Saturday, April 23, 2011

How Shakespeare Made Me Doubt Assigned Reading

I come to praise Shakespeare, not bury him, despite what this title might suggest.

I arrived at this topic because I'm told April 23 is the day of both his birth and his death. This isn't the first time I've used the crutch of the calendar for a blog topic, and it won't be the last. We all need some form of structure.

I have strong doubts about the effectiveness of assigned reading. I wrote earlier on how literature seems to thrive when people try to marginalize it. Though I love the works that get discussed in esteemed places like Harold Bloom's The Western Canon , I remain highly skeptical of forcing read lists onto people. I even offer recommendations with trepidation. Shakespeare is partly responsible for this.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Confessions of an Ignorant Gamer

So this has been a week of admitting my ignorance. Here I wrote on George R.R. Martin. Now, I move on to video games.

In Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter, Steven Johnson praises video games for their complexity and cognitive challenges. He adds:
comparing these games to The Iliad or The Great Gatsby or Hamlet relies on a false premise: that the intelligence of these games lies in their content, in the themes and characters they represent.
I don't often (ever?) play video games, but I found myself agreeing with Johnson's analysis. While many abstain from video games because they consider them passive, simplistic or brain numbing, I'm the opposite. I've never immersed myself in video games precisely because of their complexity. They demanded more than I had to offer. I lacked the patience for that type of learning curve.

So my PS3 controller functions only as a poor remote control, and I contribute to video game discussions only when they focus on Tecmo Super Bowl.

Have I made a poor decision? Feel free to scold me on what I've been missing... Anyone else care to offer admissions of ignorance? Or "bad" things that are really good?
Everything Bad is Good for You

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Is Walking Just Another Word for Car Trouble?

Since spring has arrived, I offer some praise of walking:

"Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts..." - Soren Kierkegaard 

"Only those thoughts that come by walking have any value." - Friedrich Nietzsche 

"Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around a lake." - Wallace Stevens  

Does anyone still enjoy walking? Does it improve your thought, outlook or creativity? Hinder it? Do it for the dog, but reluctantly? Does my praise of walking suggest I'm teamed up with Claritin to boost sales of allergy meds? (Pretty sure I've believed each of these at some point in the last month.)

The Essential KierkegaardThe Portable Nietzsche (Portable Library)Wallace Stevens : Collected Poetry and Prose (Library of America)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Do the Work: Myths, Muses, Homer, Resistance, Assistance

Steven Pressfield (The War of Art) today released Do the Work, his newest e-book (currently free to download on Amazon). It intends to inspire, challenge and scare those involved in creative pursuits.

An early mention of Homer caught my attention:
Homer began both The Iliad and The Odyssey with a prayer to the Muse. The Greek's greatest poet understood that genius did not reside within his fallible, mortal self -- but came to him instead from some source that he could neither command nor control, only evoke.
This might sound like it's wandering down a well-trod New Age path, but Pressfield's mysticism is not a mushy mysticism. Following the "Do the Work" title with invocations of the muse reflects a balance between the mythic and the mundane. Myths contain truths, but -- and this sets Pressfield apart from inspirational New Ageism -- these truths are not all kind truths.

Strongest of all is the Resistance, a universal "force of nature."
The first principle of Resistance is that there is an enemy... The universe is not indifferent. It is actively hostile.
The Muse allows one to identify the enemy, but not to conquer the enemy. Myths point to unsolvable problems. Attacking these problems directly and repeatedly is the only solution ("Do the Work").
The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew each day.
Definitive answers never arrive pre-packaged, but, for the creator, there's always something to fight for.

Do the WorkThe War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

In search of ideas that expand, not ideas that contract.

In an interview with the Paris Review, Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles) notes:
Ideas excite me, and as soon as I get excited, the adrenaline gets going and the next thing I know I’m borrowing energy from the ideas themselves. 
Yet all ideas do not function this way. Earlier I spoke about filtering ideas, building upon Stephen King's claim that the good ideas are the ones we remember without writing them down. Some commenters agreed with King, others admitted to jotting everything down.

Remembering ideas is only the first step. A clever note is of little use if it doesn't lead somewhere exciting. Or worse, misfit ideas can lead one astray. Most have encountered ideas that seem to drain rather than provide energy. Creators get constrained by genre, or concept, or planned outcome. They get weakened by expectations that do not serve the work. (This is not an aimed shot at genre, as visions of artistic greatness provide just as many energy-sucking ideas.)

Much of writer's block may be a focus on ideas that contract rather than expand. Ideas that push toward an unwanted expectation rather than a discovery of something unexpected (but not unexamined).

Bradbury's answer to finding these expanding ideas lies in making himself "[a] conglomerate heap of trash," a reference to his varied influences. A collision of old ideas enables the new.

And since it's been a tough year for libraries, I'll end on a final note from Bradbury's interview in which he praises them:
I’m completely library educated... I discovered me in the library.
 From the libraries of our past, we collect the ideas that will expand our outlook and our output.

Fahrenheit 451Something Wicked This Way ComesBradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales

Monday, April 18, 2011

The kid who didn't do his homework...

I haven't read or seen A Game of Thrones so I feel (justifiably) left out of the conversation today. Anyone want to talk baseball or basketball? Or old things that are not so cool?

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones 4-Book Boxed Set: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, and A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Can Bad Predictions Lead to Great Writing?

In an NPR interview, Cormac McCarthy (The Road, Blood Meridian) talks about art, science and pessimism.
I'm pessimistic about a lot of things, but as Lawrence has quoted me as saying, there's no reason to be miserable about it... The other thing we talked about a few minutes ago was how bad we are at prognostications. So the fact that I take a pretty dreary view of the future is cheering because I think, you know, the chances are that I'm wrong.
McCarthy's The Road and No Country for Old Men are known for their bleakness, and both (to me) are more optimistic than his earlier Blood Meridian. In the interview, they discuss hoping that The Road is wrong in its predictions, but there's no sense that it being proved wrong would decrease its artistic impact (nor do they rely on the easy out that it provides a 'warning').

The refusal to insist on prophecy frees up creativity.

McCarthy later continues:
If you look at classical literature, the core of literature is the idea of tragedy, and that's - you know, you don't really learn much from the good things that happen to you. 
Speculative fiction has been pretty terrible at predicting literal futures, but quite a bit better at predicting emotional and psychological futures. Franz Kafka is a canonical example. Borges. William Gibson.

Uncertainty can free writers in other ways. Ex-agent and current social media guru Nathan Bransford declared trends "pointless to worry about," because no one knows where things are going.

Accepting our bad predictions frees us from pessimism, while allowing us to: "Try again. Fail again. Fail better." (Samuel Beckett)

Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the WestFranz Kafka: The Complete StoriesLabyrinths (New Directions Paperbook)
Web Analytics