*ART

Joseph Conrad places fiction in the schema of *art

— What is *ART?

As Maria Popova writes in The Atlantic on the subject of (the increasingly, nowadays, ‘controversial’) Joseph Conrad, “Much of his writing bears a profound philosophical quality, exploring the depths of psychology and other pillars of existence.” In this post I give you some of Conrad’s case for how strings of (“tired old”) words can be construed as a form of fine art. I would personally place literature (not music, as he does) at the pinnacle but, this is me and, I am not he:

A work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art should carry its justification in every line. And art itself may be defined as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect. It is an attempt to find in its forms, in its colors, in its light, in its shadows, in the aspects of matter and in the facts of life what of each is fundamental, what is enduring and essential—their one illuminating and convincing quality—the very truth of their existence. The artist, then, like the thinker or the scientist, seeks the truth and makes his appeal. Impressed by the aspect of the world the thinker plunges into ideas, the scientist into facts—whence, presently, emerging they make their appeal to those qualities of our being that fit us best for the hazardous enterprise of living. They speak authoritatively to our common-sense, to our intelligence, to our desire of peace or to our desire of unrest; not seldom to our prejudices, sometimes to our fears, often to our egoism—but always to our credulity. And their words are heard with reverence, for their concern is with weighty matters: with the cultivation of our minds and the proper care of our bodies, with the attainment of our ambitions, with the perfection of the means and the glorification of our precious aims. It is otherwise with the artist.
 
Fiction—if it at all aspires to be art—appeals to temperament. And in truth it must be, like painting, like music, like all art, the appeal of one temperament to all the other innumerable temperaments whose subtle and resistless power endows passing events with their true meaning, and creates the moral, the emotional atmosphere of the place and time. Such an appeal to be effective must be an impression conveyed through the senses; and, in fact, it cannot be made in any other way, because temperament, whether individual or collective, is not amenable to persuasion. All art, therefore, appeals primarily to the senses, and the artistic aim when expressing itself in written words must also make its appeal through the senses, if its high desire is to reach the secret spring of responsive emotions. It must strenuously aspire to the plasticity of sculpture, to the color of painting, and to the magic suggestiveness of music—which is the art of arts. And it is only through complete, unswerving devotion to the perfect blending of form and substance; it is only through an unremitting never-discouraged care for the shape and ring of sentences that an approach can be made to plasticity, to color, and that the light of magic suggestiveness may be brought to play for an evanescent instant over the commonplace surface of words: of the old, old words, worn thin, defaced by ages of careless usage.
 
The sincere endeavor to accomplish that creative task, to go as far on that road as his strength will carry him, to go undeterred by faltering, weariness or reproach, is the only valid justification for the worker in prose. And if his conscience is clear, his answer to those who in the fullness of a wisdom which looks for immediate profit, demand specifically to be edified, consoled, amused; who demand to be promptly improved, or encouraged, or frightened, or shocked, or charmed, must run thus: My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see. That—and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm—all you demand—and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.
 
Sometimes, stretched at ease in the shade of a roadside tree, we watch the motions of a labourer in a distant field, and after a time, begin to wonder languidly as to what the fellow may be at. We watch the movements of his body, the waving of his arms, we see him bend down, stand up, hesitate, begin again. It may add to the charm of an idle hour to be told the purpose of his exertions. If we know he is trying to lift a stone, to dig a ditch, to uproot a stump, we look with a more real interest at his efforts; we are disposed to condone the jar of his agitation upon the restfulness of the landscape; and even, if in a brotherly frame of mind, we may bring ourselves to forgive his failure. We understood his object, and, after all, the fellow has tried, and perhaps he had not the strength—and perhaps he had not the knowledge. We forgive, go on our way—and forget. And so it is with the workman of art. Art is long and life is short, and success is very far off. And thus, doubtful of strength to travel so far, we talk a little about the aim—the aim of art, which, like life itself, is inspiring, difficult—obscured by mists. It is not in the clear logic of a triumphant conclusion; it is not in the unveiling of one of those heartless secrets which are called the Laws of Nature. It is not less great, but only more difficult.
 
To arrest, for the space of a breath, the hands busy about the work of the earth, and compel men entranced by the sight of distant goals to glance for a moment at the surrounding vision of form and color, of sunshine and shadows; to make them pause for a look, for a sigh, for a smile—such is the aim, difficult and evanescent, and reserved only for a few to achieve. But sometimes, by the deserving and the fortunate, even that task is accomplished. And when it is accomplished—behold!—all the truth of life is there: a moment of vision, a sigh, a smile—and the return to an eternal rest.

1619

Lest we forget or indeed, in case we aren’t yet fully au fait, you may like to listen to or download even, the “1619 Project” podcasts.

Dull drums

they dig and dent
without relent

Abandoned
“No way of escape”
I shall quote no one whatsoever.

Nah, I will. & here — with a bit of “Beyond Good and Evil,” penned by Nietzsche — I bloody fucking go again:


In the Jewish “Old Testament,” the book of divine justice, there are men, things, and speeches of such impressive style that the world of Greek and Indian literature has nothing to place beside them.  We stand with fear and reverence before these tremendous remnants of what human beings once were. … To have glued together [the] New Testament, a sort of rococo of taste in all respects, with the Old Testament into a single book, as the “Bible,” and “the essential book,” is perhaps the greatest act of daring and “sin against the spirit” which literary Europe has on its conscience.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) (1886)
The bold highlight is mine.

A sinful act. A guilt upon one’s conscience. As in: when one’s upon their knees in the dark of the polished mahogany confessional box, willing themselves out loud to think of baby lambs and flower beds yet fully savouring the feeling of being aroused by the tantrically intimate intonation of the gentleman upon the other side of the divide who may or may not himself be now highly aroused by one’s confession-cum-fantasy of the ‘thing’ that happened with the milkman. Would a gentle touch be too much, you silently ask yourself as he begins to describe your Angelic Salutations and is want to linger on the requirement not to allow your hand, with or without object, to saunter (satanically) southward. But, ain’t the bible in fact the greatest work of literature peer-ee-ud? And the King James version one of the greatest works of translation and/or English prose full•stop? Well, here’s this post’s first purpose, to introduce you — one & only — to Jacke Wilson’s sonorous but soft voice. The voice is the narrator of a podcast called: The History of Literature. The narrator’s name (Jacke Wilson; that’s pronounced by him as ‘jack’ not ‘jayke’ / ‘jacki’) is, intriguingly, a pen name. I discovered this when I’d wanted to put a face to this mesmerising voice. Jacke, you see, touches upon the Old Testament (“The Hebrew Bible”) here and basically says that this compendium of stories far surpasses its one know literary predecessor: Gilgamesh and its near contemporary Greek works (i.e., Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad). Noah’s flood, Adam and Eve, human sacrifice and daughters laying with their dad, I mean, who could possibly make such stuff up ipso facto (by that very fact or act) it’s just gotta b divine, ain’t it? Hasn’t it? Well, let us see what Jacke has to say on this and some two hundred other works of literature: 

01. — Jacke Wilson | The Person
02. — Jacke Wilson | The Podcast

#1 — 1839
William Wilson

William Wilson is a short story by one of my current favourite writers: Edgar Allan Poe. The novel covers a doppelgänger scenario and as I’ve read it said, it clearly explores the theme of the double (the delusional, the inner voice that will be called in extreme cases schizophrenia). In this mini novella, the second self haunts the protagonist and leads him to insanity and at the same time somehow represents his own insanity:

01. — 🔊 William Wilson
02. — 📙 Willian Wilson

William-Wilson-cover


Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.
 
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.
 
Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.

#2 — 1899
The Heart of Darkness

The Heart of Darkness is by Joesph Conrad. Conrad one of my all time favourite authors not least because his mother tongue wasn’t English, he loved the sea and he wrote so well about the loneliness and torment of the human soul. Some of his stuff, especially The Secret Sharer, speak flipping volumes to those who just cannot, and do not, quite fit in. To those who can’t be ‘just another number,’ weekenders, latter-day talent show and reality TV viewer who today seem content (sedated/duped) with snapping and instagraming and content just to be, not, in other words, to think beyond and ask the question of why… Adam Curtis would explain this by way of his Century of The Self thesis. Never you mind my mercurial friend:

01. — 🔊 The Heart of Darkness
02. — 📙 The Heart of Darkness

The-Heart-of-Darkness-cover


The sea has never been friendly to man. At most it has been the accomplice of human restlessness.
 
We live as we dream – alone.
 
The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.

#3 — 1951
The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea is a novella by Ernest Hemingway. Now, like everyone wants to retrospectively label Conrad as racist (by today’s standards okay, yes) I hear most critics say about Hemingway, amazing master of succinct prose but an awfully misogynistic fellow (seems so I guess) yet, I’m all confused here and I ain’t no debutante gadfly. You see, I never know if we should judge authors/artists or simply consider the work of fiction or the painted picture or the chiselled nude as a thing of its very own being. I mean, we aren’t wanting to make acquaintance with long since passed away people, and we can’t — with justification — judge them (too harshly from afar) because how can we know the extent to which their parents and/or the societal norms that pounded and pummeled their formative years impacted on their empathy for other modes of fellow human being. ANY WHICH WAY, this little story may be meant for men, men that like to hunt and kill, but who cares! I see in it a tale of dogged determination, nature’s turning of the wheel and the reality of us being but a handful of dust; for however high we soar we will all be grounded by gravity’s pull and the biological clock that would have us dead and left out to the vultures/ hyenas/ wolves by the age of say, 37. Alas, now is the time to think of only one thing (doing my f’ing assignment on Hermann H. Hesse). Here without further ado is this quaint work:

01. — 🔊 The Old Man and the Sea
02. — 📙 The Old Man and the Sea

The-Old-Man-and-the-Sea-cover


There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
 
There is no friend as loyal as a book.

#4 — 1963
The Bell Jar

This is the post’s second purpose to introduce The Bell Jar — a sort of autobiography by Sylvia Plath (it could be termed a Roman-à-clef too as we are told that real people and events appear in each and every chapter). It will be known to most that Plath took her life soon after writing this book (1) and that she decided it to publish it in England under the pen name: Victoria Lucas (2). It often comes with a public health warning, but come on, nobody here (who is actually no body) who’s stared so deeply into the abyss would wanna b chaperoned and spoon-fed mollycoddle. You see, I’m hearing the dull sound of drums, I’m not getting sleep, but I am letting Jacke try and rock me off, I’m not getting into the set texts, but I am getting more into the mind of Plath (**her works I should say) so here, my dears, are a quartet of resources for you:

01. — 📙 The Bell Jar (HTML & 🔊)
02. — 📙 The Bell Jar (PDF)
03. — The Bell Jar, a literary analysis

The-Bell-Jar-cover


If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.
 
I wanted to crawl in between those black lines of print.
 
The blood jet is poetry and there is no stopping it.