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Passions in Poetry

Writing your own Oblivion

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serenity blaze
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25 posted 06-23-2002 06:40 AM       View Profile for serenity blaze   Email serenity blaze   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for serenity blaze




(fade to black)
Brad
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26 posted 06-23-2002 08:06 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

[ENTER JANITOR]

Janitor: Damn kids. I always have to clean up their 'art'. What does this clump of dirt have to do with anything, anyway?

[Notices a crumpled piece of paper, a page from the play]

Janitor: I WAS BORN THAT WAY? Who cares how you were born. Get a job.

--------------------------

Serenity said:

"I think he simply wrote commonalities in uncommonly great language.
He expressed the universal in language so strong, as to be adapted by those who felt the resonance of truth within his writings."

I agree that Shakespeare resonates but I see no reason for the preposition 'of truth' or of arguing that he expressed the universal. Just reduce something far enough and you can always get there and that means "Taming the Shrew" has something in common with "Chushingura".

In fact, it means Shakespeare has something in common with everything. But what if it's the other way around? What if Shakespeare isn't the universalist but readers who are indocrinated with universalism reading universal truths in great literature because that is one definition of great literature?

I think we can just drop that whole part and argue that Shakespeare's greatness lies in that uncommon language you were talking about.  Resonance doesn't lie in the universal, it lies in the uncommon.

More later.
  
Ron
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27 posted 06-23-2002 09:24 PM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

My best friend in college was a brilliant young man with a seemingly unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Steve was pursuing two degrees and still found time to read self-help books unrelated to any of his classes. I remember a conversation we had, on a long drive to somewhere long since forgotten, almost as if it happened yesterday.

Steve admitted he didn't see much sense in reading fiction. Escapism, he called it. I told him I considered good fiction an extension of living. Learning about the law is great (Steve is now a lawyer in San Diego), and figuring out how to calculate ROI can be rewarding, but nothing will ever replace the importance of understanding people. Without great books and greater writers, life is simply far too short to experience all there is to experience. Fiction allows us to meet people we would never meet, in situations we would never see, living dramas contrived specifically to reveal oft hidden truths.

Steve wasn't much into the subtleties of language, or even beauty for the sake of beauty, but he was very much into Truth and Understanding. People, he knew, were important. I don't think he ever did learn to really enjoy great fiction, but he did learn to read it. Avidly.

Shakespeare, I think, did far more than turn an uncommon phrase or two. Like every great writer before and after, Shakespeare used words to communicate and enlighten the human condition. He created complex characters and helped us to understand them. And in understanding them, we learn to better understand ourselves and our world. Absolute Truths? Probably not. But until man or society changes a lot more than they have in five centuries, they were certainly Universal Truths. Personally, I think there are many writers with a greater command of the language than the Bard. None that I have ever read, however, have a greater or wider or more profound understanding of human nature.

While it's impossible to ever divorce content and language, I think the former must always be elevated above the latter. Too much emphasis on language results in long, rambling pages of beautiful sunset descriptions that go no where and mean nothing. On the other hand, any of Shakespeare's stories could be told in prosaic, even boringly trite English and still have an impact far beyond the words. I think we have a problem in this thread differentiating between language and writing. They are not the same thing. Only when language is wed to meaning does it become writing.

I believe words exist only as a tool. The universe would still exist even if mankind was still grunting with the apes, and it will continue to exist long after the last human is biodegradable sludge. We are not the center of creation, except within our own egocentric minds, nor is the language we developed the fulcrum from which reality is leveraged. It exists only as a tool, an often imperfect tool, that grants us the ability to communicate our understanding to others. Language doesn't define the individual mind so much as it defines the collective mind. It may well be what we are, but it is not who we are.


Brad
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28 posted 06-24-2002 12:42 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Hmmm, if I understand you correctly, Ron, you seem to be saying that the study of language as language or of writing as writing can be done without any semantic content at all. Perhaps this stems from Chomsky's universal grammar theory (syntax sans semantics), but I think he was wrong about that.

When we say language, when we say writing, I think we already include meaning; otherwise we're just talking about noise or scribbles. As you say, you can never divorce content with structure and I fail to see why we should privilege one over the other. I don't think they should be compared at all -- unless by comparison you want to see how these two abstractions interact with each other.

A poem is first and foremost a poem and should be read like that. It's only after it's been read that we start thinking about which was more important, the ideas or the way those ideas are presented.

I've only touched on this, but it's from this premise that I think writing is irreducibly social in nature. That is, when you write something you are intending it to be read (even if only by yourself at some later date). If you read it and destroy it, well, the probably means that you don't want it to be read by someone else.

You've changed your mind.

----------------------------
I also fail to see why we compare fiction or non-fiction; they're trying to do two different things and should be seen in that light. I do not believe that a novel or a poem's quality is dependent on it's verifiable truth value, an historical narrative, on the other hand, is.  When an historical narrative is found to be faulty or to have been surpassed by later research, it moves into the literature genre (Gibon's Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire for example).

I think this is fine.

Steve seems to be a particularly extreme example of what many people believe, and ultimately I think that view is limiting in that it has to be real before it is worthwhile. I think it's more important to concentrate on what a work does to you than on what it gives you in terms of personal knowledge. I agree that language is a tool but it's not a representational tool, it's a tool for coping.

More later -- sorry this wasn't better organized.


Brad
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29 posted 06-24-2002 01:47 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

I've been mentally going through the major characters in Will's stuff and trying to find a universal truth that we can actually talk about.

I don't see it. What do people mean by universal truth and how does that relate to a specific play?

Here's kind of what I've been doing:

1. Romantic Love is a good thing (Romeo and Juliet?)
2. Friendship is important (Henry the IV, pt. 2?
3. Justice cannot be denied (The Merchant of Venice?)
4. Trust your instincts (Hamlet?)
5. Truth is always the best way (Corialanus?)
6. You should follow your destiny (Macbeth?)

Aren't the plays interesting precisely because the characters aren't universal, they are as Ron said, complex and believable even when doing things that are impossible?

I don't know, I've been fighting universals for such a long time that maybe I've forgotten what people are actually talking about.   
Ron
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30 posted 06-24-2002 03:57 AM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

I really don't think we disagree on much, Brad. Except (dare I say it?), a few semantical issues.  

"Meaning" is a word that, obviously, has meaning. But it doesn't really mean a lot. At least not alone. In that sense, I agree that language and writing imply meaning. Yet, in spite of that, I suspect you'd agree that a lot of stories and poems are - what was the phrase you used? - noise or scribbles.

My point about Shakespeare was that eloquence without depth is, well, just eloquence. It's a jingle that's pleasing to the ear, that bounces around inside your head for a time, but is soon forgotten. Had the jingle never been written, there would be no loss. Had Shakespeare not existed, the loss would have been incalculable.

I still think, when you describe writing as a social exercise, that you are unduly assigning motivation to the writer. Interestingly, in an earlier post, you differentiated between "someone who writes a weekly grocery list and someone who gains pleasure from the manipulation of a language." I'm not at all sure that distinction can be so easily assumed, especially if you then include the prerequisite that the latter writes with the intention to be read. I make lists all the time, and often the very act of writing the list commits it to memory and makes the list unnecessary. I never refer to it again. I don't think it unreasonable to assume that stories and poems could be written for the same reason. If lists help us better organize our lives, maybe stories and poems help us to better organize our understanding of life? While I agree that "most" writers intend to be read, and indeed fervently hope to be read, I'm not so sure it's safe to extend that to ALL writers. I'm guessing I have at least a million written words which I will probably never read again and will most certainly never make public. Those words have served their purpose without having ever been read, but just by having been written.

Fiction and non-fiction are, perhaps, less different than you suggest. I free-lanced for fifteen years, with about fifty articles published, and I approached every one of those pieces in the same way I approach fiction. I told a story in order to make something I wanted to say more palatable. Much in the same way I did in my last post with Steve. Similarly, when I write fiction, I research the facts in the story just as if I was writing an article. Not because the facts are what I want to reveal in the story, but because getting those facts wrong will obscure what I want to say. In other words, many of my articles contain partially fabricated anecdotes and all of my stories and poems contain non-fictional props. At some point, the line gets a little blurry. As for fiction's quality being dependent on a verifiable truth, we are in complete agreement - IF you mean historical truth. More on that in a moment.

I think Steve was an extreme example only in the sense that he vocalized why he didn't read fiction. Most don't. I have met far more people, both in business and in school, who either never read or read only what they MUST read, than people who actually enjoy reading. And of those who enjoy reading, most would rather curl up with Harold Robbins than Charles Dickens.

And while I agree it's more important to concentrate on what a work does to you than what it gives you in personal knowledge, I think those two are even more inseparable than language and content. I'm not talking about reading Moby Dick so you can consume the 100 plus pages on the history of whaling. But what the story does to you, unless you're completely comatose, should enrich you in some way and increase your personal knowledge ABOUT YOURSELF. Can a poem or story evoke emotion without also telling you something about yourself?

That brings us back to Shakespeare and universal truth.  

Fiction need not depend on verifiable truth in the historical sense, but I think it very much depends on truth in the larger sense.

For me, the universal truth of fiction revolves around human motivations. Bad writing is when the characters do things so the author can move them closer to the ending he envisions. Good writing is when the characters do exactly what you would expect them to do, given everything you know about them. They follow their own nature, not the whims of the plot. Television and movies lean towards the former, novels lean towards the latter, but almost everything written has some of both. A few really great writers, like Shakespeare, seem to almost let the characters write the ending.

Boy, in reading what I just wrote, I have over-simplified to the point of banality. The universal truths of great fiction are much more complex than just showing that finding out your father was killed by your uncle and mother leads to vengeance and violence. It's in the interweaving of complexity, often in the midst of conflicting motivations, that the truth is found. Simplicity is anathema. If Romeo and Juliet just told us "Romantic love is good," the story could have been written by Daniel Steele. Shakespeare, instead, shows us that romantic love can make a shambles of familial love, while at the same time, the love of a friend (Mercutio) can foolishly bring about the destruction of the romance. The Bard pits love against love against love, and I think the tragedy that ensues teaches us something important about the very nature of human love. Not everyone in Romeo's situation would react as he did. But anyone who FELT as he felt, whether five hundred years ago or today, could really do very little else differently. Therein lies both the universality and the truth.

Of course, if I could REALLY explain it, I'd be writing plays instead of computer programs.  
serenity blaze
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31 posted 06-24-2002 11:56 AM       View Profile for serenity blaze   Email serenity blaze   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for serenity blaze

hmmm...point taken, Brad. Just because I relate to something personally does not make it "universal." Sharon keeps telling me I've led a bit of an "unusual" life...I thought EVERYBODY could relate to lust, suicide, murder, and all the various Shakespearian complexities.

Now, do I STILL have to get a job?

*shudders*



serenity blaze
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32 posted 06-25-2002 05:27 AM       View Profile for serenity blaze   Email serenity blaze   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for serenity blaze

Okay. In the interest of fairness, I decided to perform a small experiment to further explore this issue of "universal truth." So
being also true to my Louisiana heritage, I decided to have a barbecue this evening, and take an opinion poll among my guests. One couple was a retired fisherman and his wife.
My sister also attended. And also on my guest list were three life forms from a distant galaxy. (If you do not believe that, I urge you to attend one of my parties soon--I have a restraining order on a scout for the Jerry Springer show, as he kept "raiding" my barbecues for guests!) As the sun was slowly setting, I brought up our little discussion here and read them the content of this thread. My sister, of course, agreed with ME--but then, she has shared much of my unusual life, so I discounted her as biased. The fisherman suggested that if we wanted to discuss universal truth, we should forget Shakespeare, and discuss Hemingway. (Of course.) His wife simply asked me for another beer. Life form #1 said the question was moot--since as individuals truth is a subjective reality--and protested that the question was illogical and unimportant in the grand scheme of the actual universe (which, "he" pointed out, that he knew far better than a mere human could possibly imagine, just by the simple circumstance of his creation in a petrie dish--he's so arrogant--grrr). The second life form was in agreement with the first. (Smiling, now there's a universal theme...a simple, "I'm with him" will transcend the galaxies, language barriers, and biology.) The third life form, however, is considered an elder (having had experience with the evacuation of no less than three planets due to warfare, and a fourth collided with a meteor) This one did not speak. I mean it literally never speaks. It just waves this antennae-like thing around and places "thought" replies in your mind. I waited, and sure enough, it waved that "thing" in front of me and I instantly felt my mind sort of 'invaded' and the thought, "Who is William Shakespeare?" pervaded my mind. So I dropped my barbecue brush, and ran inside to get my volume of William Shakespeare Classics. I started to read aloud to the elder life form, but got another 'reply.' "The emotion through which you read these words could bias my opinion. Please hand me the information." So I offered my unusual friend the book. The Elder grabbed it with that antennae-like thing (it's kind of gross until you get used to it) and promptly ATE my treasured leather bound copy of William Shakespeare. Now I WAS speechless! The elder then gazed upon me gravely with all five eyes.

With a wave of "antennae" this popped into my mind: "Share this universal truth with your friends. Where there's a "WILL," there's a Way. And do you have another one of those weenies with the cheese in the middle?"


See Brad?           I don't need a job. I AM a job!

*chortle*-*chuckle*-*grin*...

and thanks to RON for inspiring me, with this:

"Fiction need not depend on verifiable truth in the historical sense, but I think it very much depends on truth in the larger sense."


(serenity exits, doing the soft shoe...)


[This message has been edited by serenity (06-25-2002 06:36 AM).]

Brad
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33 posted 06-27-2002 03:43 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

"Meaning" is a word that, obviously, has meaning. But it doesn't really mean a lot."

--I agree, but I'll take a good piece of intentional doggerel over one more 'important' poem, a poem that, while certainly sincere, doesn't say anything new. Perhaps a better word is comprehensible? Certainly, we have a school of thought where meaning can be subordinated and even eliminated to the pure sound of language itself (Basil Bunting says something like this.), but I suspect that the more eloquent it is (as opposed to the more shocking it is), the more people will find meaning there. It may not persuade you, it may not persuade me, but as long as people are willing to take the time to explain it, I'll try to listen and try to 'get it'.

--I contrast this approach with the culture of silence that permeates so much 'elite' views of what poetry is supposed to do -- the 'knowing smile' approach. I suspect many of these listeners or readers are more interested in the clever jingle than they are the synthesis of meaning and sound (and why do we have to synthesize something that was already wedded together in the first place?).

--The problem here is that they assume that if it sounds good, it must be important (In itself, this is fine.), or more importantly they act as if it were important with no attempt to define what that importance is; in fact, they often denigrate those who have the courage to admit that they don't understand or the courage to describe it. I think this is a mistake. Simplistic or not, your attempt to describe Romeo and Juliet was a nice, quick description that shows many of the things I see and that all this talk of universals obscures.    

"I still think, when you describe writing as a social exercise, that you are unduly assigning motivation to the writer." Interestingly, in an earlier post, you differentiated between "someone who writes a weekly grocery list and someone who gains pleasure from the manipulation of a language."

--Perhaps your right, but when someone in the course of a conversation says, 'I write' or 'I'm a writer' I find it hard to believe that he or she doesn't want to share with someone. True, it may not be me and that's okay, but look at Serenity's point about the beads. She may not care if someone dislikes it (she may not care if I like or dislike it), but she makes it very clear that she cares if somebody likes it. I see no difference between that statement and the statement that 'I'm looking for a target audience' and that makes it social.

--I once knew a young woman who told me she wrote, I asked to see her stuff, she said, "No," I asked why, she said, "Because I'm going to be discovered just like Emily Dickinson, I'm not going to be read until I'm gone." Okay, but that belies the question, doesn't it? She wants to be read, she just doesn't want to be read by me and she doesn't want to be read now.

--She also follows the myth of Dickinson. Dickinson did indeed send her work to publishers for assessment.

--As someone who, several years back, spent practically every morning practicing my Chinese characters, I completely understand the use of pen to paper as a mnemonic device, but I'm not going to call myself a writer and I'm not going to say I write as a result. If I said I practiced calligraphy, on the other hand, I think that would open me up to a specifically social intent.  

"the latter writes with the intention to be read."

--I really never saw this as controversial (Go figure, huh?) as I thought I wasn't so much attempting to define writing as an 'objective' thing, but trying to narrow the field to describe that moment when someone says, "I write." I certainly have written more poems than I've ever shown people but that's not because I didn't at one time intend for them to be read as I simply changed my mind (and wish that on a number of poems I had shown that, well, I hadn't.   ).

--So, I guess my question to you Ron is when you were writing those unread stories, those unread poems, was that the intent -- to leave them unread? When I write something, and again by writing I mean the manipulation of language to create something new (stories, poems, essays), I always feel like I'm writing to someone, I have a vague picture in my head of someone 'out there' who will read it. True, there are practicing exercises, there are mnemonic devices, there is writing produced in trance-like states, but, honestly, I don't think that's what people mean when they say, "I write". In fact, the first two points are ways of distancing yourself (Don't judge this as a piece of writing, judge it for it's specific purpose). The third is a more interesting case. While no doubt many will take 'credit' for that writing, won't they also distance themselves by saying, 'that wasn't me, it just happened,' or 'that was my unconscious speaking,' or even, in extreme cases, 'that was someone else writing through me.'

--How can you take credit for something that you won't take responsiblity for?

More later,

Brad

PS Serenity and Toad, not ignoring your comments but it's taken me a couple of days to integrate all that's been said so far and I thought the best point to begin was with some of Ron's points. Believe it or not, I see this a lot more clearly with all that's been said. Whether or not I'm getting my point across is of course your decision.  

[This message has been edited by Brad (06-28-2002 05:35 PM).]

Brad
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34 posted 06-28-2002 07:59 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Continuing:

"Those words have served their purpose without having ever been read, but just by having been written."

--Fair enough, but I see two different points of view here. Again, my question is was that the original purpose of the writing? If so, you don't call it writing (see above), you say, "This was just an exercise," or something like that. If not, you changed your mind and that does nothing to alter my original contention that if you call yourself a writer, you are trying to change something through the manipulation of language. I've changed my wording here so feel free to go after me here but at the same time, I never said that changing the world would work in the way you want to change the world. All things have unintended consequences.

--If you're not quite sure, I think this is one aspect of what those crazy French (and Austrian) writers are talking about when they say that we necessarily must forget things in order to continue to do other things. I see what they say as a description, not a prescription, not that we should forget our original intentions but that our multiple intentions can confuse us so much that we stop doing anything.

--And at the same time, Serenity, this is why we can't poll people here to find the right answer (human or otherwise), I'm attempting to look at certain assumptions that I think are mistaken. But those assumptions are second nature to most people, they aren't questioned as they allow people to ask the questions that they usually ask (which necessarily means that they don't ask others). And still at the same time, there are plenty of things one can point to to 'prove' one's second nature. When I see this (based on my own assumptions of course), I try to look at it twice, I try to question the ability to make the question so to speak, to see where it comes from, to see if more useful things might come out of this examination. I can't prove it, I can only try to explain it in different ways and hope that some see what I'm getting at.

--The original motivation for this post and the tangents that have followed was the irony of demanding credit for what a certain author has done (even if he himself would probably laugh ) and the general understanding that most people also relinquish a certain responsibilty for that work (This is quite different, of course, than taking responsibility for those who react to your work). Specifically, I was thinking about what it means to say, "I write to write" and what that means for a socially situated individual who knows that everything that he or she writes, as long as it's not copying, can only be a manipulation of what has come before, a complete reinvention would not be writing, a creation of a full blown language that no one else knew would also not be writing. We have the Tolkien example of course but his language is not as 'new' as a new language now is it?

And "Jabberwocky" is not as meaningless as some would have you believe.

From this inevitability of influence (allusion to Bloom's "anxiety" fully intended), doesn't it seem strange that so few people seem to completely deny it, to ignore it, to still demand credit for writing the same thing in the same way as someone else?

The easy way out is to argue insecurity (and assertion and dismissal are just as easily symptoms of this as shyness and silence), but that neglects the fact that Ron is right again -- we're juggling a hell of a lot of balls here. It neglects the fact that we're all insecure. Part of this insecurity stems from issues we've already discussed -- the lack of clear and agreed upon rules and the mistaken belief that vague rules (or tendencies) mean that anything goes. But part of this insecurity also comes from the inherently social nature of writing itself because even when the rules are clear, even when no rules have been broken, we still see, sometimes, people getting angry at other people for losing a game of golf.

Again, the easy way out is to argue a kind of Social-Darwinism, we're all in a permanent competition, even with ourselves. This is useful up to a point but I still think we can go a bit further (or go back a bit further -- I'll end this comment with a quote to make that clearer.).

Back to writing, let's assume two types of writers: one who denies influence and one who recognizes influence. I assert that the first denies influence in order to assume an identity (from the heart), and I assert that the one who recognizes influence desperately tries to create an identity (from the head). If I have time, I'll try to make this clearer but for now, if you remember my first post, I hope you can see why I find this hilarious. Because in order for that creation to happen it has to be recognized as new, as different, as interesting. Remember, he or she already recognizes that they are being influenced, so how do they know when in fact they have a bonafide specific identity?

When they see what they've done influences others.

Anyway, the quote I was thinking about comes from a speech by Michel Foucault:

"But to truly escape Hegel involves an exact appreciation of the price we have to pay to detach ourselves from him. It assumes that we are aware to the extent to which Hegel, insiduiously perhaps, is close to us; it implies a knowledge, in that which permits us to think against Hegel, of that which remains Hegelian.  We have to determine the extent to which our anti-Hegeliansim is possibly one of his tricks directed against us, at the end of which he stands, motionless, waiting for us."

--The irony, to me, of my original post is nothing more than seeing that heart and head poets are still, in a certain sense, doing the same thing.


 
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