interactions between his 2 characters, Robartes and Ahern, the visionary and the positivist. In one of the finest scenes in all literature, Yeats has the two of them (Yeats's two "halves") observing Yeats himself, Yeats in his tower searching the ancient tablets for "truth," and Roberts and Ahern in the swamp below, noting derisively, "He seeks in book or manuscript what he shall never find." This is in "A Full Moon in March." Yeats arranged his poetic corpus (he did many revisions of his "Collected Poems") from "subjective" (early lyrics) to "objective" and, very late in life expressed the desire to write a poem "as cold and passionate as the dawn."

To play well, to yourself and your audience, you must learn the notes, submit to the "objective" controls of convention — only then will you be able to build a dialogue, a dialectic, with yourself. Nothing gets "erased" by convention, unless there was nothing there to begin with.

I was going to engage the "It's not a boobie...It's an abstract expression" comment. But even old windbags have to come up for air. Ernst Gombrich, the best art critic/theoretician I know of, wrote a monograph called "Meditations on a Hobby Horse," wherein he discusses the referential "value" in a line. Can a simple line "mean" without verbal commentary? In other words, is painting referential in the same sense that language is? Suzanne Langer tackles the same problem with music in "Philosophy in a new key." The Postmodern epistemology, of course, grounds all ideation in grammatical language...and this dogma is spreading insidiously, outward to the great unwashed from its spawning grounds in academia. You see it even in our monetarism — the sign (fiat currency) is arbitrary — thus there is no need for a basis (gold). See the debate between Hector and Troilus on "value" in Shakespeare ("Troilus and Cressida,"II,ii) for an amusing go-round on this ancient topic (as you might assume, Shakespeare said it all before Greenspan and Bernanke and their ilk even posed the question). Both Langer and Gombrich posit "expressivity" as non-verbal as well as verbal. So, to be blunt, 'tis both a curved line and a titty...it just depends on whether you are a post-structuralist thinker or a human, that's all.

Whew! I do go on. Serves you right for inviting me to the Lit. Course!!

Cheers, Clifton.

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Monty's picture

Clifton obviously wrote that before he had his bourbon. Dayum! BTW, I agree with Clifton on his observations of modern academia. I sometimes think I'm living in some kind of alternate universe where logic and reason are bastardized to the point of not being recognizable. Academia seems Hell bent on pissing on antiquity and assuring that posterity gets it up the wazoo as well.

Al Marcy's picture

Hmmm. Maybe max chars should be 256 ...

Evert Sharp's picture

So, did the fuses for the Moscode arrive, did you put them in, and did the Moscode come back to life? Has anyone figured out what went wrong with it? I'm thinking of tryinging the 401HR, and am now concerned that it might suddenly go into a coma. I am living in Mexico so having it fixed would be a major hassle. Follow-up on the patient would be welcome.Evert Sharp

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