I’ll be posting about any number of fairly abstruse topics here, in subject areas like, oh, say, literature, history—philosophy even—the creative process as I experience it. Even issues regarding the business end of writing, if and when they seem to be of interest: publishing, distribution, self-promotion, etc. I promise to avoid at all costs the grotesquely stultifying political tropes that infest our lives on a day to day basis. Why write at all if all you're doing is recycling the blah-blah talking points and morbidly formulaic sound-bite-isms of the various think tanks and super pacs? The oil industry pays those hacks a lot of coin to fabricate all that stuff and keep it pumping through the cable news and social media pipelines. Why should I help them? They don't pay me nuthin'.
Besides, even in the unlikely event that they offered to, contrary to those think tank skanks and super-pac hacks as far as I know I'm nobody's whore.
Which reminds me: late-stage capitalism (Oops! Is that a political trope?) is a very strange enviro-sphere in which to pursue writing as an art. Rather than as a business, that is. Or a "career." The strangeness of it, though, is also kind of a fun thing—I mean, if, like me, you admire, say, Rodin for never selling out to the Academy or the French government any particular sculpture or monument he was working on, even if they had commissioned it, for God's sake. Or Emily Dickinson for never gussying up her poems so they would announce themselves to the male publishing establishment as evidence of her viability as a “lady poet.” The business end of things is thus not unconnected to aesthetic considerations. Quite often business issues become very interesting indeed from some larger point of view or other.
Especially when you consider that in late-stage capitalism art, in a sense, doesn’t appear to exist—it goes unnoticed because it isn't recognizable as a commodity. Given that for something like art not being noticed is about as close as it gets to not existing, and given the alienated nature of commodities in general, it's tempting to say that art, in fact, doesn’t exist at all in our post-Romantic and hyper-capitalized age. But that wouldn't be entirely true. It's just not visible to people who only see commodities.
Or, in a service economy, services.
That is, services as commodities, instead of as, say, nice and thoughtful things you might just do for somebody because they're human and maybe need a little help with something.
Anyway, if you put on blue-tinted glasses there are certain areas of the spectrum you just won't see. That doesn't mean they aren't there, though. I remember I had a pair of very blue granny-style sunglasses once and I made the mistake of wearing them while driving. This had serious consequences the first traffic light I cruised through wondering why everybody was honking at me. Blue lenses, you see, filter out red.
We're talking a couple hundred bucks and several points, by the way.
And it could have been worse.
I didn't realize at the time, but this foolish and costly mistake of mine would furnish a very useful metaphor later in life when I was trying to figure out what was so weird about writing in America in the twenty-first century. In late-stage capitalism, art (actual art) persists as a kind of "dark matter" or negative universe—the universe of all red things that can't be seen by blue lenses. It’s there, though, just like that light was and, more consequentially, the cop behind the billboard. Its relationship to the commodified stuff that gets called art, or writing, mostly by journalists (who of course—the better ones among them— mistakenly consider journalism itself to be art) is analogous to that of the subconscious mind to the conscious.
Put another way, art exists in negative space.
I, for one, have always found negative spaces fascinating. The empty lots around abandoned malls, or the service corridors in big hotels, median strips on empty boulevards, underpasses nobody in their right mind would visit. Or, in paintings, say, the area behind but really around the shape in the portrait, which isn't at all the portrait proper but sort of is anyway, or is, at least, vitally connected to it. Or, in poetry, the spaces between lines and stanzas that aren't where the words are but are, in fact, articulate, meaningful pauses, so to speak, in which the mind is free to play and have a little associative fun.
A lot goes on in the negative areas of art, just as in those of the phenomenal world. That's sort of what Plato was getting at, but he got it wrong in characterizing it as pure reason. Nietszche got it righter when he tagged it as a kind of inarticulate Dionysian substratum, embodied in the music, not the words, of Aeschylean tragedy
By the way, if I'm not a Platonist, I'm not a Nietszchean either.
I'm a Dostoevsky-an.
Old Fyodor. He hit the nail right on the head.
I'll be blogging about that for sure.
Anyway, because I'm a writer who approaches literature as an art rather than as a commodity, I've found that it's great fun to inhabit the negative space to which art has been relegated by commodity capitalism. The fun is enhanced when, from time to time, a piece is finished, then published, and I find myself jumping out ("Hi there!") into the positive spaces of society just to show everybody what I found on the other side.
Look at this strange bio-luminescent organism I discovered in the Mariana Trench!
It's fun to rattle people with strange things. At the very least it gets you some attention.
So, since a chief pleasure of the writing life for me is this bringing the unconscious to the surface in all its necessary strangeness, I’ll also post poems or excerpts from short stories I’m working on now and then—or even public domain pieces by other poets, authors, etc.
In light of this highly ingenuous promise on my part, you might at this very moment be wondering what my approach to writing actually is.
Glad you asked.
Just about anything I choose to write draws me to it because I suspect that it will be fun to work on. My method, as it were, is to maintain formal clarity as a paradigm within which to play as freely as I can, given the parameters I’ve set up for myself. That is, it's to have a method and then un-methodicalize it.
I think I just made that word up, which is an especially enjoyable thing to do.
Anyway, I've always preferred playing off of things to just randomly playing around. That's why I love and need form. I can play off it. Or around it. Or within it, per Frost's famous and intolerant observation regarding poetry and tennis.
In this regard, I’m a big fan of Joyce, too, especially the way he liberated himself from the imagination-shackles of his received cultural world in order to play wildly all his life with language, narrative, style, and form, constructing and deconstructing with the abandon of nature itself.
Joyce once said that, while the state is centric, man is eccentric. I take this to mean that the state is a vortex of sorts pulling everything that is human down toward a center where all images are manufactured as in a kind of economy of scale and, of course, therefore quite mandatory. Culturally, I’d venture, that’s the definition of statism. Art, on the other hand, is centrifugal in its motion. It hurls itself gleefully outward to the farthest reaches of human imagination and feeling, to nature, to the phenomenal world. As such, art, driven as it is by free will and by imaginative play, is inevitably ec-centric—so, human to the core.
If the state loves symbols, that is, art inclines to metaphor.
I don’t know who it was that first said writing was serious play, but that’s how I take it. So I hope, above all, that whatever I post presents the opportunity for a reader to have strenuous fun, as I do, with imagery, voice, logic, you name it—all those things.
Orwell's Oceania—the ultimate statist culture mill—says Freedom is slavery. Really, though, boredom is slavery. Or, more accurately I guess, boredom is a symptom of slavery. The mental kind, that is. You know, Bob Marley's idea. Emancipate yourself from mental slavery . . . In Oceania everybody drinks Victory Gin. The government pushes it on them. Why? Because Oceania itself is the land of mental slavery, therefore of unending boredom, not to mention so many other kinds of oppression.
The gin helps people to overlook that fact.
I won't presume to say whether the prevalence in America of alcoholism and opiate addiction, along with so many other slaveries to pleasure and impulse, like, oh, say, sex addiction, gambling addiction, shopping addiction, our ubiquitous screens, you name it—whether all these addictions mean that we are closer to Oceania than we like to think. But I will say that we just might be as appallingly boring.
The state, you know? As power concentrates, the imagination dies.
When the imagination is alive and well, though . . . even a bag can be a kind of infinite space, and imagination an empire—with the imaginer as its king.
Hamlet said something like that, didn't he? Being bounded in a bag?
Oh, no—okay, it was a nutshell. But it could have been a bag.
By the way, do you think this bag, currently on display at the Perelman Museum in Philly, is boring?
If I could produce a poem or story as beautiful and wacky and surreal as this bag, well, I just might call myself a writer.