Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fragments from the Beauty of Imagination vs. the "Lawyers" of Fantasy: Rematch Round #1

An oft-told joke: A millionaire called into his drawing room three of his employees--a maid, an accountant and a lawyer.

He asked of the maid: "What's 2+2?"
She responded promptly: "Four, sir."
Turning to the accountant he asked the same question.
The accountant took out his adding machine and after some diligent pressing of keys looked up and responded in turn: "Three, sir."
Turning to the lawyer he posed the same question.

The lawyer instantly moved to the window and drew the curtains shut, casting the room into a faint darkness. Turning to his employer he smiled and said: "What do you want it to be?"

If anyone has any question what I am here referring to, please read on.

"Like calls like. At best scholarship, by placing in our hands knowledge which we should otherwise not possess, can fit us to read the works of the poets, to decipher what they have written. Yeats, a poet of this century, can no more be understood by those who do not possess the knowledge of the 'learned school' in which he himself studied, than can poets of other periods; and to such knowledge _there is no critical short-cut_ [emphasis mine]; we have to acquire it or remain in ignorance"--Kathleen Raine. "Defending Ancient Springs."

And so on to a dichotomy in our time... "Everybody's talking into their pockets; everybody wants a box of chocolates and a long-stem rose ..." ..."Everybody knows it's coming apart, take one last look at this Sacred Heart, before it blows."--Don Henley, "Everybody Knows".

But I leave you not with an uppercut to the mind, but with several exhortations for the soul...

"Indeed, you might think of genre boundaries not as obstacles, but rather as dikes and levees that hold out the river or the sea. Where-ever they are raised up, they allow you to cultivate new land... If enough of us like your story we'll accept your new boundary as the true one, and plant a few stories in your newfound land... We're all harvesting crops in lands opened up by the pioneers in our field-- Wells,Verne, Merritt, Haggard, Lovecraft, Shelley, Tolkien, and many others. But we're none of us confined to the territory they discovered. It's just a starting point. ...How can we create the literature of the strange if we stay in well-mapped lands?"--Orson Scott Card, "How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy."

And an insight about Algernon Blackwood, who H. P. Lovecraft regarded as one of the best contemporary horror/supernatural writers of his time: "My fundamental interest, I suppose, is signs and proofs of other powers that lie hidden in us all; the extension, in other words, of human faculty. So many of my stories, therefore, deal with extension of consciousness; speculative and imaginative treatment of possibilities outside our normal range of consciousness." ...--From correspondence with Peter Penzoldt.

It is well known that Blackwood also loved children: "Blackwood was of the opinion that children, like animals, had not lost their instinctive closeness to Nature or their innocence, both of which became dulled by civilization and overbearing adults. Children adored Blackwood because he behaved and saw the world like them -- the world of wonder in a daisy, a cloud or a butterfly."--extracted from a summary of his book, "A Prisoner in Fairyland."

And in closing, a lesson from one of the masters: " To recapitulate then: — I would define, in brief, the Poetry of words as The Rhythmical Creation of Beauty. Its sole arbiter is Taste. With the Intellect or with the Conscience it has only collateral relations. Unless incidentally, it has no concern whatever either with Duty or with Truth.

A few words, however, in explanation. That pleasure which is at once the most pure, the most elevating, and the most intense, is derived, I maintain, from the contemplation of the Beautiful. In the contemplation of Beauty we alone find it possible to attain that pleasurable elevation, or excitement of the soul, which we recognise as the Poetic Sentiment, and which is so easily distinguished from Truth, which is the satisfaction of the Reason, or from Passion, which is the excitement of the heart. I make Beauty, therefore — using the word as inclusive of the sublime — I make Beauty the province of the poem, simply because it is an obvious rule of Art that effects should be made to spring as directly as possible from their causes: — no one as yet having been weak enough to deny that the peculiar elevation in question is at least most readily attainable in the poem. It by no means follows, however, that the incitements of Passion' or the precepts of Duty, or even the lessons of Truth, may not be introduced into a poem, and with advantage; for they may subserve incidentally, in various ways, the general purposes of the work: but the true artist will always contrive to tone them down in proper subjection to that Beauty which is the atmosphere and the real essence of the poem.--Extracted from Poe's essay and lecture on "The Poetic Principle."


Heruka said...

Rob, I couldn't agree more - only one thing to add, that 'Everybody Knows' is a Leonard Cohen song (and Leonard deserves his place among the poets mentioned here and the voices for beauty, the heart, the imagination and the profoundly human position, much more than most of his contemporaries); maybe it was covered by that covetous Eagle (!)

Rob Kuntz said...

Thanks for the catch, Heruka. I didn't know that Henley had remade that song.

Heruka said...

Always a pleasure to widen the appreciation of Leonard! 'Everybody Knows' is on 1988's offering 'I'm Your Man'. His poetry is well worth a read too (as are his novels) - I highly recommend 'The Book of Longing', his most recent poetry volume (2006)