Workstudy

“The hardest thing in the world to do is to write straight honest prose on human beings. First you have to know the subject; then you have to know how to write. Both take a lifetime to learn…”

                                                                               –Ernest Hemingway

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They have the numbers—

“The idea that all cultural expressions are equal has been fostered, not surprisingly, by women and minorities. Just as Americans in general have felt more confident in their grasp of contemporary culture than of its classical antecedents predating our nationhood, so those Americans who were historically excluded from the mainstream of tastemaking now feel more comfortable with seeing their traditional crafts and pursuits elevated to the status of art than they do with trying to master established art forms. In truth, some of these crafts have much to recommend them. I collect vintage examples of weaving; I find the blues irresistible; I have always liked square dancing. But these are lesser forms of art than, say, oil painting and opera and ballet, because the techniques are less arduous and less demanding of long learning, the underlying symbolic language is less complicated, the range of expression is less profound, and the worship of beauty is muddied by the lower aims of community fellowship. Above all, these arts are less intellectual—less cerebral, less abstract, less of a test. The prevailing popular notion that high culture is hard brain-work is, in fact, true. That is part of its point, not necessarily to exclude the less able but certainly to challenge them to stretch themselves and to heighten their learning.

American popular culture does not embrace this certification of art as work. Indeed, the word art is rarely used at all. The preferred signifier is the word entertainment, which correctly conveys that the aspirations are generally escapist, nostalgic, or anodyne. Entertainment promises to make you feel better, to help you forget your troubles, to liberate you from having to think. Even when entertainment touches deep feelings, it does so as a gesture of reassurance, a combination of sentiment and sloganeering. This is what most people say they want, and the market lets them have it, without anyone in a position of intellectual or social leadership telling them that they should ask more of themselves—and might benefit thereby.”

                                                        –William A. Henry III, In Defense of Elitism

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All the bells say: too late.

“A country which is supposed to be built on dissent, built on the value of the individual, now distrusts dissent at least as much as any totalitarian government can and debases the individual in many ways because it places security and money above the individual; and when these things are cultivated and honored in the country, no matter what else it may have, it is in danger of perishing, because no country can survive, it cannot survive, without a patient, active responsibility for all its citizens.

We have begun to see what happens to a country when it is run according to the rules of a popularity contest; we have begun to see that we ourselves are for more dangerous for ourselves than Khrushchev or Castro.”

                                      –James Baldwin, “What Price Freedom?” (1964)

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Minor Loss of Fidelity

“Life used exactly as it is, is never good enough for fiction.”

                                                        –Charles Jackson

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Riddle

“It has become a member of the family, telling its stories patiently, compellingly, untiringly. Few parents, teachers, or priests can compete with its vivid demonstrations of what people of all kinds are like and how society works.”

                                                                                         –George Gerbner

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Novation

“If only they were allowed some freedom, if only they could exercise an individual voice….

If only. These protests have about them an engaging period optimism, depending as they do upon the Rousseauean premise that most people, left to their own devices, think not in clichés but with originality and brilliance; that most individual voices, once heard, turn out to be voices of beauty and wisdom. I think we would all agree that a novel is nothing if it is not the expression of an individual voice, of a single view of experience—and how many good or even interesting novels, of the thousands published, appear each year? I doubt that more can be expected of the motion-picture industry.”

                                                                                           –Joan Didion

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Flicker, Twitch

“We are all limited in our freedom by the capacity to hurt other people.”

                 –Peter France

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Imperious Unity

“We see the depth, the smoothness, the softness, the hardness of objects; Cézanne even claimed that we see their odor. If the painter is to express the world, the arrangement of his colors must carry with it this invisible whole, or else his picture will only hint at things and will not give them in the imperious unity, the presence, the insurpassable plenitude which is for us the definition of the real. That is why each brush stroke must satisfy an infinite number of conditions. Cézanne sometimes pondered for hours at a time before putting down a certain stroke, for, as Bernard said, each stroke must ‘contain the air, the light, the object, the composition, the character, the outline, and the style.’ Expressing what exists is an endless task.”

                                                                                                 –Merleau-Ponty

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Matters

“There seem to be three levels of readership: at the bottom, those who go after ‘human interest’; in the middle, the people who want ideas, packaged thought about Life and Truth; at the top, the proper readers, who go for style.”
                                                                                                  –Vladimir Nabokov
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