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A Reflection on Home

It is, therefore, a source of great virtue for the practised mind to learn, bit by bit, first to change about the invisible and transitory things, so that afterwards it may be able to leave them behind altogether.  The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land.  The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong man has extended his love to all places; the perfect man has extinguished his.

- Hugo of St. Vincent

                       

It certainly can’t be the case that politeness is key for every situation because I have found throughout my life that there were some situations where it absolutely was untenable to give someone a smile and a Coke.

In fact, I think it is a parliamentary procedure inserted into the fabric of daily interactions by those who worship the spirit of administration and can rightly be called with most a most despicable accent a “liberal” who feels so much emotion but believes in absolutely nothing.

Having gone through the bedlam of university-directed theater and musical production, I can say that directors have to be assholes sometimes and that there is nothing the polity police can do about it because it a necessary part of the game.

You must exert some sort of resistance.  I digress…

Four humors in medieval Europe: choleric, phlegmatic, melancholy and sanguine. You have an imbalance of one and bad stuff happens in your constitution.  Any amount of time spent on this concept will at least reach strong argument that to be a balanced human being you have to have a balanced personality.

Now, when did even showing an inkling of choleric sensibility become anathema?

In fact, the hands and feet that create buildings and constructed the pyramids as well as those worthy figures known as mothers and fathers (I speak of those on top of their duties, of course) who create an ecosystem of order within the household and beyond demonstrate the fine organizing principle of a well-executed choleric “fit”. I say “fit” because the expression of a choleric mannerism is by no means chaotic but a reigning in of the chaos of disorder that can be manifested in laziness or all-too-conciliatory behavior.

Some folks will get away with murder because no one’s there to shout them down.

This is neither beneficial for the people abused by the offending party or the offending party itself.

You develop as a human being because you come up against something that doesn’t agree with you and you either recognize that you must plow through it or you recognize that the image your projecting onto the nasty nasty world is really a mirror.

Somebody sometimes needs to punch you in the face.

I don’t prescribe violence, but I do prescribe a balanced society.  As Walter Benjamin has noted, there is such a thing as righteous violence.  Although my opinion on the use of violence is yet to reach shore, I feel that sometimes that only way to move things forward is with a strong push.

Of course, as Edward Said notes, interpretation has much to do with how you interpret as from where you interpret.

                       

Yesterday I forgot to write a blog for 30 Days of Write. I knew what I wanted to write about but I was caught up in the day and the subject evaporated into the ether.

Last night I heard Elizabeth Gilbert on the radio talking about genius, about how genius was once considered not something that an individual possessed within them (like a soul or spirit) but a daemon, a spirit that lived with the artist and whispered inspiration in their ears. (Sort of like a groundling muse).

Gilbert said that the common assumption that art leads to suffering and that artists must draw forth inspiration from the soil of themselves until their desiccated like dust bowl earth is wrong and harmful.

She said that thinking of genius as something that we could interact with, talk to, and argue with was something that might help navigate the problems many young (and old) artists deal with.

She related a story Tom Waits told her of a revelation he had while driving through Los Angeles and a musical hook reverberated through his head.  He looked up to the sky and said, “Do you mind?  I’m driving.  Come back at a better time.”

The whole struggle with the capricious nature of ideas that seem to pass in and out of the person like a leaf blowing across a landscape is often seen as a personal fault when the ideas escape into supposed oblivion.

Instead, Gilbert said, one should think of the idea as something coming from outside one.  To not bother oneself with the worry of holding on to something that doesn’t have the decency to come at an opportune hour.

The blog idea that hit me hit me on a day where I had not the availability to sit down at the computer, but I don’t want to deal with an idea that doesn’t give me the respect I deserve. 

I’ll write on my own damn time thank you very much and I’ll enjoy it all the same.

Yet, the problem of the undone work still haunts, the unexpressed world that lingered for a while and left.

But I don’t believe it’s such a bad thing.  In essence, what happens is an expression of ultimate artistic expression: silence.  After a truly great work of art, silence will fill a room like water.  It may only last a few moments. Duration is not of a concern, but the density of silence can be felt all the same.

Perhaps this is the best way to deal with a cyber-organism like the internet, something that thrives on constant interaction and stimulation - something that we have grown to emulate as we ride buses, sit in waiting rooms and lie by ourselves on our bed…while we finger apps on the iPhone, listen to random playlists, watch movies on our Androids and constantly need the infill of conversation whether it has substance or not.

The fear of being.  The void that Martin Heidegger, Edward Said and William Spanos ask(ed) us to consider not negatively as we have been instructed…but positively.  The nothing, the dark, the silence as a positive organism…one which acts against the incessant chatter that while seemingly made of somethingness has no substance.

So, I’m glad I forgot my blog.  My online self was silence and, I believe, finally said something of worth.

A Reflection on Discussing Literature

roundtable

As a teacher’s assistant and graduate student at a respected university in the northeast, it often enters my mind the futility of talking about literature.

After all, I’ve overheard the conversations of students in the sciences and many of them seem to accomplish so much more (just finished designing a program for a cell phone app, created a website for cross-referencing social networking sites and geographical locations of individuals with like interests, etc.) and I compare it to what I accomplished for the week (just finished discussing the importance of reading Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky contrapuntally to include the voice of the colonized, wrote a paper identifying American Exceptionalism in Jack London’s The Sea Wolf, did a close reading of Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”, etc.).

Just last evening a friend of mine exclaimed that he had no idea why he was here. (Not existential really.  He meant grad school.)

I told him that, often, I wonder if the strong feeling I and other students express towards literature in class is really genuine.  After all, are my students really upset that the Duke of Gloucester might have mentally raped Lady Anne?  Are they going to take that with them over the weekend and torture themselves with what this disgusting literary character got away with?

Does it bother me that Captain Delano doesn’t see the fact that the ship coming into port has actually been usurped by Caribbean slaves because he assumes the African race isn’t intelligent enough to mastermind so complex a plan?

Not really.

So, it’s all a play then, right?  We’re in class pretending like we care about these things?

It doesn’t bother me that we’re playing, but we are, aren’t we?

The ideas of modern literary critics like Edward Said, William Spanos and Gayatri Spivak is (more or less) that the critic, the teacher is a “witness”.  That literature is a social phenomenon, arguing against the aesthetically-removed sons and daughters of I.A. Richards and the New Criticism school who argue that literature is self-sustainable, that it must be studied contrapuntally with the time in which it was written.

It’s critic Harold Bloom’s nightmare as this sort of criticism, in his most conservative view, ends in the nebulous realm of cultural studies that (he believes) is dismantling the importance of literature studies in the Western world.

Why do we discuss literature, still?  I thought things were only like this at universities below the golden thrones of the Ivy League, but Columbia University discusses literature in the same way as Bow-Tie Bumpkin University of College in Sticksville America.  It all centers around a bunch of people gathering about a table and asking, “What do you think?”

Is it worthwhile?

It depends.  People like talking about music, people have blogs to discuss movies and soft drinks and sex and fishing…to say something is trivial, that something doesn’t matter, takes the gusto out of a lot of the technical, scientific matter that seems to accomplish so much.

After all, what’s facebook if not literature, music, movies and otherwise fluff.

The difference between the round table discussion of literature at a graduate school and the social network site is very small, but it’s an orientation; it’s a desire, in many cases, to become better thinkers and better adjudicators of society and the direction society appears to be heading.

Just tonight I listened to Johnathan Franzen, after he read ten pages from Freedom, answer an audience member’s question of what his book might be trying to say.  More or less he said that he didn’t feel he had to answer that question, that the point of literature was that we took it in and sat with it, that it complicated life and we allowed it to.  Because we wanted someone to.  We needed things not to be as simple as we sometime think they are.