Art, Religion and Politics

In April of 2004, I went through a life experience. My debut play Farewell To Eden, which had premiered at UVSC, and then had been chosen by the Kennedy Center’s American College Theater Festival’s Festival to be one of ten plays throughout California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Hawaii and Guam to compete for a chance at the national festival. Continue reading “Art, Religion and Politics”

The Importance of Being Ironic, Part Two

This is the second part of a two part series on irony.  The first part may be found here.  Irony is by nature a boundless subject, and while the temptation to go on and on about it is compelling (for a ironophile like myself), this will do for the blogging moment.  References for Part One and Part Two can be found at the end of this post. 

When we find ourselves to be irony’s dupes, we experience the sudden revelation the joke thrusts upon us: we are caught in the act, or the rug is pulled out from under us, or there is a box in a box in a box, all attractively wrapped but containing at the center nothing, or the center might not be in the middle of things. Somehow we made the wrong choice or invested wholly in an incomplete idea. Thus we gain the pleasure of experiencing subsequent, perhaps inevitable rewards for our wrongheadness. Continue reading “The Importance of Being Ironic, Part Two”

The Importance of Chapbooks

After my post a week ago on the launch of a poetry chapbook, William commented:

Considering what a large role chapbooks play in the larger poetry community, I’m a bit suprised that there haven’t been more published for the Mormon literary market (even as small as it is).[see comment]

In response, I promised this post on Chapbooks and what their role is and can be. Continue reading “The Importance of Chapbooks”

The West, Stegner, Mormon Lit

I live once again in the western United States. I have shortly lived elsewhere, two years in Brazil, two years in Maryland, but the west is home. I knew this for certain crossing the plains by car last fall. Around the same time, I read Wallace Stegner’s Big Rock Candy Mountain. Continue reading “The West, Stegner, Mormon Lit”

Billy Collins on Mormon Literature

How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer
wandering her cities and ascending her torrid hill towns.
How much better to cruise these local, familiar streets,
fully grasping the meaning of every road sign and billboard
and all the sudden hand gestures of my compatriots.

Those five lines, the first stanza of Billy Collins’ poem “Consolation,” introduce him as well as any might. Collins is not afraid of being appreciated by ordinary people, he uses humor to illuminate more weighty subjects, he is at once beguiling and profound. Continue reading “Billy Collins on Mormon Literature”

Criticism: Why Poets Need Logic

Poets need logic for the same reason poets need some mastery of form. By crafting poetry within the discipline of poetic forms, poets gain proficiency in the full range of their art from arranging the barest stones of syntax to constructing soaring edifices of odes, sonnets, even free verse. Or we may compare the poet’s learning form to a singer’s practicing of musical scales, which the singer does so that among other things s/he may gain the accuracy and stamina enabling her/him to perform within the full range of her/his vocal gifts. The singer lives in musical constructs; the poet lives in linguistic constructs. Learning form is the responsibility of anyone who accepts the poet’s calling just as learning basic musical technique is the responsibility of any musician aspiring to competence.

Logic, or reasoning, is also form, form for thought. In fact, any given metaphor may be understood as an inductive argument carrying within a contingent of implicit assumptions. For example, when Robert Burns, says

O, my Luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June.
O, my Luve’s like a melody,
That’s sweetly play’d in tune …

he argues via similes either that his beloved (capital “L”), his feelings of love, or both possess qualities similar to those a red rose and a well-played melody possess. The effectiveness of his argument depends upon the reasonableness of several unstated assumptions, one of which lies at the root of all metaphors: if a thing can be demonstrated to share qualities with some other thing, then those two things may be said to be like each other. The poem’s rhyme scheme, meter, and use of repetition are elements of poetic form and, traditionally, may be judged for their effectiveness, but like any other argument the quality of the poet’s reasoning must also remain open to debate.

In The Republic, Plato finds reason and poetry incompatible, as far as poetry is practiced in his time. He does not think poetry promotes understanding because he believes that most poetry manipulates audiences by arousing inappropriate emotions. Furthermore, poetry, by virtue of its being an imitation of the world which is itself an imitation of the Ideal, necessarily takes up its position twice removed from truth. He takes poetry to task for being superficial and uninformed; furthermore, poetry appears unconcerned about its superficiality and so is dangerous to the human soul and to human strivings toward reason.

What Plato calls poetry Ezra Pound calls “bad art,” and Pound’s ideas about what to do with it are similar to Plato’s. “Bad art,” Pound says in his essay, “The Serious Artist,”

is inaccurate art. It is art that makes false reports. If a scientist
falsifies a report either deliberately or through negligence we
consider him as either a criminal or a bad scientist according to
the enormity of his offence, and he is punished or despised accordingly.
If an artist falsifies his report as to the nature of man, as to his own
nature, as to the nature of his ideal of the perfect, as to the nature of
his ideal of this, that, or the other, of god, if god exists, of the life force
of the nature of good and evil, if good and evil exist, of the force with
which he believes or disbelieves this, that, or the other, of the degree in
which he suffers or is made glad; if the artist falsifies his report on these
matters or on any other matter in order that he may conform to the taste
of his time, to the properties of a sovereign, to the conveniences of a
preconceived code of ethics, then that artist lies. If he lies out of
deliberate will to lie, if he lies out of carelessness, out of laziness, out of
cowardice, out of any sort of negligence whatsoever, he nevertheless lies
and he should be punished or despised in proportion tothe seriousness of
his offence.

In comparing the report of the creative artist to the report of the scientist, Pound places art in the same logical arena as science, where rightly it belongs. Poets need logic for the same reason scientists need logic: to tell accurate stories about human inquiry and experience.

Some hold reason to be dangerous to the creative energies that characterize poetry and its creators, the poets. Reason, it is argued, robs the muse, strips her of her shining, iridescent garments, savages her inspirational person, and leaves her lying in a ditch, bereft of all that made her lively and desirable. The same thinking arises in assertions that reason applies unfair and unhealthy pressure upon religious belief. It seems that like Midas’s touch, logic destroys every dainty it handles, which in Midas’s case amounted to everything he loved.

That some artists cast reasoning in such a villainous role suggests that 1) such artists may be ascribing the failings of poor reasoning to all reasoning, and 2) such artists may imagine the qualities of creativity to be static in nature, i.e., unchanging, once established. In the first case, projecting the qualities of poor reasoning onto all reasoning is itself unreasonable and hardly justifies throwing out logic’s vigorous baby with her offending bath water. In the second case of a belief, once imagined, next imagining itself unassailable and unchangeable, such a position seems incompatible with the meaning of the word “creativity” and points more toward fundamentalist thought wherein the adherent holds as sacred some ideal and rigidly embraces it regardless of the quality of any and all challenges to the ideal’s validity. Such fundamentalism may even ascribe evil to perceived challenges so to reject them out of hand.

Good art avoids any form of fundamentalism that holds beliefs unassailable by virtue of their being beliefs, and no artist should rest contented within any personal fundamentalism whereby his/her art is held sacred in stasis. In the course of being put to the proof, good art ought to show itself transcendent enough to offer itself up, die then resurrect in better embodiments, both communally and in the strivings of the individual artist. Art that fights to hold on to its philosophical, political, or spiritual position against all suggestions or evidence of contrary ideas becomes mere personal, political, or cultural propaganda. In its urgency to avoid death it abides self-imposed unconsciousness regarding its failings; that is, it accepts as good its own spiritual death.

Someday–soon, hopefully–the concept that the human brain is struggling to continue its evolution will be taken for granted. Then it will become common understanding that as the physical brain goes, so goes human consciousness, and that developing consciousness likewise alters the brain. In Plato’s rejection of poets we can see the careful language of a newly emergent level of consciousness struggling to take responsibility for newly forming relationships with truth, or with what is and what is possible. Thus it is right that Plato rejects the bad art of his time as being castles built on clouds of lesser levels of consciousness and lower tiers of reasoning. His arguments that bad art manipulates audiences into maintaining or regressing to lower levels of consciousness are sound.

Good poetry delights through its skill in using poetic and linguistic forms; likewise, good poetry, indeed all good art, raises consciousness in audiences through sound reasoning. Good art ought to satisfy communal needs for reason and beauty in edifying proportions. If in the course of creating art the artist’s own consciousness rises to a new realization of the truth of his/her being in the world, all the better. All art ought to be as open to judgement upon its rationality as it is to appraisal of its success in using relevant forms. No art, including that which calls itself art on the basis of fundamental rights of freedom of expression, should imagine itself to be above argument.