Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Toni Morrison on Writing What You Know

Toni Morrison: 'When I taught creative writing at Princeton, my students had been told all of their lives to write what they knew. I always began the course by saying, “Don’t pay any attention to that.” First, because you don’t know anything and second, because I don’t want to hear about your true love and your mama and your papa and your friends. Think of somebody you don’t know. What about a Mexican waitress in the Rio Grande who can barely speak English? Or what about a Grande Madame in Paris? Things way outside their camp. Imagine it, create it. Don’t record and editorialize on some event that you’ve already lived through.'

Monday, March 23, 2015

Art is the Technology of the Self

Science proves that humans require Art. Without the surrealist films we dream while sleeping, we go insane. (see 1)

Humanity is learned. The humanities are how we learn it. (see 2 also see 3)

We go to war every day for metaphors like Freedom and God. But many artists agree with Auden that "Poetry makes nothing happen."

Art is our best tool for redefining ourselves. We change by reading ourselves, also known as overhearing. (see 4)

We have the science to save or destroy the world. We find the apocalypse easier to imagine. (see 5)

Art is the technology of the self.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Fiction in the Contemporary World

"We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind—mass merchandising, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the instant translation of science and technology into popular imagery, the increasing blurring and intermingling of identities within the realm of consumer goods, the preempting of any free or original imaginative response to experience by the television screen. We live inside an enormous novel. For the writer in particular it is less and less necessary for him to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer's task is to invent the reality." —J.G. Ballard, CRASH (1974)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Notes Toward a Longer Essay on Kundera

For a long time I’ve marveled at the structure of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Only recently did I understand, in the course of writing recursive algorithms at my technology job, that Kundera’s masterpiece is a recursive novel, looping back through events in the characters’ lives repeatedly. I should have realized that long ago, because TULOB takes as its foremost theme the notion of eternal return.

Eternal return is Nietzsche’s statement of the idea that events repeat themselves endlessly, finishing and starting again from the first moment. This possibility, like identical Big Bangs causing the Universe to expand and contract the same way forever, would make our lives’ every moment inevitable and impossibly weighty and ponderous. But if everything only happens once, Kundera posits, then our lives become the opposite, unbearably fleeting, meaningless, and light.

TULOB’s structure follows the dictates of this theme, and of Kundera’s play with the contrast between light and heavy.  The last of the novel’s seven sections, focused on the couple’s dog, unfolds after the deaths of its protagonists have already been described. Yet that section covers incidents preceding their deaths.

In interviews, the author has acknowledged a desire to mimic Anna Karenina, which also continues for a long section after its protagonist’s demise. But Kundera’s return to the couple’s lives through canine eyes recasts the final movement with a lighter atmosphere than Tolstoy’s ending section. Kundera finds a more playful poignancy and a more innocent aspect than his predecessor.

Maybe the weight of what TULOB depicts is so great that, unlike Anna Karenina’s community-centered  final section, the Communist-era book requires a shift of perspective to a simpler species to reduce the heaviness.

The dog’s name in TULOB is Karenin.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Play the Blues, Punk!

A guitarist for 25 years, I have been learning about music my whole life. Fairly recently I've come back to country music, a form I only appreciated occasionally when growing up in Texas. But the blues has always been essential to me and I'm now trying to understand if I need two different projects to create my vision in each of these genres.
No other art form matches the power of the greatest songs, for me at least. Some that do it for me are The Missing Heart by Dwight Yoakam, Better World by The Rave-Ups (led by the great Jimmer Podrasky) and Death Letter Blues by Son House. Also Come On In My Kitchen by Robert Johnson, along with his Hellhound on My Trail. The greatest songs haunt me in ways I want to be haunted.

My new blog on this subject is American Sounds.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Gary Snyder on poets/writers' role

The function of the poet is to determine what part of our mythology is valuable in the present era.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Why I Love Calculus

Calculus is the mathematics that, among those I know, is most like metaphor. It describes longing in its approach to limits that are never achieved, it describes the imperfect analogy of anything to anything else in a similar way.
It grabs the world by a parameter, and derives what it can. And so much more too.