One sees geniuses and masterpieces in the making in precisely the same manner. It matters little that geniuses and masterpieces are themselves built in entirely incongruous ways.
There is only so much knowledge that a man can take with him to the grave. There will come a time when every man searching for knowledge must discover this truth for himself—that most of the books he reads will be repeating things he has either already read or articulating things he has already thought and observed many times in his solitude. Some men will be satisfied enough to take solace in those books which agree with those ideas they came to on their own. But a man actually wishing to learn, not one who wishes to collect a great deal of erudition or appear learned, but a man who actually wishes tolearn, will have to understand means of learning. He will have to figure out what his project is, first of all, and then how to search for its necessary materials. He must be a great intuiter of men’s minds, a great untangler of precepts and must constantly cultivate a clear-headed way of taking in even the most abstract concepts, all so he can retrieve it and figure out where to place it in the bigger scheme of his life. Only by doing this will it be possible to take any project further.
Many have tried to discover from where it is that the artistic impulse finds its birth. Over-abundance of energy, intoxication or delirium itself, night dreams of waking images transcribed through the imagination—perhaps it is all or none of these. We are probably no closer to understanding the mechanics of the artistic impulse than we were four centuries ago. It is merely something that passes through us or which we pass through.
Many thinkers have tried to develop aesthetic theories and trace perimeters around those impulses that are responsible for art. Science has little to say about art, save where it agrees with psychology that art is some sort of post-primordial aberration of sentience.
In their insecurity over their own beliefs or exhaustion with the beliefs of others, many artists have espoused an art-for-art-sake ideal while others have turned art into a holy sanctuary where ‘the story’ or ‘the meaning’ or the ‘moral’ might shine through, progressing the pilgrim of their means to an end which all can understand. Provincial literatures democratically provide us with the opportunity to see what it is about people belonging to specific demographics that make them more interesting than you.
What most art shares in common is the sense of project—that there is a structure with a means and end if not a means to an end.
What is experimental literature, in most cases, but a pastiche of means to one end? Where does the experiment, the formal unfamiliarity, finally grace the reader with familiarity? The experiment, especially in literature, may possess the ability to grant a feeling offamiliarity in a non-literary way, as it is with writers who try to write in ways that more accurately reflect ‘consciousness’ (to say nothing of the great many who have failed).
Most cases of experimental art refuse to let the subject become an instrument of the end, but rather, mix him into the very paint, the very mud of the text in order that the means might come through in a way that, while distorted, is meant to be absorbed in a more ‘lifelike’ way. The bizarre techniques of Joyce, say, better acquaint us with everyday situations by the very fact that they are represented in a totally alien manner.
April 13, 2014