“It is indeed becoming more and more difficult, even senseless, for me to write in official English. And more and more my own language appears to me like a veil that must be torn apart in order to get at the things, or the Nothingness, behind it. Grammar and Style–to me they seem to have become as irrelevant as a Victorian bathing suit or the imperturbability of a true gentleman. A mask. Let us hope the time will come when language is most efficiently used where it is being most efficiently misused. As we cannot eliminate language all at once, we should at least leave nothing undone that might contribute to its falling into disrepute. To bore one hole after another in it, until what lurks behind it (be it something or nothing) begins to seep through: I cannot imagine a higher goal for a writer today.”
25 thoughts on “Unattributed Quotes #1”
Bend it, Beckett!
This comment is not in keeping with the spirit of the post, John. But I guess I deserve this, having “ruined” Greg’s post last week.
Still, look forward to more unattributed quotes in the near future.
Beckett applying underarm deodorant.
Ha! Sorry, Shya. It is a provocative quote, though.
A perfect example of an ambition which, if expressed utterly and by everyone, would result in complete incomprehensibility. It seems best understood as one of a few different competing urges, one of which would have to be a more conservative interest in preserving language and intent, such as with quotation.
While the second half of this passage seemingly makes his previous thoughts sound like prescription for all writers, he initially qualified the first part of what he said as being personal motivations: “for me,” “my own language,” “to me,” etc.
I also think that what he was talking about was literary language. So even if what he were proposing were possible (an idea that would need a great deal of investigation), and if every writer were to take this charge to heart, it wouldn’t lead to complete incomprehensibility. I don’t even think it would result in complete incomprehensibility in literature.
But I wouldn’t want to see every writer have this, as you call it, “ambition,” nor would I want for it to be “expressed utterly and by everyone.” What I would like to see is a broadening of the cultural spectrum to allow for greater appreciation for writers who are exploring these ideas. Yes, let’s have more and more different, not competing, urges.
Agreed. Though a little competition isn’t bad :)
I used to say that, in art, the only person I was competing with was myself, but even that doesn’t seem adequate. More and more I feel that competition and art are at loggerheads. This does not preclude the possibility of artistry in necessarily competitive fields like sports. Even so, I’m not so sure that it is the competition inherent to the form that inspires the artistry. I think it may come from more from Huizinga’s ideas about play in his book Homo Ludens:
Play is free, is in fact freedom.
Play is not “ordinary” or “real” life.
Play is distinct from “ordinary” life both as to locality and duration.
Play creates order, is order. Play demands order absolute and supreme.
Play is connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained from it.
Hmm. Is this the same contributor who so doggedly attacks ideas he doesn’t agree with, and so loyally defends his peers against such attacks by other commenters on these very pages? The spirit of competition is strong in you, grasshopper, however fiercely you fight against it (competition again!)…
Somehow you missed what I said. I was questioning the value of competition while making art. And while one can talk about the art of debate, most of the discussions here don’t often rise to that level. And that’s okay. Also, I don’t think that pointing out erroneous, unclear, biased reasoning is always necessarily a competitive act. It can sometimes be an act of service.
Ha! I didn’t miss a thing, champ. I admit to have been making an imaginative leap into the realm of character, however.
An “act of service.” You crack me up!
That’s why they call me “the joker,” Shya. Now, do you want to know how I got these scars?
I love you guys.
Little do people know that John reads two sutras, puts on his robe and readies his stick before writing comments.
The Beckett Strikes Back.
Words to write by.
Many writers have expressed something similar to Beckett’s idea. Viktor Shklovsky and Theodor Adorno are the critics who have most helped me understand this sentiment (inasmuch as I understand it—of course different writers mean and have meant different things by it). Both of them wrote extensively on how deadening so much of daily life is, and I think that since the two of them were writing, daily life has gotten only more deadening.
Did anyone watch the Oscars last night? (I’ll confess that I missed them.) If so, did you find yourself rolling your eyes at the schmaltz of it all? That schmaltz is “official English”—efficiently misused language. It talks and talks but says nothing. It’s platitude, cliché. It is, as Curt White puts it, what you are “allowed to say.”
“I’m all about that. I’m lovin’ it! D’oh! Best. Episode. Ever. I’d hit that! Enter the world. You’ll know when you’re in it. Refresh everything. Get twisted. Mwah-ha-ha…”
(It’s what one’s relatives talk in at Thanksgiving, which is why one often wants to strike them.)
I think all writers who are artists are familiar with this problem. They know they don’t want to write the garbage that they have to wade through every day while going to work. (Some advertising is very innovative and even artistic, but most is drek.) They recoil at any hint of it their own work—any sign that the official culture is writing its banalities through them.
Such artists are recoiling from the grip of what Adorno called the Culture Industry, the “official” groupthink that deadens everything it gets its hands on. True art (he argued) stands in opposition to that deadening effect. It has many strategies: it can subvert, appropriate, circle back to what’s been discarded, head to other ground. But above all it seeks, as Shklovsky said, to return sensation to the limbs, to make the stone feel stony. To be alive.
In other words, to reproduce not the shallow forms of life, but its deeper essence.
I fear that the shallow stuff is the essence, too. Life is often shallow—always has been, always will be.
But it could be put the way you put it. As John Cage said, the purpose of music is “to wake us up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and one’s desire out of the way and lets it act of its own accord.”
I just know that a lot of culture I see around me is stupid, and makes me feel sick to my tummy. …Maybe that’s what Douglas Storm was trying to say in that other thread? The challenge is always to find the worthwhile things, and to make worthwhile things. God don’t make junk, but humans sure do.
(That said, I don’t think the worthwhile things are all in one place, like high art. There’s as much junk there as anywhere else. The Good Stuff, the Art, is scattered all over. As Jim O’Rourke once said, 9/10 of any genre is crap.)
Give me the best of everything.
I’m confused. I thought the quote was unattributed. But I think Nora Roberts said something similar in her NY’er profile, right after she spoke of how many houses she owns.
Or as our friend John Gardner says, “[No] writer s[i]ts down to write “to express himself.” They sat down to write this kind of story or that, or to mix this form with that form, producing some now effect. Self-expression, whatever its pleasures, come about incidentally.”
Does wanting the best of everything, mean wanting the best of hard times? Meaning the best of the worst? The best/worst pain, like having the person you love die?
I meant the best of art but, sure, I’ll take the best of all the other stuff, too. Might as well live the grand life.
Well, right. But my point was that both are forms of mimesis.
I understand the ‘Well, right’ part of your comment. But which point do you refer to? There are many up there. And what does ‘both’ refer to?
Sorry, Greg. I just got out of bed. Still groggy. The comment was in reference to the superficial elements of the “real” (the mundane, the cliche), and the stoniness of the stone. People take great pains to delimit what exactly fiction should be concerned with, but everyone’s just trying to represent. Represent, fool!
I guess I recommend David Shield’s new book Reality Hunger to you and J and A and B…all.
It’s a collage of quotes on creativity, interspersed with his own thoughts, I think we changed some words around. It’s subtitled ‘A Manifesto’ but I don’t see it as such, it’s more like a compendium of what he likes, what artists. It’s a calendar of quotes kind of, a la Markson. I just saw him talk a hour ago. He wants new things, but he uses the same bricolage. What’s brought up is the same. oft spouted question, Does anybody have anything new to say about human existence? To me, this an ignorant, self-congratulating question. Have we really progressed so far down the avenues of emotions that this could be true? No fucking way.
Maybe…I’m not sure. Not all art is representational. Many artists are simply exploring their materials. They’re not trying to represent anything else. I was just speaking with a visual art student at the Art Institute, and I asked her why she’d made one of her (abstract) paintings in a particular way, and she said she simply thought it looked nice that way. (I thought it looked nice, too.) You can call that a representation of “niceness,” but I’d argue that does too much violence to what we commonly think of as representation. (Representation becomes simply everything, then, and means nothing.)
Beyond that, “mimesis” is often confused with “representation,” but it’s not the same thing. It means more “imitation,” or “copying.” But representation doesn’t have to use mimesis. Rauschenberg re-presented things in his Combines. Cornell re-presented things as well, in his pretty blue boxes.
Part of why Rauschenberg and Cornell stuck objects in their artworks (beyond the fact that they were having fun) was that they were trying to /divorce/ those object from being mimetic. A speckled blue oval in a traditional diorama on spring is an imitation of a robin’s egg. But once Cornell puts it in a different box, next to a miniature globe, it loses some of its mimetic power and becomes something else, something more poetic.
As for the Real, vaunted though it is, is not the only thing out there that can be represented. (Do you see what I did there?) “Real” means, ultimately, “thing” (“res”), and there are more things in Heaven and on Earth than there are things. Ask a Christian (or any Platonist): they’ll tell you that the Idea is the thing, not the Thing. The Word can be made flesh, sure, but before that, in the beginning (and even before there is a beginning), is the Word.
…Although I personally think that the Thing is most important:
Oops! Wrong Thing…
Oops, wrong Thing again!
Wrong again! Jeez, today I can’t get anything right…
Crap. One more time… C’mon, noumenon!
There we go! Now that’s the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing! (Little-known fact: Ben Grimm is a historical materialist! As well as a Kant scholar, and a big fan of Jimmy Durante…)