Thursday, May 27, 2010

Everyday Aesthetic

I've been looking to the Germans and the French for a survey of ideas about aesthetics, as many of us do for our philosophy on anything (though surprisingly few schools seem to be teaching that continental stuff at the graduate level -- more on that another time). But as for American approaches to anything art, to me, right now, that's just a huge mixed bag of ulterior political motives and blurred lines between pop culture, high culture and what people actually find beautiful. (Call the patriotism police, quick!) As yet another head-clearing exercise I'm stepping back to record some thoughts on what I think of as the everyday aesthetic, one that doesn't come from dense readings or even poetic ones, but from simply being an aesthetically sensitive person in a word full of images and sounds and life. But what recently made me think of the everyday aesthetic? It was something very American.

Last year, when I started reading The Hours by Michael Cunningham I was a little wary. Woolf being one of my go-to-gals (for criticism more so than fiction), I had high standards for how she (and even her characters) could be treated in a work of contemporary (...discomfort) fiction. I was already softening to the novel when the following viscous washes of words had me for good:

"...she, Clarissa, simply enjoys without reason the houses, the church, the man, and the dog. It's childish, she knows. It lacks edge. If she were to express it publicly (now, at her age), this love of hers would confine her to the realm of the duped and the simpleminded, Christians with acoustic guitars or wives who've agreed to be harmless in exchange for their keep. Still this indiscriminate love feels entirely serious to her, as if everything in the world is part of a vast, inscrutable intention, and everything in the world has its own secret name, a name that cannot be conveyed in language but is simply the sight and the feel of the thing itself. This determined, abiding fascination is what she thinks of as her soul (an embarrassing, sentimental word, but what else to call it?); the part that might conceivably survive the death of the body. Clarissa never speaks to anyone about any of that. She doesn't gush or chirp. She exclaims only over the obvious manifestations of beauty, and even then manages an aspect of adult restraint. Beauty is a whore, she sometimes says. I like money better."
"Clarissa crosses Eighth Street. She loves, indiscriminately the dead television set abandoned on the curb alongside a single white patent-leather pump. She loves the vendor's cart piled with broccoli and peaches and mangoes, each labeled with an index card that offers a price amid abundances of punctuation...[many more squalid, sunny, and musical things she loves]... Still, she loves the world for being rude and indestructible, and she knows other people must love it too, poor as well as rich, though no one speaks specifically of the reasons. Why else do we struggle to go on living, no matter how compromised, no matter how harmed?"

My first reaction was how does this man know that a woman might think all these things?! I don't think I've read any other man who writes women so well. And it didn't feel like it had anything to do with his (or his characters') sexual orientation. He just tapped into some fundamental part of the aesthetically sensitive female mind. Love is there. Some semblance of what we may or may not want to think of as a soul is there. Like Clarissa, we may restrain our reactions to beauty, we may share only some of our feelings originating at that impressionable transient core, but above all, we love, and we hold within this love some extrapolated overblown naive love for the whole damn universe. Because of a cart full of vegetables.

These impressions -- dead tvs, sparkling fountains, primitive signage -- cannot be named, as Cunningham tells us. The thing -- a day, a breeze, a vase -- and the feeling it gives "cannot be conveyed in language but is simply the sight and the feel of the thing itself." It is this very inexpressibility that gives us that "abiding fascination" that we can think of as a soul. Not a nugget of everlasting life lodged in the center of our being somewhere, but a transcendent, changing, fleeting and returning thing that makes us glad to be alive, all the more because we are so uncertain it is even a thing.

Not only does Clarissa love the "obvious manifestations of beauty" but she loves, maybe even more passionately, the "rude and indestructible world." For Clarissa this includes the rude people of the world -- the drug dealers she steps over on her walk, the crazy woman ululating under the bridge. I read this (for my own everyday aesthetic) as the dilapidated things of the world, the struggles it gives us, the beautiful predicaments with which it presents us. Our free will pitted against the will of the world. That is huge, and that is worth living for. ("Why else do we struggle to go on living, no matter how compromised, no matter how harmed?") Again, all of this can be gone over in the mind on an everyday walk like Clarissa's. Existential turmoil and elation, simply because of a tar-stinking stretch of train track, a glint off a pond, a small girl hugging and mumbling to her cat, or a boy in tears at a bee sting.

Cunningham would call all of this, Clarissa's impressions and probably mine, "beauty." And in the everyday sense of the word, aesthetics is the study of beauty. What does it do, what can it do, should we reevaluate how we think about it, etc. But Cunningham touches on something more deeply philosophical, even if the impressions that cause Clarissa's inner dialogue to wax philosophic are indeed of the everyday variety. Cunningham places beauty -- the recognition of it, the consideration of it, our love for it -- in the soul, or if there is no soul (for he suggests there may not be), he paints it as some kind of unlocateable life force (a force because it is "determined") but without any essential qualities and without any obligation to us. It is hard to get at. It owes us nothing. It is a mere "fascination." But it could be one of the most important, if ungraspable, things/ideas/effects (what to call beauty?) with which man or woman has ever become fascinated.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Aesthetics Jumble, with Schlegel

“Jumbled ideas should be the rough drafts of philosophy.
It’s no secret how highly these are valued by connoisseurs of painting.”

I have a pile of books before me: Cambridge UP's Classic and Romantic German Aesthetics, Ranciere's Aesthetics and its Discontents, and Heidegger's The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. There's a book I don't care to mention, and a notepad in there somewhere too. I didn't mean to pile all these together but they ended up that way, and now I'm writing "jumbled ideas."

I thought I would ground myself, before moving forward with anymore unshareable writing, by turning to a paper I wrote on Schlegelian and Heideggerian aesthetics about a year ago. So with Schlegel we will start near the beginning (of what we now call "aesthetics") in the late eighteenth century. I am not only reminding myself of what it is I liked about these philosophers and their aesthetics (and the general cuts of their jibs), but to remind myself (don't laugh!) of what academic writing sort of looks like! There were plenty of other Romantic German aesthetics buffs to write on, but of the two others I liked bunches, Holderlin is very challenging, prolific, and also an accomplished poet, and Novalis is too heady for a beginner to easily fill 15 pages on him with anything other than bullshit. Here is the short Schlegel portion (weird choice to write on too since 90 percent of what I had on him was in his characteristic fragments...) of that dusty old paper, my first stab at any work on aesthetics, which is miraculously cogent considering I was taking 20 credits then and probably didn't even know what I was talking about (all citations are from the Cambridge UP book):

" the late eighteenth century, [rationalism and empiricism] did not offer much for the consideration and critical examination of artworks or poetry, or the emerging novel genre. “Philosophical rationality in its role as mimic and defender of scientific reason” was essentially “displaced by the claims of aesthetics” (Bernstein ix), and new approaches to thinking about art had to be developed.

The Romantic philosophers did not have far to look for their inspiration. They turned to art itself to inform their philosophizing on it. In Schlegel’s “Athenaeum Fragments” (1798) he muses (because Romantic philosophers, unlike their predecessors, must have had muses) on art as philosophy and philosophy as art – both angles of the possible tension between art and what is trying not to be so much of a science (philosophy). He notices the artists’ resistance to analysis of artwork, saying that it often “disturbs the art lover,” but that “the real love just won’t let himself be disturbed!” (248). Schlegel is perhaps, at this point, dealing with the resistance to what artists and art lovers think philosophy does, and trying to persuade them (and himself) that aesthetics does something completely different. Schlegel also acknowledges, famously, that Romantic poetry, the art itself, is moving toward something of a rhetoric and a science rather than a mean art, and that it is “to poetry what wit is to philosophy” (249). That is, it is the connection to the other side of the philosophy/art duality. He calls this ability of his highly esteemed Romantic poetry to achieve a kind of union with philosophy “transcendental” (253), which suggests he believes that the gap between the art/science of art and the science/art of philosophy should be transcended whenever possible. From the reverse angle, he describes how a theory of art could come into being informed by art, by a “waver[ing] between the union and division of philosophy and poetry,” and “it would conclude with their complete union” (253-4). In fact, by the end of this collection of fragments, we see that Schlegel has given philosophy over to art – he concludes that philosophy can only “come into being” as “poetry and practice fuse into one” (256).

Moving back one year to Schlegel’s “Critical Fragments” (1797) we can see some of his own “jumbled ideas” that indeed led to his philosophy congealing over the next months. His focus on wit as the “art” in philosophy was his first step in learning how to find philosophy in art. He does not talk of wit as mere humor or satire, but as a sort of breach of the seriousness of analysis with something that seems to come from outside of philosophy, something almost divinely inspired as we would think of an artwork being inspired. He contrasts witty philosophy with purely analytic philosophy, saying, “The flame of the most brilliantly witty idea…can be quenched suddenly by a single analytic word, even when it is meant as praise.” If philosophy can undo its own genius in this manner, its application of an overly analytic method to art may detract from the art just the same.

Another theme in “Critical Fragments” is, as the title of the collection suggests, criticism. Criticism arguably came into its own as a practice as a result of the Romantic and pre-Romantic attempts at theorizing about art in these new ways. Criticism, ideally, would be that Schlegelian place where philosophy and art transcend their own limitations and “fuse.” The artist himself must learn to be a critic and a philosopher, and the philosopher as critic must also be an artist. He puts forth an early defense of criticism, foreshadowing his later defense of analyses of art, saying the only type of criticism that would exist without an appeal to analysis would be the one-word utterance “wow” (242). But for the most part, in 1797 Schlegel was still taken by the art, and sought to find a way for philosophy to embrace it without dominating it. His fragment concerning the “republic” that poetry creates shows his concern for what he might call a “monarchy” or a “dictatorship” of philosophy: “Poetry is a republican speech: a speech which is its own law and end unto itself, and in which all the parts are free citizens and have the right to vote” (242). This line also points to Schlegel’s obsession with paradox (all the parts are free, yet held together by a single law), something which poetry is clearly capable of but that confounds philosophy, as he is familiar with it. He closes this first year of “ruminations” with a doubtful thought. He wonders if philosophy can or should really illuminate anything about art without “ordering the given artistic experiences and existing artistic principles into a science” (245), yet interspersed in the other fragments of 1797 there still lurks his belief that he would come to hold as a truth, that “poetry and philosophy should be made one” (244).

While Schlegel writes himself into many corners and contradictions with his somewhat disjointed fragments, they mostly point at a theme of philosophy being able to successfully unite with art, not only to gain a poetic nature for its practice, but to be able to apply itself to art poetically as theory and criticism. The fragments also point to Schlegel’s disdain for an overly analytic sort of philosophy, and his fear of analysis coming to dominate everything by systematizing under a science. [and now we segue seamlessly into Heidegger!]"

There are so many things that I can expand on here (now that I'm certainly not taking 20 credits), especially the criticism as art stuff, and I didn't even touch on Schlegel as a poet himself. Now I'm going to go back and look at some of these fragments again. (That Cambridge collection, by the way, is a pretty awesome sampler if you've never tried out any of these fellers.) I guess what I learned here is a good way back into something is through a door you've already pried open, even if the doorstop you left there (this silly paper) is now all cobwebs. Schlegel may not have been the best point of entry, but I'm in! And now I can look around. I hope nothing falls on my head.

Sauce Loss and More Blove

I'm having a heck of a time finishing some things I've been writing on the German Romantic philosophers of aesthetics (as you might imagine), and I've just gotten all turned around (in a good way) because Jacques Ranciere showed up on my doorstep this weekend with his aesthetic discontents. So I'm going to use today's lunchtime to give a shout out.

I don't know if I've properly linked to Erica before (like with an introduction or explanation of why you need to follow her funnies) but I will do that now. I've been thinking about food (I've got half a dozen or more entries on it, but nothing spectacular -- see "Eats" label at left) , but she writes about it and cooks it better than I. So here is a recent post of hers aptly titled "Food."

I like this post because I have been watching my friend (of almost 13 years!) develop as a writer just in the past few months she's been keeping up her blog. The ending paragraphs of "Food" had me laughing out loud. And when something actually makes me "LOL" it becomes even funnier just because neither Erica nor I would ever use that horrible acronym unless we were simply dying laughing.

My food thought for the day is nowhere near as interesting as sharkskin wasabi graters, but it is a principle that anyone who cooks for themselves, single or family folk, should know about. It is called sauce loss, and is a tragic yet avoidable predicament of multi-pot n' pan cooking, and of everyday living.

We all know intuitively that you try to conserve as much sauce, batter, or whatever other liquidy, pasty substances might be left behind when you scrape or pour from bowl to dish, from dish to plate. The easiest way, and most time-saving and environmentally friendly way, to avoid loss of precious prep minutes to scraping, and loss of precious sauce to sauce loss, is to make single dish meals -- things you can mix and cook and serve with one pan or pot. This might seem desperate or even low class -- but these are hard times America! Conserve your sauce! (Similarly, any reduction in the amount of transfers of the foodstuffs between containers will save sauce. Transfers are your sauce's worst enemy!)

Another way to reduce sauce loss, especially if the use of multiple mixing bowls and pans cannot be avoided, is to use proper scraping technique and proper scraping tools. The technique you must learn in the kitchen, from an experienced sauce conservationist, or by your own saucy trial and error. Supple wrists are beneficial. But the tools -- the tools I can tell you about. Forks and whisks will never do. Plenty of things mix up nicely with forks and whisks, but they also get stuck between the tines, and the fork especially cannot get the sauce out of the bottom of the mixing bowl, a problem that is exacerbated if your bowl is deep and very curved at the bottom. Budding cooks, you must own an assortment of rubber spatulae! (There is also much to be said for the hand-me-down wooden spoon, seasoned and smoothed by decades of storied sauces and butt-whackings, miraculously adapting its rigid form to every household application. But the spatula is key.) These simple, economical devices are your sauce saviors. You do not need the color coded Williams Sonoma spatula set in assorted hardnesses and textures. You just need a couple different sizes that will last. They clean off the forks, the bowls, the beaters, and generally reduce sauce loss by up to 50%, even in the hand of an amateur spatuleer. Plus, they are much more pleasant to lick (not a loss at all) than a fork or a beater.

Finally, all I can tell you kitchen dwellers is to simply be aware of your sauce. Awareness is the first step in reducing catastrophic sauce loss. Too often I have seen recipes go awry because of lack of some saucy ingredient called for in an exact measurement. Too often I have seen bowls strewn in sinks with batter or tomato sauce stuck to the sides and edges. A soaking nightmare, a waste of wash water, and a really big stink if they don't get cleaned right away. Not to mention the the loss of the thirteenth biscuit or the gratuitous serving of spaghetti sauce that could have been had if those ingredients -- those sauces! -- had had watchful stewards.

Note: Sauce loss does not only occur with cooking. It can happen when eating out, with drinks, shampoo, laundry soap...pretty much anything you pour or might transfer to another container. Watch it!

An excerpt from "Food" in case you didn't click on it yet:

"If I was rich, I might not be so negative about the fancier things. If I was rich, I would have a platter of oysters sitting here by the computer to eat at my leisure. I would sear fois gras in the salty tears of the sturgeon who's eggs I would be eating on toast points. I picture myself laughing hysterically during all of this."

There's still time!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Blogiversary, AGAIN!!!

I apologize for the triple exclamation and caps-lock-stick. Erica will know the reference.

I started this blog in May 2008. May 20 to be exact. That's tomorrow! I haven't run out of things to write about yet, but I'm having some brain blockage today -- I figured May 2010 would be a good opportunity to recap a little and post some links to some of my favorite posts, in honor of my second Blogiversary.

The quality of this blog has varied with my levels of busy-ness, commitment to school, etc. My least successful posts probably fall under the category of "Social Rants" (see categories on the left), as would anyone's, but I am pleased to see that after two years, "Writing" and "Literature" top the categories list. This is, and was always meant to be, a place to hash things out, to throw somethin' out there, and sometimes even to make notes for a paper. I've been authoritative. I've been embarrassingly vulnerable. I've been humble. I've been an asshole.

I used to keep track of my favorites with the "My Picks" tag, but it's impossible to know if you love or even like something you've written until you have a few weeks (or months) go by and then look back on it. So here are a few, some with interesting comment conversations. I left out a couple of faves that I've linked to often. Unless noted at the bottom of the post, these are unedited since publishing.

"Course in General Egoism" August 2008 -- Scans of and commentary on some hilarious marginalia in my pre-owned copy of Saussure's Course in General Linguistics. My writing here isn't top notch or anything, but the guy's snarks are just so funny! And I let him have it. If you've ever enjoyed any kind of humorous marginalia please read, and leave a detailed comment with your own anecdote. I love these finds.

Rock Block --"In Defense of Rockin': Part 1" April 2009 -- A first effort in defending my recurring academic talk about rock music. I never wrote a part two, but I have continued to try my hand at some semi-serious cultural or even literary (sort of) criticism when it comes to music. This post explains why I keep trying. Supplement that with "The Evolution of the Music Review," a comparison of a well-executed '70s review with a shitty '90s one, for a cultural angle, and "Comfortably, Wordsworth" for my continual grasping at the literary straws in music.

Ecstasy of Analysis February 2009 -- A short post where I realize how much I like doing the work of the literature student, and how much I like formalism. Not only do we become comfortable with this work, but we get downright ecstatic about it, in every meaning of that word. It's neat to look back on posts like these and be stunned by how recent they are. Only two years have I known I want to be an Englishy academic when I grow up. Only one year have I known how to classify or explain anything about literary criticism! (And I still don't know all that much about how to do it. Don't tell DePaul...)

" April 2009 -- Commentary on the dense language used by academics (who know what the words mean) and students (who usually have no idea what they're saying). This was incredibly fun to write because I let myself start it with a sort of university farce. I have still not mastered the use of the word hermeneutics. But I'm going to a big philosophy school in the fall, so I will remedy that for sure (and until then you won't catch me throwing it around pell-mell!). You can tell me what you think it means, if you like. I might believe you.

"Tuscany, by any other Name"
March 2010 -- Example of silliness with some kind of message. I write on advertising often, so I thought I should include one ad rant. Humor, jerkiness, and a little bit of the naughty.

Philosophical/Critical block -- "Robyn Byrd is Itchy Type-writer Finger" and "Anxiety of Canon" (both April 2009, a "productive" month) represent the most ambitious academic sort of writing I've actually done here. I hope to subject you all to more of that as my studies get more serious, but fortunately for me I will never be all that serious in my personal writing, so these more disciplined posts may remain few and far between.

"The Literature Subject Test: Problems, Advice"
October 2009 -- I include this one because it's useful, and if you've found me because you are an undergrad looking for English fun and advice (I've talked to a couple of you!) this might help your test taking. It seems so long ago now! I never updated this with my scores (I'll keep the raw score confidential...) but suffice it to say that I was "competitive" on the literature subject test, whereas on the general GRE I was "highly competitive." I plan to retake both next year to make myself a little shinier and more noticeable on those Ph. D. program applications, but like this post advises, I won't stress over the lit scores next time either.

Last one... "'Supposing that Writing Exists': My First Derridaversary" May 2009 -- So last year instead of celebrating the blog I celebrated having been a Derrida-reader for a year. (Which doesn't mean much for making progress with him. I'm sure it takes decades.) I include this because it touches on the kind of isolation some of us sometimes experience because of what we choose to study. Also because, when in an intellectual lull, this is one of those "I wrote that?" posts. I had begun a project on Derrida in May 2008, and I had to abandon it for lack of support and time, despite being just as excited about it a year later. I have a big blue folder, stuffed, and a bibliography -- that's all that remains of it now. I hope I can revive it in grad school, find some support, and also find time to read more Derrida (re-read actually) and his Frenchie pals and antagonists.

I know not all of these things will be interesting to all readers, but I hope you find something funny or helpful that you might have missed when it was first "published." To all my newly blogified friends, keep writing! You will stumble and you will produce some crap, but this public performance and exchange (on appropriate topics -- I know we don't all want to share everything we write!) can shape your writing for the better, and even help direct your studies when they lose focus. These documents become useful when reread, revised, and when analyzed from a distance, i.e. as through the category or label counts at the side. Today I had nothing to write about. I'm sure I might tomorrow. Might.

Afternoon Update: I am excited and nervous and pleased and all kinds of things to announce that I actually have a class schedule for this fall! A nice Blogiversary development. It finally seems a little more real. (Until that first day of class, when it will become entirely surreal.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"Bon mots" and Bad Bears

When a five-year-old repeats the same phrase a hundred times, usually while jumping around the living room or repetitively opening and closing a door, it is not unkind nor is it stifling of his creativity to ask him to please, please, cut it out. I tell my own five-year-old, who has his own head-full of bon mots, to cut it out -- not only because bouncing and chanting and slamming can get on even the fondest mother's nerves, but because I truly believe this sort of thing can rot a child's brain.

I read this idea in one of Kant's critiques, long after I'd already lodged it in my mental library of firm motherly beliefs not based on any evidence (we all have these libraries). Kant was using children's bon mots as an analogy for some type of repetitive thinking by scientists, I think. Whether or not an eighteenth century philosopher's speculations on child development have any use today, I was glad to find that Kant thought the same thing I thought.

Repetition is good for children. It helps them learn to use their memories. We don't remember things until we are around three or four years old, because until then we haven't had the chance to repeat many experiences, nor can we articulate those experiences. Once we are fully verbal and can relate stories, our memory increases rapidly -- a five year old can remember almost everything that happened yesterday, because he repeats it out loud, in play, and in his head. However I don't think the slamming and chanting type of repetition does any good once a child is almost school aged and has an amazing grasp of language, nor does he benefit any longer from the repetitive nonsense word babbling (it's not usually fresh gibberish, but words they've made up and latched onto).

Just as I believe my sons own verbalizations should usually aim for some kind of communication (again this is not stifling* -- he's five and knows all the words!), I am at the point where I want the books we read (he doesn't read alone yet, even though I did at his age -- I blame phonics in the classroom) to have some kind of coherence and to give a kind of "early writing" push. Children learn to speak from hearing us speak. Do they learn to write from reading books? Or do they just write how they speak? (We adults write differently from how we speak. So I'm wondering if what we read as children has fed into our writing for a lifetime.) I don't know if it makes a difference, but I have found myself shying away from books that are full of ugly sentences or awkward wording, in the hopes that some good-sounding children's literature will lead to my son's future abilities to write his own good-sounding prose.

*I keep saying I'm not stifling my son because while I try to curb frantic outpours of baby babble, I don't correct his grammar (the linguists proved that ineffective anyway), and I don't discourage creative word use. He's great at forming funny plurals. He even back-formed the singular for "clothes" as "clo." So we call an individual piece of clothing a "clo." I think it's clever and cute (of course) and when I found out there's a clothing store in New York called UNIQLO, I thought it was even more hilarious. He arrived at the same back-formed word as some Japanese people trying to sell "clos" to Americans! He also does interesting things with past tenses that use vowel shifts. He intuitively knows which words are vowel shift or irregular past tense words (get - got, etc.), but when he comes across a new one he just throws a different vowel at it. Finally, he likes to imitate accents. He does an awesome British guy (he sounds like Sir Bedivere from The Holy Grail), and he goes really wild with his "Italian." I only mention all this because I've been accused of being a horrible parent because I sometimes speak to my child in the language of philosophy (rather than in baby talk? I don't know what people want).

Anyhow --

The Berenstain Bears are a pretty neutral series of books for me. They are not beautifully written, but they tell decent stories. However, Stan and Jan are sometimes guilty of a very ugly sentence construction that not only offends the ear, but makes reading comprehension difficult. They interrupt expository sentences to place huge, paragraph long modifiers in the middle of them. They also interrupt their characters' dialog to write action happening right in the middle of the bear's utterance. It is jarring, and it is confusing for an early reader. The child not only loses track of what is going on, but it is doubtful he can read well enough to get through the sentence when it becomes completely unpredictable like that. The worst part about all this, even though the stories are quite readable most of the way through, is that every single book starts with an interrupted sentence offense!

Since I am still reading aloud, I take care to read those nasty things in whatever cadence or with whatever timing makes them most understandable. Sometimes, it ain't easy. And I'm always praying my son doesn't bring home his first story from school starting with a page-long sentence like, "Mikey, a sandy haired boy with hazel eyes who owned a cat and lived down a sunny paved road in the south part of blah blah blah... wanted a balloon."

Another series of books that offends me regularly is "ValueTales." My favorite has to be "The Value of Fantasy," which is all about how Hans Christian Andersen sucked at life for a long time because all he did was fantasize. Even his imaginary friend the bookworm (all the famous folk in these books have imaginary friends) tells him to shape up and keep it real. So much for the value of fantasy. I have had these books since the mid-eighties, and remember reading them as a child. They do have some good historical info packaged for kid consumption. I mostly remember the pictures. The words are absolutely nothing to get excited about. Besides the ridiculous explanations for where all the imaginary friends come from, always followed by the disclaimer "he knew he was just imaginary," the wording of these stories is always awkward. A dude with psychology degrees wrote most of them. Or maybe he just found people in the street who happened to have taken a history class one time and said "Here, write this."

I am probably doing the wrong thing, but I find myself changing the words or word order as I read the values books, because what's there just ain't right! It is an exercise in quick thinking to read them aloud. They are too long for my son to memorize, so when he finally reads them on his own he won't be startled by different words on the page (the reason I wouldn't change the words of shorter books that are just as terrible -- kids do try to memorize word shapes and such as they're read to). My son also likes me to read the very serious back flaps of these books, where some historian has typed up a brief real-life bio of the book's subject. This is always a relief, to read some encyclopedic writing after forty pages of prose torture and ugly purple-brown seventies cartoon drawings.

What is even more of a relief is when my son picks out a Dr. Seuss book. I said repetition can be good, and I meant what I said! The repetition in Dr. Seuss is a healthy, metered kind, with fun variations. Kids can sometimes guess the end words of the lines, but not always. The made up words in Seuss serve to complete a rhyme, and they almost always either A) describe a thing or creature that needs a name (because it never existed till he drew it), or B) create a brilliant new word form or change the part of speech of a familiar word (i.e. "No one alive is youer than you!"). The nonsense is not nonsense for nonsense's sake. And the rhythm helps the reader keep reading, even through the bumpy parts. I can't, of course, remember exactly what books gave me a reading breakthrough as a child, but Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? was integral in teaching my younger sister.

I'm not ridding the shelves of any books (although we don't buy many new ones), as some of these books surely taught me to read. My mother had the foresight to hold onto them once I moved onto hobbits and Hitchcock, and then scarlet letters and beyond. But I can't help but wonder at some of the bad writing, irresponsibly confusing wording, and general lack of concern for the early reader's probable difficulty with these tot texts. As for reading on his own, we are still in the Go Dogs, Go! stage. So we will cross the Berenstain bridge when we get there, and hope we don't get stuck in the middle of it while Stan and Jan spend an hour describing the sunny dirt road for the hundred-and-fifteenth time, right smack in the middle of a sentence.

A well rounded child, whose mother happens to prefer readable books.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Synecdoche is All the Rage

Don't lose your heads, ladies.

"Synecdoche is all the rage." I said that, a couple of years ago on this blog. And it's still true! Maybe I'm a jackass for quoting myself, but it's all I could think when I visited a Borders bookstore the other night.

When it comes to new fiction, I judge a book by its cover. Since the covers are mostly terrible, I don't read a lot of new fiction. I don't know how it got to this point, but I've skimmed enough new novels to know that I don't like the general direction popular American literature has taken in the past ten years or so. That coupled with a total aversion to the cover images and reviews has made the two things (bad novels, stupid covers) a package deal for me.

I don't think the association is totally unfounded. These books (mostly by women) are usually poorly, emotionally written tales about very womanly (or feminine) trials and relationships, and the covers recycle a few hackneyed images: dresses, dress shoes, out of focus women, the backs of women, parts of women, little girls running in a blur. The worst part about all this, for me, (despite all the obvious feminist issues going on here) is the overuse and subsequent cheapening of a really great device -- synecdoche!

Synecdoche uses a part of something to represent a whole. This makes for various levels of interpretation. The shoulder on the book cover could be part of the heroine's body (and what goes on in the background of the image might actually tell us about the book), but the shoulder-only view could also serve to make the heroine more of an "Everywoman," so we can relate to her better even before we begin to read about her. (At some point this turns around and becomes metonymy* instead, a closely related device where a bigger thing represents a part -- a faceless Everywoman girl makes us think of all girls, but then again she could be you.)

The dresses and shoes, now those are just super cheap ways to get us to think of little girls or evenings out. Substitute your own little girl (or your imagined one -- because the marketers assume every woman longs for a little girl), or your own memory of a romantic evening, and the cover has you. Blurry images (often one woman in focus, another blurred, or someone running) create synecdoche and metonymy as well. The blur allows for substitution, where the characters might be plugged into the image, and then of course a subsequent "that could be me."

Synecdoche can be used gracefully and effectively in the visual arts and in literature. But its strengths have been so exploited by advertising that it's no longer very moving. Publishers and their marketing teams have latched onto it now, and novels, things that should be better able to resist commercialization than other types of "products," get churned out all blurry and lace-covered every day.

*I know I gave a very brief and confusing description of what synecdoche and metonymy do, but definitions don't help much with those devices. They do flow back and forth, sometimes trying to happen simultaneously, and it's hard to pinpoint where one becomes the other. Once this play begins the devices are no longer really "devices" but phenomena, as they're out of our control. I brought this up in my lit crit class last Spring, telling my professor Richard Westphal "I don't know if I'm describing this right -- sometimes I don't think I fully understand the difference between synecdoche and metonymy." The wise old feller replied, "No one does." Now he wasn't saying we don't know our "definitions." But he was saying that literary folk still discuss this pair of metaphoric creatures, that there are still papers being written on them somewhere.

(If I seem like I'm being defensive in that last asterisked paragraph, it's because at the end of my undergraduate career I have uncovered that basic foundation of "knowledge" that Socrates wanted us all to see -- that we don't really know much of anything. And in literature, I'm seeing not only how much I don't know but how much can't be known and how much is out of anyone's control -- but always worth a good discussion! I recently commented to a professor at another university that I didn't know how to use a certain part of speech even though I have a degree in English. I was trying to be funny, but it's the truth! She said, "Doubt it." As if no one grants degrees to people who don't know everything. Damn the grammarians.)

In addition to turning books into advertisements for themselves, another reason these covers bother me is the lack of commitment in the images. I like things to commit to looking like something or saying something. Only suggest things if you have something very clever or surprising to suggest! Literature suggests wonderfully all the time, but the best of it is also balanced by some very committed writing. Some abstract art suggests wonderfully as well, yet the brushstrokes are certain of themselves. These women's books, however, look like they're not really sure what's inside them. If that is the case, maybe a simple graphic design or a solid colored cover would do them good. (They reserve those for manly men I think -- Palahniuk, Vonnegut...) Instead, the women's covers just point to the thousand other books with girly crap on them and say "um, this book is kinda like...thaaat?"

Finally, I hate the reviews on these book covers. They are completely incestuous. Every popular woman writer of the last decade reviews every other popular woman writer of the last decade. Check one section of the shelves and you can see them all refer back to one another. Sometimes the better proven ones, the ones who may have written something that isn't a total sob-fest, encourage the new ones. They use their New York Times stars to endorse the new gal who hasn't earned any stars (a dubious honor) yet. Maybe I'm being a backward sexist now, like a woman customer in an auto parts store who makes a beeline for the boy help, but I'd like to see a man endorse one of these

I wrote a little on contemporary women's fiction back when I coined the title phrase, in the post "A Novel." I wondered if any woman could avoid having that gratuitous label slapped on her books. Now I wonder if any woman writer has the pull (or even the desire) to keep the naked shoulders and blurry eyeballs off her book covers. They can't possibly all want this book look! In genre especially, new writers can't do much about what ends up on the covers of their books (a naked buxom blonde with a sword on the cover of a story about a wrinkly nine-eyed Mars woman, etc.). But I thought maybe the literary women would try to do something about it. If publisher cover-domination is the case, maybe I have prematurely judged a whole lot of books.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

More on Levity, with Help from SMG

I've been wanting to write about the critical styles and writing styles of Susan Gubar and Sandra M. Gilbert for awhile now, and this is a good day for it, as I can clarify some things about my last post on scholarship with levity (not to be misconstrued as "scholarship lite"). On this blog I try to be funny as often as possible, I make silly comparisons and rude jokes because that's just what comes out of me most of the time, and I wouldn't call much of what I do here scholarly. I was not suggesting in my last post that scholars should write like I write (well, maybe a little). I was instead insisting that they write, as I just mentioned, with some measure of levity. To do otherwise seems closed-minded and unrealistic, and as I said in the last post, as if they are forgetting everything except their own heads. I guess I like my criticism to have something to do with the real.

Here I'll use some examples from Sandra to explain my levity requirements a little. (I can't help but call women critics by their first names once in a while. Their last names are men's names.) Then in a second post I'll get to what I've been meaning to do, that is, talk about the differences between Gilbert and Gubar, that dynamic duo that always have their names run together as if they are one person (or a law firm, or a candy bar...), even though they are two very different women/critics. Of course there is some similarity between their critical approaches, and their respective feminisms. This is why they collaborate so well. But they deliver the results of their approaches quite differently, and their personal lives and personalities, except that they are literary scholars of the same age, are different enough that they complement each other both in life and in scholarship, rather than meld completely together as the Gilbert-Gubar franchise would have us think. Finally (it might take one more post) I want to say a little about my own identification with each of these critics, and comment on how such identifications can both nurture and hinder a young lady's scholarly growth.

Lighten us up, Sandra
I found an excellent reading spot yesterday, and went back over some of the long introduction to The Madwoman in the Attic. One reason it is so long is that the book was originally published in 1977, so the women take the time and space to give an eloquent, all-critics-considered, non-defensive critical history of Madwoman up through the 1990s. They also give a history of themselves, before, during, and after working on it. I had a solitary picnic in a field of clover, an enormous nineteenth century windmill as my backdrop, a river full of new goslings in the foreground, and traveled back to the time of the madwomen in the book. Except for the parking lot by the river, where people would periodically issue from shiny horseless carriages and stare at the strange person, the madwoman, in the field. Who sits and reads? Alone?!

I started up mid-Susan paragraph, fairly certain it was her who was writing, nodding a little at things I remembered and things I agreed with, then flipped a page for the next section. There it was, "SMG," (they label the sections with their initials) and I was excited to get back to Sandra, whose more casual style is my favorite of the two. The chuckles (and elucidations) began straight away! The following is a few big chunks (slightly condensed chunks) of this final section of Sandra's entitled "The Present Moment." See if you can find the levity! It's fairly easy to spot the cleverness, as well as the approachable voice that comes through because of her conversational style. Here she is talking about herself and Susan as "the madwomen in the academy" as a result of Madwoman's critical legacy, and she wonders what the future will bring for their particular feminisms, and for the English academy in general. Besides just looking for the fun parts, it is some good reading on why we've all gotten so theoretical, how feminist criticism functions as a microcosm of English, and English as a microcosm of the humanities. I don't usually post such long excerpts, but I feel the need to (for once) provide examples, instead of always assuming you people know what I'm talking about.

"Clearly The Madwoman's descent from the attic to the classroom has been in many ways a journey full of paradoxes. Predictably enough, 'her' incendiary impulses at first encountered considerable opposition from the antifeminist thought police. Less predictably, as Susan has demonstrated, even some of her own feminist allies soon began to express suspicion about her credentials, while she met with outright hostility from a number of so-called postfeminist sisters, cousins, and aunts. Perhaps more surprisingly, she found that some parts of the academy into which she'd stepped had already been set ablaze, often by male as well as female theorists...

"The world in which The Madwoman now moves, moreover, is virtually new -- and to go on being paradoxical, I mean the word virtually quite literally. . .What, after all, will become of those entities quaintly known as books in the imminent, hypertextually hypersophisticated millenium? Will there be real people who really read, really study and really teach what used to be called literature in the brave new world toward which we're zooming with such alarming speed?

"Some of my formulations may seem extravagant...Putting aside for the moment my hyperbole about the hypertextual, is there in this posttheoretical era a phenomenon we can still call 'literature,' that can be distinguished from, say, telephone directories, railway schedules, Nordstrom catalogs, and maybe even web pages? Are there people (once known as 'authors') who produce that stuff, and people (still, I guess, known as 'readers') who in some way consume it? Does is make a difference if some of those people formerly known as authors are beings called 'women' rather than beings called 'men'?

"One of the most positive [explanations for our profession's move toward theory] would locate the impulse to excavate and examine intellectual assumptions within the urge to question supposedly inevitable and timeless cultural arrangements that motivate feminism itself. But this analysis doesn't preclude a rather more cynical explanation, which would argue that the move of literary criticism towards "high" theory (note that adjective!) reflects the need for humanists to compete for funding with scientists in . . . arenas that are always, and no doubt always will be, disposed to prize 'hard' scientists over 'soft' humanists

"And note those adjectives again! From a gender studies perspective, as a number of thinkers (including Susan and me) have observed, the humanities in general and our profession in particular have lately been increasingly feminized, both literally and figuratively. Literally: the membership of the Modern Language Association is now about 50 percent women, and graduate students in many departments are overwhelmingly female. Figuratively: if the sciences are hard, and we are soft, that's at least in part because we do the genteel, wifely job of acculturation and socialization on campus, while the guys in astrophysics shoot for Mars."

Ok, I'm going to point some things out. In the first paragraph, Gilbert is already doing something a little different, by speaking of the book metaphorically, sometimes personifying it as its own woman, sometimes channeling it into herself and Susan. It has sisters and aunts. It walks down stairs. It starts academic fires. She is of course, using "the madwoman" (ostensibly a person) as the vehicle for all this walking around and fire-starting, but it is really the criticism contained in the book that is doing these things, and the now mobile legacy of G-n-G's work that seems to take off on its own. She has also already started in with hyperbole, a move usually considered unprofessional, with her reference to the "antifeminist thought police" (hyperbole which she reflects on as she writes, and uses for some wordplay), and isn't afraid to call out words for what they are -- if you call us incendiary, you are accusing us of arson. Mightn't we point out the fires you've started then, good sirs? I love that she sustains the madwoman metaphor throughout much of the introduction, I love that she uses words with their meanings intact in order to show us what's really going on, and I love that she isn't afraid to exaggerate for effect (something that always won me little red exclamation marks on my papers).

In the second paragraph, Gilbert starts to talk about what's happening to literature because of technology, and she talks about the words she's using as she uses them. Most writers would just move right on if they used "literally" and "virtually" together, and not point out that it might be confusing. She is delighting in what she writes as it's coming out of her -- those of us who are crazy parentheses junkies know what this is like. She also starts in with the "hyper-" words that she uses throughout the rest of the section. This has no real argumentative purpose, it just gives the reader something to latch onto, something to laugh at occasionally, and a kind of repetition that is soothing. Who says criticism can't include some elements of poetry? She does an excellent job of hyperseparating herself from literature and continues a hyperbolic sort of voice with lines like "those entities quaintly known as books."

The third paragraph is just incredibly conversational, the way she just lists the first written materials she can think of, and uses words like "stuff" (and earlier, "really...really...really"). More "hypers" of course, a sustained imaginary separation from her craft, and even from those "beings called 'women.'"

I like that fourth paragraph because it is so serious! See there is a place for seriousness. We just need relief too. There were two more long sentences in the beginning of it that I cut out! There was nothing clever in them, just argument. The only little glimmer of personality in this one is the excited parenthetical note. And then we know it's still Sandra talking to us, that the whole time she's writing this serious paragraph her brow is just looking for an opportunity to unfurrow itself!

The fifth paragraph is where I stopped because I thought it would be funny to end on "the guys" shooting at Mars. The gals stay at home in the classrooms and nurture some feminine minds, while the men take the young men out shootin' at the sky. It would probably tick some people off that she refers to the activities of English and humanities professors as "wifely," but I'm glad she's not afraid to say it.

On the whole, this little section is just so readable, has good information, arguments, and speculations in it, but also gives us a fair amount of levity, and even a little bit of silliness -- which the critic owns up to. This delivery continues for four more pages, and before the end of the intro we find a condensed version of what I've been saying here all along, even before I found this nugget:

"Maybe one of the tasks facing future generations, then, should consist in an effort not to bypass methodological sophistication [again! not "scholarship lite"] but to harness it to more accessible modes of critical writing. [Ahh! YES!] How can we purge our critical prose of the gobbledygook of stale theoretical platitudes, of hollow political grandstanding, making it more supple and perhaps even more fun [fun! YES!] to read for specialists and general readers alike?"

Gilbert can't give us the answer, but I am elated to find that I might not be the only one in search of it.

The painting at the top is "Fabyan's Windmill" by local artist David Hettinger. That really is my reading-spot windmill!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Because Aristotle likes jokes...

...we should be able to be both scholarly and funny.

"Humor is the only test of gravity, and gravity of humor; for a subject which will not bear raillery is suspicious, and a jest which will not bear serious examination is false wit."

Too long for a t-shirt?
I think this guy just wants girls to stare at his chest.

That's what Aristotle said, a couple thousand years ago. I think some of us, the smart ones especially, remember well the part about putting humor to the test of gravity. But does anyone remember the other part? If you write serious things, you should not only write with the anticipation of being made fun of (just like you would write with the anticipation of counter-arguments), but you should write things that know how to "take a joke." And perhaps you should even make some jokes yourself.

"False wit"
Some people laugh at anything, and that's fine. We need to laugh. But I suspect that Aristotle wants us to put humor to the gravity test especially when it is used to make an argument. Humorous rhetoric might give us a knee-jerk laugh because of odd analogies, exaggerations, etc, but if we are really to be convinced of something because of a joke or two, we had better examine the jokes a little more closely. Aristotle wants us to remember: "Don't make bad analogies, don't mix your metaphors, don't get caught in a string of superficially humorous conclusions and end up committing every logical fallacy I took the care to name!"

Mixed metaphors tangent. . . here I am trying to recall a quote that maybe no one's said yet. It seems like some 19th century humorist would have quipped, at some point, "The best metaphors are like the best women: shortly spoken and unadulterated." (I thought of putting a metaphor into the quote, but you try it -- it makes things confusing. Seems if you talk about "metaphor," you have to maintain your distance from it and use "like" if you want to liken it to something. Otherwise "metaphor" absorbs everything. There should be a term for that. "The metaphoric spiral!" or some crap.)

The best humorists, especially satirists, pay close attention to the logic of their joking. They convince us with their solid jests. But was the cogency of their arguments what got us to read them? No. It was the damn jokes! And the approachable, accessible language of humor.

Suspicious subjects
Serious writing on some serious subject is almost always meant to convince, and it has to be put to the test of levity, just as much as our beloved satires have to bear up under the test of gravity. When we learn to problem solve in grade school we often hear that looking at something "upside-down" is a good way to find a new approach -- it's also a good way to see the holes in the thing. An academic might deny that anything can be gotten out of the "raillery" test when applied to his forty or so dry pages, and he might not see what humor has to do with him at all. "A pointless exercise, to go 'round poking fun at scholars!" But his essays, and the rest of them, need a good turning upside-down once in a while. Who knows, something might leak out. (Or float away, since we're suspending gravity for this test.)

We may or may not prove some argument weak or wrong by spraying it with silly string and seeing where it sticks. But if we think of the serious subjects with humor in mind, we quickly see how little humor they have to offer. The good humorists do not forget their heads, but the well-respected academics completely forget everything else besides. This is where I think academics have gotten off-track as far as writing things worth reading, that is, things that end up being convincing to more than one faction of one department at one university. When I say "convincing" I'm also implying that some of the unconvinced remain unconvinced because they can't even read the whole thing. Not only is the humorless language of today's scholarship nearly inaccessible to most people, it is sometimes not even interesting to those who can access it.

I'm sure most academics today would have mixed feelings about mixing their seriousness with their humor (I know many of them do have some kind of humor, suppressed or reserved for parties as it may be), and I know that academic work is not intended for mass consumption and therefore will probably remain mostly inaccessible even if it acquires a funny bone. So be it. But as we've seen for millenia now, humor makes for effective rhetoric, and its levity gets us to write in a more open and readable voice. So even if the argument is meant for spectacled eyes only, why poo poo using humor in it? (I don't think there was always such a hard line between the arguments of the scholarly and the arguments of the funny.) If using humor does not distract from the argument, if it does not rely on false wit, there is no reason to stifle an urge to jest. (Supposing the urge is even there...)

Coming from the humor camp I often cross the line and let too much humor into the argument pages. The comic relief is as much for me as for the reader. My professors have found it mostly effective, but the funny thing about it is, the more intense an argument I want to make about something, the more jokes I end up making about it, and then I just get silly. I think I'm just applying Aristotle's suggestion with a proportionately heavy hand, to see if those most "serious subjects" can stand some most intense raillery, but then I lose control of myself. One professor called it "cuteness," which he tolerated in small doses, but throughout a certain paper on Kristeva (for some reason my own disagreements with her make me giggle uncontrollably), his comments were progressively less tolerant. The paper title earned me a "clever!" but successive jests earned "cute!" then "too cute?" and finally "definitely too cute." Conversely, I wrote long and serious papers about some beloved Romantic philosophers without even cracking a smile. It happens.

Maybe I have not developed the mastery over academic writing that I would need in order to successfully merge my two voices. But I think there are those who are capable, and some of them are not even trying. The audience is part of the problem. We read these dry things because we have to, but also because we really are interested in the subjects! I just wish the subjects could be delivered to us more gingerly. I bet other students wish the same thing, but they wouldn't dare let on. (Except in some undergraduate classrooms where complaining is routine.)

Here again I have to thank my senior seminar professor Patrick Dunn, who is hilarious when speaking on funny things and serious things alike, and is my proof that laughter lives within even the most brilliant academic (perhaps especially within the most brilliant), no matter what "critic-face" he may wear. In that class we studied the most "serious" theories and theorists we'd seen in our undergraduate careers, and read some of the most difficult critical texts we'd ever come across. And we laughed like hell at all of it.

Monday, May 3, 2010


I have not written anything on paper in over a month. Unless you count grocery lists. This is frightening to me, to say the least. I haven't been in school for months now, and I have actually run out of lined paper. As I say it "out loud" it seems completely unbelievable that such a thing could happen.

I work at an office desk, typing on a computer all day. I whip up undisciplined blog entries with the aid of half-assed internet research when I stop to take a short lunch break. My work environment, or, I could say with Marx in mind, my "material conditions" are shaping how I read text, write arguments, and communicate with people.

At school we sit at school desks or at tables shared with other students, scribbling on spiral notebooks. Or we hide in the library with a pile of books, and take notes in a comfortable corner. Time sort of stops in the classroom. We take no notice of time in the library. It's hard not to notice the time on the computer screen. When we use paper, we take our time.

An image just came to mind, of a thoughtful student tapping her lips or chin with the top of her pen, mentally jabbing her ideas into a shape before the pen can record the words precipitating from the brain-storm. (There! I found one for the picture at the top.) Oh, the fruitful pause during the writing on paper! Sometimes a pause happens at the keyboard. But most often it is a nervous, rapid finger-tapping without typing, as if the fingers can find the right keys before the mind can articulate anything worth saying. It is a frustrating pause, not much relieved by resumed cursor pushing. The paper pause is an elating pause of anticipation (and work), sometimes wholly satisfying by its inky outcome.

The ease of editing we find on our desktop machines can also make our writing less immediate, and therefore less satisfying. Of course we all revise, despite what some writers want others to think, but revision comes so easily on the screen that we are not much challenged to write a good sentence or to complete a thought on the first round of keyboarding. We can edit on the fly, and we do. We can look at a paragraph, quickly, before moving onto the next, and change out some words or re-order a sentence. We don't do this to our solid substrate prose. It is indelible, for the moment, and while a word might have to be scrawled out here and there for the sake of grammar or using proper vocabulary, we do not nit-pick the chicken scratch until it gets on-screen, or we mentally edit on the fly as we transcribe it for digital consumption. Our lack of a biologically built in copy-and-paste function forces us to let out of place sentences be, but it also keeps us from jumping into the middle of a paragraph to work on it, leaving stray words behind or forgetting to correct our tenses. The ease of editing, pasting, highlighting and deleting here, on Blogger for instance, leads to carelessness.

A final advantage (there are more, but I've written on this a little before, so I'll keep it short) to writing on paper is our physical connection to it. The paper notepad can be cradled, covered, ripped apart, divided into sections, used sideways, marked with any number of personal symbols to help us make sense of differently angled scrawlings, or even held tightly to the chest, through all the mental acrobatics, anguish, and fierce productivity it helped spark. Plus, it catches a falling head bound for a cold desk with a warm and polite thud. A similarly close and physical relationship with a computer screen is probably impossible, and if made possible by touch screens, AI, or some other technology, it would merely be fetishistic. Paper, like us, comes from the earth and, thin as it is, lives in our familiar set of four dimensions. It gets us.

I wrote a little on typewriters earlier this year since I have a couple of them. They do use my favorite physical substrate, but not in the same way. Typewriters still have keys. The pen is as important as the paper in making the connection from thought to word to expression (milky pun intended) -- our nascent, fluidy mind blobs are channeled through our dominant hand, itself something over which we have an amazing amount of control, and concentrated into a single, flourishing, fluid ink line at the tip of a writing implement. (I'm fond of thinking of ink as a bodily fluid, and thinking of the ink of men and women as different kinds of fluids. Men's ink is often compared to blood. Cixous calls ours white ink --like milk. Men's takes of their central systems and perpetuates a line. Ours flows as needed, and nourishes. More on that another time!) Artists who go from brush to computer stylus tablet probably feel the contrast between digital and non-digital creating more than writers toggling between pen and keyboard, but just think of it! All ten fingers, some smarter than the others, spread out according to a system of keys arranged for frequency of use (in someone's English), the non-dominant, probably somewhat spastic, hand doing as much work as the other, the brain's control center split in two, the screen not registering any effect from a key typed more softly or with more force. And you can't use the damn margins.

I know almost all of what we read is in type. But some of it is transcribed to type or merely typeset, especially anything written before the twentieth century. Whether the text was edited on paper, during transcription by the author, or after it was typed, the initial creation of the paper piece, the manuscript we can call it, whether it is grand or not, owes much to the medium of choice. The process, the action of writing, seems to happen most freely and most effectively when it happens "in real life," that is, along the physical, visceral channel that opens up (not without occasional clogging) between the mind, the hand, the pen and its ink, and the awaiting substrate.