A caveat to the title: poetic prose without purpose is boring.
I will make a statement – I have not completed Ulysses by James Joyce. Thankfully, for the sake of my own pretentious literary cred, I can also state that Borges wrote that he didn’t either. Thus, the fact that Jorge Luis “Library of Babel” Borges wasn’t able to complete Ulysses places a great comfort in my heart.
What I did, in fact, was that I read about 3 chapters, and then flipped around to see what the whole was like, and then I told myself – “Is that all?”
I will make an even more arrogant statement – if you gave me probably 1-2 years salary and dumped me in a library, then told me to choose a random mythological classic, a random historical event, a few random philosophical texts, and access to an etymological database – I would be able to write something like Ulysses no problem.
The point is – I don’t want to. It’s boring.
A strange intersection of multiple circumstances has manifested within me the ability to replicate lyricism and language modes without much issue. James Joyce had, more or less, the same ability – but he probably decided to take it to extremes since, in Modernist times, that was the cool thing to do.
In our contemporary times, it isn’t really that big a deal any more.
The act itself is very simple. All I have to do is to imagine the sounds, and the imagery itself will affix itself to the sounds. That’s the level one. The level two is to come up with as many disjunctive and differing poetic objects as possible to the point where you can create as many poetic resemblances as you can fit with regards to a single scene or description.
Most of it is unconscious work, which is why I don’t particularly idolize people who have merely that in their repertoire.
For example – the poem I wrote over here was derived purely by chance. I didn’t know what subject I was going to write about, nor what the title would lead up to, nor what I would talk about. What I knew I wanted to do, though, was to string as many sound combinations as possible. The fact that it turned into a satirical political screed is wholly unintentional – at least until I realized that that was what I was going to write about, and then I started to refine it even more in the writing. If I didn’t start off with ‘ooo’ sounds, the formation of the poem might have led into a totally different subject matter. Using pure unintentionality I was able to create the poem in about 15-30 minutes.
The result is this: Most people are only able to grasp the ‘intentional fallacy’ intellectually. I, on the other hand, am able to grasp that fact intuitively – solely because I have written a lot of things that make sense in hindsight, but the process itself is completely unconscious. Some of the stories I have written – I only discover during the process of writing.
Pure creativity, as such, is kind of like a pattern matching software. You meta-cognate the ‘what’, but you intuitively derive the ‘how’. So all I have to do is to designate my mind with a command like “find sound combinations” or “describe scene so-and-so” or the more complex operation – “find sound pattern whilst describing scene whilst keeping in mind so-and-so character axioms whilst making it funny”.
Of course, I make it sound a bit too simple. The process of creative refines itself a thousand times a second, so my initial command-setting will most likely develop extra refinements to push it in a meaning-oriented direction. And I have to spend quite a lot of time thinking about the pre-settings in terms of fully structured narratives.
So, with that poem, my first setting was pegged to sound combinations. In about 4-5 lines, it started to take a political tone, so I told my creative sense to come up with a few possible thematic thrusts – and eventually settled on the populist-tyranny cycle – and then the rest was just sound combinations and more such refinements along the way.
Actually, the mere existence of freestyle rap should allow many people to get insight into this. Eminem can come up with a whole load of confessional sounding witty stuff sometimes, and all sorts of imagery, almost on the go.
Like I said, it also can go beyond sounds, to characters or imagery. Sometimes I don’t even know what character traits will manifest themselves within my characters until I enter ‘the moment’. After a while, I grab on to those which I can utilize more, and seek to push the narrative in those directions. The traits themselves are probably gained from either real life occurrences, or filching character traits from authors like Chekhov and Dostoyevsky. You can probably take a random Chekhov story, get about 5-6 character traits from there, and then turn it into a light novel. Throw those traits into variegated battle scenarios, and you got a light novel series that can kill most of the contenders in the market. At the very least, it’s better than Kawakami, who based all his character axioms on Anime stereotypes taken to extremes.
All this boils down to the fact, anyway, that I can’t really spot authorial intentionality but I can definitely spot authorial ‘unintentionality’.
I don’t particular idolize Willy Shakespeare because I am quite aware that he’s also an unintentionalist most of the time. He probably comes up with a series of basic plot and character settings, but allows his intuition to derive large swaths of it. When he’s psychologically focused, he’s good, and in terms of picking the most variegated poetic objects, he’s very good – but a lot of it is stylistic miasma. More resemblance-machine than meta-cognate settings – and a great sense of innuendo of course.
Joyce, and a lot of other stream-of-consciousness dudes, are also unintentionalists. It’s strange that Joyce is a case where he started off with a series of hyper-psychological focused short stories and then slowly let his unintentional sense take over, choosing to churn all sorts of history, language, prose, and memories into his huge resemblance-machine to create the giant tome that is Ulysses – and later Finnegans Wake.
Am I making an ‘unintentional fallacy’ by denoting all these people as unintentionalists? I’m just pointing out what my poetic-attunement tells me. Of course, the fact that these writers seem to me unintentionalists does not negate the sense of aesthetics for most people. I can still enjoy the poetic stylistics, although for someone like me who knows what constitutes it too well, reading too much of it at once is completely boring. I love the feeling of beautiful variegated signs and symbols crashing into other signs and symbols within my head – but a higher level something in my head says that this isn’t good enough. It’s like how a lot of the lengthy Romanticist Poet mega-epics, like Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound, seems to be sluggish in comparison to long and focused philosophical poetics like any of Wallace Stevens’ long poems, or the Duino Elegies. Shelley can write very cool sounding verses every line or so, but it dissipates.
Poetic prose, in other words, is mostly boring, especially of the confessionalist variety. And you can tell that a person who spends too much time writing such a thing, placing so many sparkles on his words without a primary thrust, is merely sinking into a pit of his own internal calumny. I know this because I’ve been there, and I’ve done that.
Two of the most interesting books I’ve read in the world are Kusamakura by Natsume Soseki and A Rebours by Joris-Karl Huysman. Both feel like completely ironic takes on what a person who takes aesthetic pleasure to the furthest extent would be like.
A Rebours portrays a Western aesthete, who tries to methodologically eliminate all unaesthetic experience from his life. In almost scientific realistic detail, Huysman relays to us how Des Esseintes starts by choosing the exact and correct colors of interior décor, chooses the exact books for his Latin library, chooses the exact variety of strange exotic plant for his greenhouse, chooses the exact combination of perfume for his sensory pleasure etc… Huysman even writes how Des Esseintes requires all of his servants to wear special shoes that will eliminate sound when they walk about, and they cannot show their faces to him. By the end of the book, he is forced to leave his aesthetic asceticism due to health issues.
Kusamakura, on the other hand, is about an artist who retreats to a hotel in the mountains and tries to experience all sorts of those Eastern aesthetics within Nature. He writes haiku while staring at the scenery and goes into long tirades about how Western aesthetics is worse than Eastern aesthetics (kind of similar to Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows) etc…
It may not have been the authors’ respective intentions to convey this, but both books are, to me, satirical depictions of what happens when you take people who read poetic prose for the sake of mere poetics to the furthest extent. The chasers of empty beauty. The chasers of mere decoration. Idealizations of the aesthetic realm.
The fact is, living in the aesthetic realm is completely boring. From personal experience, this ‘poetic insight’ is really just a mad rush of words in the brain. Joyce may have been able to get completely high on it, but, for me, merely entering that stream is going to be falling into your worst biases and artistic faults – lack of control, in other words. Something that seems to be overwhelmingly apparent when you come in contact with a lot of books out there that merely attempt that empty whirlwind of styles.
Closer to what being attuned to that sense feels like, though, is Chekhov’s depiction of Trigorin in The Seagull – which still remains one of my most personally favorite plays in the world. Trigorin spends all his time thinking about how to write literary things to the point where he feels that it’s vamping off his life:
TRIGORIN: Hmph! You talk of fame and happiness, of some brilliant interesting life; but for me all these pretty words, if I may say so, are just like marmalade, which I never eat. You are very young and very kind, but I don’t know what is so delightful about my life. You have heard of obsessions, when a man is haunted day and night, say, by the idea of the moon or something? Well, I’ve got my moon. Day and night I am obsessed by the same persistent thought; I must write, I must write, I must write…. No sooner have I finished one story than I am somehow compelled to write another, then a third, after a third a fourth. I write without stopping, except to change horses like a postchaise. I have no choice. What is there brilliant or delightful in that, I should like to know? It’s a dog’s life! Here I am talking to you, excited and delighted, yet never for one moment do I forget that there is an unfinished story waiting for me indoors. I see a cloud shaped like a grand piano. I think: I must mention somewhere in a story that a cloud went by, shaped like a grand piano. I smell heliotrope. I say to myself: Sickly smell, mourning shade, must be mentioned in describing a summer evening. I lie in wait for each phrase, for each word that falls from my lips or yours and hasten to lock all these words and phrases away in my literary storeroom: they may come in handy some day. When I finish a piece of work, I fly to the theatre or go fishing, in the hope of resting, of forgetting myself, but no, a new subject is already turning, like a heavy iron ball, in my brain, some invisible force drags me to my table and I must make haste to write and write. And so on for ever and ever. I have no rest from myself; I feel that I am devouring my own life, that for the honey which I give to unknown mouths out in the void, I rob my choicest flowers of their pollen, pluck the flowers themselves and trample on their roots. Surely I must be mad? Surely my friends and acquaintances do not treat me as they would treat a sane man? “What are you writing at now? What are we going to have next?” So the same thing goes on over and over again, until I feel as if my friends’ interest, their praise and admiration, were all a deception; they are deceiving me as one deceives a sick man, and sometimes I’m afraid that at any moment they may steal on me from behind and seize me and carry me off, like Póprishtchin, to a madhouse. In the old days, my young best days, when I was a beginner, my work was a continual torture. An unimportant writer, especially when things are going against him, feels clumsy, awkward and superfluous; his nerves are strained and tormented; he cannot keep from hovering about people who have to do with art and literature, unrecognized, unnoticed, afraid to look men frankly in the eye, like a passionate gambler who has no money to play with. The reader that I never saw presented himself to my imagination as something unfriendly and mistrustful. I was afraid of the public; it terrified me; and when each new play of mine was put on, I felt every time that the dark ones in the audience were hostile and the fair ones coldly indifferent. How frightful it was! What agony I went through! Yes, it’s a pleasant feeling writing;… and looking over proofs is pleasant too. But as soon as the thing is published my heart sinks, and I see that it is a failure, a mistake, that I ought not to have written it at all; then I am angry with myself, and feel horrible…. [Laughing] And the public reads it and says: “How charming! How clever!… How charming, but not a patch on Tolstoy!” or “It’s a delightful story, but not so good as Turgenev’s ‘Fathers and Sons.'” And so on, to my dying day, my writings will always be clever and charming, clever and charming, nothing more. And when I die, my friends, passing by my grave, will say: “Here lies Trigorin. He was a charming writer, but not so good as Turgenev.”
The first half, at least, is totally how it feels like. The second part – I don’t know because I’m far from being published. But thinking about poetic and literary things and how to sketch a scene and all that kind of thing is extremely irritating. It’s also irritating when I get insomnia because I’m too busy thinking about it day and night. It’s irritating when I look at people like Joyce who can splurge endless words and poetics happily and he was at a time when it was cool to do that – whereas at this point in time it’s such a commonplace thing that I know better than to fall back on it – and, anyway, if I try to write poetics for too long it becomes boring to me. In other words, rather than Kusamakura and A rebours, it’s an endless churning resemblance-machine that sucks you in and makes you a puppet to silly lyricisms. Especially when you have to think long and hard about how to get away from that kind of verbal baseline machinery in order to reach the precise little scope of perfection that only appears in the high symmetrical structures of certain works.
Living the poetic life totally sucks if you’re only stuck on that level. Which was why, in the play, Trigorin decided to go fishing instead – while younger poet Konstantin was getting all huffy about silly big things like Ideal Beauty and The Higher Muse.
It is very easy to write Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake. But more startling to me was how Joyce was able to come up with Dubliners – a book that seems to reflect a whole lot of life. Especially a story like The Dead, which caps off the entire book nicely.
Since I’m on the subject of poetic prose, I might as well give a shout-out to Cosmoetica’s Dan Schneider, who has been vigilant in destroying bad poetry with his lengthy and very vicious essays attacking every single kind of poet and author – both contemporary and classical.
He also helped a bit in re-orienting my worldview away from lyricism, because his own poetry doesn’t exactly have high music in the sense of many other poets out there – but they’re absolutely thick in their structure. For example:
There are years to go before the last perfect day
on Earth. Then the sun will begin to swell, and life
will cease, shorelines will retreat as oceans boil,
and all will glow a barren red and airless gray.
By then I will be shadow, long dead. Now, I live
amid joys and sorrows, with the love of a girl
in a backseat, behind her mommy and daddy,
as they pilgrim to a motel in New Hampshire,
blowing kisses out her window to teenage strays,
drunk in a sportscar, honking and cursing at her
family squareback’s pace, as they are full on passing,
as if they are ready to face eternal sleep,
as they leave her family behind on the highway,
that is endless, and endless, and everything.
Now when you compare something like this to the hyper-lyricism of Shakespeare or Yeats or someone like that – it’s absolutely lacking in that, but notice how it’s deft in setting up a cosmic image (the death of the Earth), with a realistic focus (the innocence of a girl), a slight comment on youth and its transience (the drunks in the car), and then leaving off the last line with a final poetic punch. He has about 100 or so poems up on his page and all of them contain that kind of subtlety, and all of them are in completely different styles ranging across all sorts of subject matter – whether pop cultural or historical or personal.
Supposedly his actual output is more than a thousand, which is all unpublished because his vicious essays created too many enemies in the literary establishment. That is a complete shame, because 1000 such poems could easily overturn the entire idea of what Literature should be made of
Here is another one:
NINTH MURDER: FACE OF EVIL
A SPIC TAKES ON A NIGGER: YOU DECIDE WHO WILL DIE!
That which consumes us consumes us fully.
I thought this as Joey and I looked on
as an ugly black drug-dealing bully
beat the piss out of yet another Juan
who took it at first, then not, then turned on
a dime to rage, with a blade. Now, dark joys
would be had by all, as we boys looked on
aloner than a girl amongst all boys.
The shadows of forgotten ancestors
looked over our shoulders, and greased our skid
into complicity. We nursed our fears
as the two scumbags did what scumbags did
in such situations. Neither punk fled
for such shit is faggotry, and annoys
even dishonored men, as this. One bled
aloner than a girl amongst all boys.
They both stumbled backward, and held their guts,
with smiles that crafted oblivions,
sickly and demurely. My pal went nuts
with anticipation, like in a trance,
till I shut him up, and explained the dance,
as they gathered themselves, lost to all noise,
till one discovered he had not been lanced
aloner than a girl amongst all boys,
as the other fell dead. He took his chance
and paid. His face now ever in a poise.
Which shit-ass died? You decide! Do your dance
aloner than a girl amongst all boys!
This poem is extremely plainspoken, and draws from his own experience in a gang – but the tightness of the structure is absurd. In these amount of lines it touches on youth and masculinity, the allure of violence, and once again the transience of all these youthful escalations. Once again, not really lyrical, but absurdly tight.
Over here is a ridiculous long poem that enters into the entire history of the United States, including a portion of the text that riffs on the speech-style of Richard Nixon, and ends with a Sci-Fi Portion.
So now you have a writer who claims that he has 1000 great poems unpublished, and from the 100 or so poems on his page, he has proven himself to be complete honest about it – that he is really absurdly great in his putting together of the structure and density of the poems.
What I decided to do was to read all the rest of his stuff. His short stories and excerpts from his so-called ‘True Life’ memoirs.
A bit of a problem was that all the links on his webpage for stories he posted elsewhere are already dead – but, thankfully, the Internet Wayback Machine still has copies of it saved.
You can read one of the currently existing excerpts from his memoirs here.
Can you see how ridiculous the thickness of that writing is? Even though it isn’t as poetically driven as something like Chekhov, it is absolutely dense in its information reveal. It starts off with a reminiscence, then shifts into a lengthy digression on the scientific clash between Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould, then an explanation of various physics stuff about the nature of Time, then it goes back into remembering his Dad, then he remembers a friend from his youth, then he even throws in one of his own poems, then he mixes the memory and the rumination on Time, then he throws in another poem, then he goes back into cosmic rumination, and finally he ends on a reminiscence about a rabbit he saw as a child. Most importantly, rather than a lot of excessive writers out there, how all these disparate parts feeds together is absolutely perfect – with the ending scene being the unifying image that ties it all together.
Can you believe that a writer who can write with such density actually has four whole memoirs that are currently unpublished?
His short stories and whatever fiction on his site displays the exact same attitude towards thickness and density. Not all of them fit my tastes, but I can tell that they all have achieved exactly what they set out to achieve. Their psychological focus is completely precise. It seems as though everything about the character is there on the table in hard and cold detail. Here, for example, is a story that explores the notion of evil by examining the life of a telecom company worker.
No matter how rough or unaesthetic you find the writing, you cannot deny that how it unfolds is pretty much the epitome of ‘every line contributes to the structure’.
So would you believe a writer has that writing ability if he claims that he has a book that is longer than War & Peace which he wrote in 9 months, and a book that is longer than (or about as long as) In Search Of Lost Time which he wrote in 17 months? – as he claims over here:
Well, you know what? I’m going to believe it. I also believe it because I’ve been tracking quite a number of his Youtube videos (where he posts up various interviews he has with people) and he can just quote excerpts from the manuscript at the snap of a finger. I’m going to believe that Dan Schneider has a more than a million word long novel which can achieve peak information density and captures every single aspect of life all the way down to intense psychological detail that he wrote in about a small fraction of the time it took for Proust to complete his own novel.
In other words, if you wait about 10-20 years time, you might see the entire Schneider output (which is, according to his website, 10+ short story collections, 10+ novels of varying lengths, and 1000+ poems) get published – provided he can find a publisher who can see past his acerbic nature and accept the work for what it is. According to him, he’s also written a Western, a Kid’s book – is currently writing a spy novel – and will write a Science Fiction story next. That condensed output might be just enough to overturn everyone’s notions about what exactly is possible when it comes to writing Literature.
But, if such a person with such a ridiculous output actually exists – then I better shape up or I totally won’t be able to match him. Which means learning control and totally not letting my most poetically verbose or overwhelming instincts take a hold of me. Even if it means having to spend longer nights thinking over the structures of various fanciful stories, poring over tons and tons of random historical, philosophical, and psychological texts, training up my scene creating skills to the point where it becomes highly effortless, translating more just so that I can train up my writing skills, and osmosizing endless amounts of personalities around me so that I can pull off broad psychological strokes in as little words as possible. Why would I want to match someone like Joyce, when I can aim for Schneider?
Even if war, madness, or general craziness comes about – I’d better do it.