Apr 12 2017

Some Brief, Random Thoughts on Crafting a Better Book Blog

For the past several months my writing on this blog has been stuck in a rut, lodged between two dikes:

(1) writing posts about current events, outrages, and crises and trying to relate those things to various literary references and book-jewels picked up over the years;

(2) writing posts on things that attempt to ignore the historical, cultural, political, and economic contexts in which I live, things that think not of posterity, things which take very seriously Oscar Wilde’s definition of the art of doing nothing:

Gilbert. Nothing that one can imagine is worth doing…. Let me say to you now that to do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual. To Plato, with his passion for wisdom, this was the noblest form of energy. To Aristotle, with his passion for knowledge, this was the noblest form of energy also. It was to this that the passion for holiness led the saint and the mystic of mediaeval days.

Ernest. We exist, then, to do nothing?

Gilbert. It is to do nothing that the elect exist. Action is limited and relative…. Yes, Ernest: the contemplative life, the life that has for its aim not doing but being, and not being merely, but becoming—that is what the critical spirit can give us…. The necessity for a career forces every one to take sides. We live in the age of the overworked, and the under-educated; the age in which people are so industrious that they become absolutely stupid. And, harsh though it may sound, I cannot help saying that such people deserve their doom. The sure way of knowing nothing about life is to try to make oneself useful…. It can do for us what can be done neither by physics nor metaphysics. It can give us the exact science of mind in the process of becoming. It can do for us what History cannot do. It can tell us what man thought before he learned how to write…. [1]

There is such a thing as robbing a story of its reality by trying to make it true…. [which is why] The justification of a character in a novel is not that other persons are what they are, but that the author is what he is. Otherwise the novel is not a work of art….[2]

Or perhaps this whole post is merely one more exercise in my “luxury in self-reproach”:

He covered page after page with wild words of sorrow and wilder words of pain. There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel that no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution. When Dorian had finished the letter, he felt that he had been forgiven…. [For] to become the spectator of one’s own life, as Harry says, is to escape the suffering of life. [3]

Nonetheless, lately all attempts at blog criticism––no matter how unorthodox, whether analogical or literal––seem but Biblically lukewarm.[4]

Right now instead of blogging about books, I feel like listening to Heino sing country songs while I work in my father’s vineyard.

Pruning the vines, #vine #wine #vineyard

A post shared by Christopher Landrum (@bookbread2) on

 

Some random thoughts that run through my head while under the sun, among the vines, amid the Sänger musik:

  • What do we mean when we say something like: “I answered the question without even thinking?” Surely something was thought before, during, and after the answer was made.
  • To be an immigrant is to be a quotation in someone else’s book, to be stuck between someone else’s words.
  • I bet residents of Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s really resented Scott McKenzie’s single “If You’re Going to San Francisco.”

     

Surely that song spoiled the city’s prior exclusivity. Afterward it allowed everyone who wanted to migrate Out There. This ruined it for the locals, forcing them to become totally lamestream, or as Wilde puts it: “to be popular one must be a mediocrity.”[5]

NOTES

[1] Wilde, Oscar. “The Critic as Artist – II.” (1891)

[2] Wilde, “The Decay of Lying” in Intentions (Volume 7 of The Complete Writings of Oscar Wilde). New York: The Nottingham Society, 1909. pp. 3–57 at 10–11.

[3] Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray. In Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. 1890. NY: Barnes & Noble Classics Edition. 2003. VIII, 100; IX, 114.

[4] See Revelation of Saint John 3:16:

So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

And from Richard McKeon (1900-1985):

Literally or analogically conceived, therefore, the philosophic principles which lie behind the discussions of the critic select for him, by defining his terms, a subject matter and principles from the vast diversity which those terms might encompass. [First] If the poet is the source of distinctions or analogies, the discussion may be of character, knowledge, or technique; or of imagination, taste, or genius; or of beauty, truth, or moral goodness. [Second] If the poem is fundamental, all problems may be translated into those of form and content; or of imitation and object; or of thought, imagination, and emotions; or of activity and effects. [Third] The effects finally, if they are fundamental, may be treated in terms of expression and communication; or of context and moral, social, economic, or semantic determination; or of influence and emotion.   (“The Philosophic Bases of Art and Criticism,” Modern Philology, XLI: 2. (Nov. 1943.) pp. 65–87 at 75.)

[5] Picture of Dorian Gray XVII, 201.


Mar 2 2017

I Act to Be Passive: an Introduction to Introspection

Why an introduction to introspection? Why should we inspect ourselves? Because:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

Matthew 07:03 (King James translation)

If you wish to understand others you must intensify your own individualism.

–Oscar Wilde “The Critic as Artist – Part II” (1891)

There’s an old cliche I used to hear often at church, although, it could be applied to most secular settings: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” This cliche is not quite a tautology, not quite Russell’s paradox, but what is the formula behind it and similar phrases? It seems strange but feels true to say:

I love to be loved,
I hate to be hated,
I want to be wanted,
I need to be needed,
I desire to be desired,
I smile to be smiled at.

All of the above seem to say: “I purpose to be purposed.”

In a grammatical sense, I act to be passive–yet I don’t pacify to be active–I don’t pacify to be acted upon–and I don’t pacify to be activated.

But there is another arrhythmia in this logarithm. For it does not make sense to ask:

Do I really:

–play to be played?
–pay to be paid?
–drive to be driven?
–grow to be grown? (Maybe)
–sleep to be slept? or wake to be awakened?
–write to be written?
–read to be read?
–live to be lived?
–eat to be eaten? (Like cattle)
–keep to be kept? (Like The Birdman of Alcatraz?)
–clean to be cleaned?
–search to be searched? (Is that not an introduction to introspection?)
–touch to be touched? or feel to be felt?
–see to be seen? or hear to be heard?
–create to be created? or dream to be dreamed?
–destroy to be destroyed? or take to be taken?
–call to be called?
–judge to be judged? (which is the utter opposite of Matthew 07:01)
–ask to be asked?

Certainly I do not lie to be lied to.


Feb 17 2017

Why do Artists Travel?

What foreign walls will open to a wanderer?

––Statius[1]

This is my home and my homeland. It tallies with secrets my father
Left me, that talked about fate.

––Virgil[2]

Rosalind: “A traveler? By my faith, you have great reason to be sad. I fear you have sold your own lands to see other men’s. Then to have seen much and to have nothing is to have rich eyes and poor hands.”

Jacques: “Yes, I have gained my experience.”

Rosalind: “And your experience makes you sad. I had rather have a fool to make me merry than experience to make me sad— and to travel for it, too.”

––Shakespeare [3]

The traveller that distrusts every person he meets, and turns back upon the appearance of every man that looks like a robber, seldom arrives in time at his journey’s end.

––Oliver Goldsmith[4]

It must be confessed in the main that travelers who withdraw from the limitation of their homes think they step into not only a strange but a perfectly free nature, and this delusion we could at that time cherish the more as we were not yet reminded every moment by police examinations of passports, by tolls, and other such like hindrances, that abroad things are still more limited and worse than at home.

––Goethe[5]

All the arts commonly aspire toward the principle of music….. The aim of our culture should be to attain not only as intense but as complete a life as possible…. The demand of the intellect is to feel itself alive.

––Walter Pater[6]

No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist. Take an example from our own day. I know that you are fond of Japanese things. Now, do you really imagine that the Japanese people, as they are presented to us in art, have any existence? If you do, you have never understood Japanese art at all. The Japanese people are the deliberate self-conscious creation of certain individual artists. If you set a picture by Hokusai, or Hokkei, or any of the great native painters, beside a real Japanese gentleman or lady, you will see that there is not the slightest resemblance between them. The actual people who live in Japan are not unlike the general run of English people; that is to say, they are extremely commonplace, and have nothing curious or extraordinary about them. In fact the whole of Japan is a pure invention. There is no such country, there are no such people.

––Oscar Wilde[7]

See more: Why Do Artists Travel? (Part 02)

NOTES

[1] Statius, Thebaid. Translated by Ross. XI, 730

[2] Virgil, Aeneid. VII, 123.

[3] Shakespeare, As You Like It. IV, i.

[4] Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield, “26. A reformation in the gaol. To make laws complete, they should reward as well as punish.”

[5] Goethe, Dichtung und Wahrheit, XIX, 661.

[6] Pater, The Renaissance 135, 188, 220.

[7] Wilde, “The Decay of Lying.”