In the last part of this article, I wrote that Dan was an ex-mafia member. Thankfully he wrote to me to clear up that misunderstanding:
I am not nor ever was a mafiosi- working as a teenager in a Mafia front is just that. I was in a teenage gang, mostly Hispanics- but that’s something diff.
An Introduction to Dan Schneider
I’ve talked about & recommended reading poet-writer-critic Dan Schneider before, but I feel that I should go a bit deeper into his stuff. This is because there are probably several obstacles getting in the way of anyone who wants to foray into his site – Cosmoetica. The first is, of course, the web design is all over the place. The second reason is that people will probably go over to the site to look up their favorite authors – and then be thoroughly offended by Schneider when he does his usual ruthless attack. The third is that his style of writing can at times be almost like a stream of molten lava pouring out of a very hot-headed volcano – as exemplified here:
“There is an ironclad rule when approaching the poetry of Edward J. ‘Ted’ Hughes- &, no, it is not DO NOT FOLLOW HIM TO THE ALTAR! Smartasses! The rule is this- if the poem is under 10 lines long it might be a passable poem. If the poem is over 10 lines- forget it; it’s likely a disaster. This is because TH never wrote a poem over 10 lines long that was any good. He simply lacked the musical skill to keep a poem felicitous, & his intellect was too lacking to come up with any scenario worthy of taking past the 10 line limit. TH was a bad poet, overall. I could go on to show how he relentlessly tried to capture elements of his 1st wife’s poetry in his own, despite the long debunked mythos that it was TH that taught what’shername how to be a great poet. Ever notice that that was never propounded before her headbaking incident? Yes, the wife said it, but that’s because she was stuck on TH’s fishing rod. Don’t believe me? I challenge you to read his late 1970s book length atrocity Gaudete– the longest poem in the English language. OK, not technically, at 200+ pages, but it FEELS like it as the interminably dull narrative plods on.”
So when you read Schneider you can expect that kind of exclamative text + punctuation + half-spoken style + personalized terminology.
All of these things are extremely off-putting for any new reader, and even of those people who are attracted to some of the reviews, there are probably only a percentage who will really dive into everything within Schneider’s archives. This is a bit depressing because, while the essays can be okay on their own, they form a critical corpus when read in relation with the other parts of the archives, and his poetry, and his prose, and they all hint at what kind of possibilities would lie underneath all that – within the man himself.
This is especially so for the words Schneider uses, because he can say certain words that will have an extremely clear definition in his own head, but a new reader will be unable to grasp at that specific meaning unless he sees the other essays where Dan clarifies his own definitions. Furthermore, these definitions or clarifications may appear in other places beyond his strict poetry critiques. They may appear in his email battles and other essays on movies, books, and even pop culture. They also appear in his videos that he does on Youtube where he comments on his own books.
This primer is made to clarify some of those terms.
The Definition of ‘Greatness’
This is the word that a lot of Schneider’s evaluations will hinge upon. He also uses other standards like ‘near-great’, ‘perfect’, ‘excellent’, and ‘good’ – but they all have vastly different meanings. In Schneider’s terminology – great is better (or rather, a different criteria) than perfect.
Thankfully, you can find a numerical version of his rating scale in his Wallace Stevens vs Shakespeare’s Sonnets essay, where he writes:
“I constantly grade my poems & manuscripts, as well as others’ poems & books on a simple 1-100 scale with 65 being just passing. In this mode any grade 95 or above = great; 90-94 = near-great; 85-89 = excellent; 80-84 = very good; 75-79 = good; 70-74 = mediocre; 65-69 = barely passable; 60-64 = barely failing; 50-59 = bad; & 50 or less = doggerel. Now, I believe 1 could quibble with a poem I rank an 83 & you an 86- a few points thereby knocking a poem up a rung in rank; but I believe it is very unreasonable to argue a bad poem (50-59) is in a league with a good poem (75-79); or a good with a great (95+). This is especially true the better the work gets because a point or 2’s difference in the high 80s or 90s is a lot more significant than in the mediocre range because these numerical values are not incremental but progressively exponential- i.e.- there is a bigger difference between poems that are a 95 & a 94 than between poems that are a 75 & a 65. Therefore it is easier to argue that the ‘65’ poem is better than the ‘75’ than it is that the ‘94’ is better than the ‘95’.”
And this is very important to note because many people may find the fact that he gives absolute out-of-100 ratings for poems a sign that he’s ‘quantifying verse’ or ‘turning it into a science’ something like that. But Schneider’s numerical scores are qualitative, due to this criteria of marking in exponential tiers.
The main point of note is that, while Schneider agrees that poems on the same numerical rank may have room for argument, he thinks of it as completely unreasonable to rank something like a nursery rhyme with a Wallace Stevens poem.
This is the moment where everyone in literary academia will take a step back and shake their heads pitifully at how misguided and positively elitist this view of the world is. “Truly,” they must be thinking “in a postmodern universe – with the death of the grand absolute and all that comes with it – such a viewpoint denotes a lack of sensitivity towards the ambiguities of the universe”.
But the eternal quandary that comes from this is divergence between that perspective of Schneider & the sheer amount of voices that he has encompassed throughout his own works. Merely flipping through a bunch of his writings (take note that a lot of links have to be revived from the Internet Archive) and his poetry will show you that he can write about anything under the sun. He’s poems in the style of Al Capone & Richard Nixon, written poems from the perspective of dinosaurs, written poems based on paintings, written in a poetic & reminiscing style, written strong stories of psychological analysis – and by his own claiming: written a Spy Novel, A Western, A Children’s Book, A Memoir, A Mafia Story & he’s later going to write an SF book. He’s also collated together miscellaneous poet pages for good but under the radar poets throughout history.
In fact, Schneider’s evaluative criteria allows him to break out of the framework of the literary elite. He will argue that films like Its A Wonderful Life, Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol, Godzilla’s Revenge & The Curse of The Cat People also qualify for greatness. He will point out how the current state of American Television (widely considered as the Golden Age of American TV) pales in comparison to the TV of just a few decades back – when The Prisoner & The Odd Couple were playing. Currently, people are getting all at arms with the Nobel Prize for Lit being awarded to Bob Dylan, but Schneider was already arguing for the literary merit of the band – The Zombies.
Pretentiousness in the elite is one of the main thing that Schneider hates, and he attacks the literary academia on the basis of content, by showing how the things that many people laud as magnificent works are empty puffery, and by showing how even pop culture can brew up gems that falls into his criteria for greatness. He always does this with an appeal to commonsensical reason and critical logic – rather than arguing the position from metaphysics.
Or, to put it as he would have put it: “But that’s just your subjective opinion Dan. Well, yes & no. Of course anything from a single person is subjectively that person’s own. BUT, not all subjective opinions are equal. Just as Sammy Sosa or Barry Bonds are more qualified to speak on what it’s like to hit a Randy Johnson fastball, similarly I’m far more qualified to pass judgment on others’ poetic & critical claims.”
The Criteria For Greatness: The Ineffable
But with that aside, what are Dan Schneider’s criteria for greatness anyway? What does being ‘great’ mean in the first place?
It’s very important to understand what this means especially given that Schneider will denote himself as a great writer on many an occasion. This is another reason why people are put off by his writing – since he can so blatantly call himself that. The rule of being a creator is that you never assign qualitative standards to yourself, even if you yourself are really a great one. Schneider justifies his own ‘lack of egoism’ by saying that (in a video answer), contrary to what most people think, he sets the highest standard for himself – and it is that he has met these standards that he qualifies himself as great.
So what makes a work great in the first place?
Schneider has a bunch of simple criteria in terms of poetry: “Suffice to say I believe that there are obvious & objective markers of what succeeds & fails in a given poem, line, metaphor, musical, or word choice”. He will also frequently say “lack of clichés”.
But, Schneider will also say that a great work cannot be described. Any description of a great work will be completely different from experiencing the work itself:
“Here’s a clue Helen- great poetry often scratches the ineffable. It’s the great poetry that leaves you grasping for why such a great phrase as ‘I stop somewhere waiting for you.’ or ‘You must change your life.’ has such resonance. The bad is easily explicable. In fact- it’s in the bad, or at least mediocre, poems of great poets that 1 can truly see how & why the great poems work. The greats cloak their mechanics, but by comparing them to lesser poems 1 can see the differences more starkly.”
Seen from this point of view, greatness is simply the pinnacle of a certain type of communication. That communication can be about anything – but there are still pinnacles to be reached. Maybe another word to use would be ‘Gestalt’ – in the Ted Chiang sense of the word. Everything matches together with everything to get a fullest view of the message. So you can take Sylvia Plath’s Daddy, and then compare it to the other poems where she uses that nursery rhymish or whimsical style with lesser success, or even compare it to other confessionalists that have tried to pull her off – and you can see what makes Daddy what it is.
But precisely because it is based on Gestalt that it makes criticism so hard to pull off. You might have weirdos like Aristotle coming around to say that a work must employ the 3 unities to be good, only to have Shakespeare come around and magisterially slap him in the face. We’ve moved far away from those kind of criteria. But to go around to the other end and say that anything goes is also quite off. A lot of critics have given up on trying to give value judgments as to whether these works fit together or not – and they’ve shifted to using Literature as idea farms to comment on other things like theories or social circumstances. This is the ‘interpretations of interpretations’/Delilio’s Barn view of it. A book is the sum of its interpretations. Simon Leys would describe it as the ‘clothes-hanger’ that many people hang their coats on, but a person who has no knowledge of this would merely see it as the empty clothes-hanger
Stanislaw Lem wrote a story about how robots could envision Literature as geometric patterns and merely choose to ‘complete’ them – so a Dostoyevsky novel was a flawed toroid that was fixed by a robot who ‘completed’ the toroid. Many people who read the book saw that it was more ‘whole’ than the original. Eventually it got to the point whereby the Robot’s Literature became far above the cognitive capabilities of any human communication.
From this viewpoint, you can think of Dan as the person whose aim is to complete the toroid. Structure over content. Or, rather, structure intermeshed with content to the point where both becomes a perfect shape to invocate the perfect kind of Gestaltic reaction. Thus one of his mantras happens to be that – cliché comes from how it fits into the poem, and not what it is.
In this way Schneider has skipped past interpretation. He has also skipped past eroticism or affective evaluation. He aims to write for the deepest structures of human cognition. His goal is as stated:
“To me success is being read in 10,000 years by some alien on an intergalactic cargo cruiser, having it pause, & say- That old human animal- he KNEW!”
And of Ozu’s Tokyo Story, he writes:
“In a sense this film can work as a time capsule of a slice of life on earth a half century ago. Put it on a spaceship and aliens would get a pretty good idea what most human life has been like for centuries, at least on a personal and emotional basis”
The former quote has become my writing mantra, especially since the character Priscilla Roberts from the manga Dance! Subaru has the exact same view of her art. The aim of Art is to convey the limits of communication to the point where even internally disparate higher beings can grasp a sliver of what it’s like to be human.
Greatness is being able to succinctly place the core of being human on a platter for alien species to understand.
And this conveniently flips the thesis: the sum of all interpretations is a book – to – the book is the sum of all interpretations possible & more!
The Criteria For Greatness: The Lack Of Cliches
But, then again, that’s my interpretation of it, and getting too analytical is bad. Frequently overanalysis & interpretation can court the mind into thinking that the matter is a lot more complicated than it actually is. The task is complicated but the key tenets are very simple. Write with purpose (no matter whether showing, telling, writing epistolary, writing in genres, writing ‘experimentally) & don’t use clichés (or, rather, invert clichés rather than use them outright).
It’s for this reason that he attacks the following Shakespeare Sonnet:
Cupid laid by his brand, and fell asleep:
A maid of Dian’s this advantage found,
And his love-kindling fire did quickly steep
In a cold valley-fountain of that ground;
Which borrow’d from this holy fire of Love
A dateless lively heat, still to endure,
And grew a seething bath, which yet men prove
Against strange maladies a sovereign cure.
But at my mistress’ eye Love’s brand new-fired,
The boy for trial needs would touch my breast;
I, sick withal, the help of bath desired,
And thither hied, a sad distemper’d guest,
But found no cure: the bath for my help lies
Where Cupid got new fire–my mistress’ eyes.
And he talks about it in this manner:
“Now to the 2nd sonnet. It is amazing to think that the same artist penned this tripe. The poem is awash in cliché from start to finish & so technically bad as to- Oh, on with it! The Narrative: The symbol of Love gets ‘fire’ from the lover’s eyes. The story is convoluted & forced. Cupid snoozes. A maid seems to light a fire with his arrow & then we get lost in poorly written descriptions. When the narrative recongeals after the intrusion of a ‘boy’ (the speaker’s self-reference?) the speaker reinforces the lover’s eyes as a parallel but we have long since been bored too much to try to make sense of this poem. It ends in total cliché. The Technique: Clichés are rife (the use of Cupid, love/fire vs. cold/ground, holy fire, heat, bath, cure, Love’s brand, fire in eyes), end rhymes are forced & also not subverted in their forced use (love/prove, fired/desired, lies/eyes- especially as the end couplet), the music is very abruptive without reason- in large part due to the narrative wandering. Lastly, the poem seems woefully archaic in word choice (withal, thither, hied, distemper’d), story idea, & story narrative.”
And he’s quite correct, because in terms of a cognitive standpoint there is no reason to remember this poem. Even if you like the lyricism, you can supplant any other of Shakespeare’s sonnet & anything by other poets like Poe in your head and you will still get that same aesthetic. Furthermore, you can turn to several hundred other poets for similar meditations on love using fire metaphors. If you like Classical references, there are also several hundred of those. The only reason you would remember a poem like this if it had any specific memory value to your circumstances, like if someone you liked shared it with you or something. But that wouldn’t apply to everyone out there. The only other reason you would like it is if you had to analyze it for a Literature class and you forced yourself to imbue it with all sorts of connotations for your essay.
On the other hand, just take a gander into The Dream by John Donne:
Dear love, for nothing less than thee
Would I have broke this happy dream;
It was a theme
For reason, much too strong for fantasy,
Therefore thou wak’d’st me wisely; yet
My dream thou brok’st not, but continued’st it.
Thou art so true that thoughts of thee suffice
To make dreams truths, and fables histories;
Enter these arms, for since thou thought’st it best,
Not to dream all my dream, let’s act the rest.
As lightning, or a taper’s light,
Thine eyes, and not thy noise wak’d me;
Yet I thought thee
(For thou lovest truth) an angel, at first sight;
But when I saw thou sawest my heart,
And knew’st my thoughts, beyond an angel’s art,
When thou knew’st what I dreamt, when thou knew’st when
Excess of joy would wake me, and cam’st then,
I must confess, it could not choose but be
Profane, to think thee any thing but thee.
Coming and staying show’d thee, thee,
But rising makes me doubt, that now
Thou art not thou.
That love is weak where fear’s as strong as he;
‘Tis not all spirit, pure and brave,
If mixture it of fear, shame, honour have;
Perchance as torches, which must ready be,
Men light and put out, so thou deal’st with me;
Thou cam’st to kindle, goest to come; then I
Will dream that hope again, but else would die.
Which is a poem that is able to deal with the illusions & responsibilities of love in a complex & poetically refined manner. It doesn’t make it a straightforward & simple declaration like the Shakespeare one. Of course Shakespeare has done these kinds poems too (like the famous My mistress’ eyes…), but Dan is quick to point out the high miss rate that the bard has and his frequent repetition of old themes.
He does these kind of breakdowns for all of his poetry rewrites, underlining every cliché and taking them out for better communication. He also adds the caveat that he does not intend to write the poem as he would have done it – but he’s writing them on the terms that the poems have set out for themselves. Once again, linking back to that analogy of ‘completing the toroid’.
Furthermore he makes it a rule that he does not want to condescend to the reader’s intellect by spelling out exactly what makes a cliché a cliché. You can test it yourself, read this poem by Yeats & see which words you would denote as clichés (remember that a cliché comes not just from the words themselves, but from their usage in a poem – as now even surrealist stringing together of random images is also a cliché), then check his article here:
Out-worn heart, in a time out-worn,
Come clear of the nets of wrong and right;
Laugh, heart, again in the grey twilight,
Sigh, heart, again in the dew of the morn.
Your mother Eire is always young,
Dew ever shining and twilight grey;
Though hope fall from you and love decay,
Burning in fires of a slanderous tongue.
Come, heart, where hill is heaped upon hill:
For there the mystical brotherhood
Of sun and moon and hollow and wood
And river and stream work out their will;
And God stands winding His lonely horn,
And time and the world are ever in flight;
And love is less kind than the grey twilight,
And hope is less dear than the dew of the morn.
Dan Schneider has, by his own admission, read more than a 1000 works of poetry out there, and so he claims to be able to snipe them at the drop of a hat. Merely going through a lot of the TOP archives will tell you that he’s probably right.
Greatness, Quantum Objectivity, & Progress
The underlying assumption of this though is that there is definitely an upwards trajectory in terms of human possibilities of communication. An artist delineates new realms of expression through the creation of structures and new combinations of words. Interpretation follows after, but the road cannot be spoken of until taken up by that first trailblazer. Progress in the sense of discovery – whether good or bad is of no concern. To throw in the old Wittgensteinian line, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” only applies to people who are too lazy to try – whereas the correct answer is “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must make new channels”.
Thus, you have another Schneider-ism: “greater than transcendence is its recognition”.
The latter, he explains as such: “knowing how & why a piece of great art works is more important (to the artist) than the great work itself. 1- it’s rarer. 2- it allows for replication- that the greatness was not just a freakish byproduct or luck, but the positive statistical outcome of a coordinated & logical process.”
This sounds like its boiling everything down into a mechanistic process – but that brings up the quandary I raised at the start. Why is it that Dan Schneider is able to say such things and foster up a massively diverse output of styles & perspectives, while you’ll have artists who make a claim to the infinity of communication out there, and then all they do is copy paste the same kind of paintings or works over and over and over?
(An analogy I can think of is one involving a madman & a normal human being. The madman’s head is full of divergent thoughts that split apart into many different patterns without much repetition in terms of content, but when you look at the madman from the outside he’s just sitting there on the floor with drool dripping from his mouth. On the other hand, a person with a few stable laws can grapple consistently with the vast majority of life out there without breaking down. He will scale more mountains and confront more shades of life than the madman.)
The main thing is that there are rules to greatness, in the same way that exploration is determined by the lay of the land & the movement of a 3D object on a geometrical plane. Progress means getting to the core of those elements such that you can replicate its effects again and again and again – but the process, though logical, is far from mechanistic. Schneider has his own explanation here:
“But I believe differently- & perhaps this explains why I don’t fall into the seemingly DIF-inspired trap of envy & irresponsibility for my art. I believe that art’s ‘physics’ hews less to a Classical line than to a more modern ‘Quantum’ line. Classical physics forbids other universes with other sets of physics. Likewise a Classical view of art hews to the DIF. Quantum physics allows for other universes, dimensions, & sets of physics within those dimensions. Likewise the more Quantum view of art allows that each poem/artwork is- in effect- its own universe & must merely be self-consistent to its own artistic principles/physics. & like Quantum physics, which allows that anything is possible but most universes that realize themselves (& are ‘successful’ by that definition) will be physically similar, so too will each poem/artwork/universe in my view have an infinite range of possibility”
By now you should have realized that Dan’s ideas on greatness, art, and qualitative levels of communication are completely different from what most people think of when they think of an ‘objective critique’ Dan is not a Classical Objective Critic but a Quantum Objective Critic. Neither Objective in the sense of how Aristotle would have specifically delineated logical rules, but also neither fully subjective to the point of stating that anything goes to anyone. His evaluation takes on the Doctrine of the Mean – which makes the most sense. He is truly the real life example of the toroid-building robot that was depicted in Stanislaw Lem’s short story.
In continuance, the progress of the artist is to become a finer demiurge than all those before him. Alex Sheremet also has a quantum metaphor to describe the difference between an artist & a scientist or a philosopher:
“Interestingly, this is similar to what occurs in objective discussions of art, as human culture is the sum average of ALL discussions, and responds, no matter the seeming diversity of ‘opinions’ (e.g., quantum states, to continue Hoffman’s metaphor), with steady, predictable states that always seem to find some regression to the mean when given enough time. Unlike what we normally think of as ‘average’, however, the result is in fact a seeming contradiction with quantum reality, which, in turn, is little more than a mathematical feature of that reality. The sum total – i.e., the only objective reality – remains untouched. It is, to borrow Hoffman’s use of multiple subjects, like removing a small-‘w’ world and replacing it with percipients who are nonetheless able to re-populate the world with objects, or at the very least have logic rally around them, give them life. This can be seen with simulations, sure. Yet it can also be seen by those who have, in fact, purposed and re-purposed life effectively, and in their own way, and consistently, until a system has emerged. Great artists, for example. In the meantime, scientists and philosophers will continue to play catch-up to things that we’ve known to be implicit in what had always seemed less rational pursuits.”
I mean is that like not the greatest defense of what art can do – like ever? The first part is also a fine-tuning of the clothes-hanger metaphor done up by Simon Leys – that there are an infinity of interpretations BUT not all interpretations are born equal, and a constant center eventually develops within the human cognition that culls any excess. On the other hand, artists are the ones who set up the waypoint in the first place through the creation of internally consistent demiurgic worlds. After scientists break the world in half and everything becomes Tlon, only these applicators of consistent inconsistency will be the cornerstones of whatever reality is left.
So there is definitely progress towards the Quantum Objective, or the Consistent Inconsistency. But to get your specialty card, you have to know the standards of engagement. Boiled down in layman’s terms it’s more or less the destruction of clichés and making sure that everything fits into a self-consistent mode of narrative. Well ain’t that an anticlimax!
What is Perfection?
Linked to the scale of greatness is the idea of perfection, but this is a much simpler definition to delineate. He gives a definition over here:
“Oddly, a perfect poem is not always a great poem. I’ve written a few perfect poems & a lot of great poems. Once I wrote a poem called Congoleum Footfalls that was as perfect a dream poem as I’ve ever read- it so totally invoked the dream states, yet in doing so it could not be great. It was just a perfect illustration- nothing else could be construed nor imbued into it. Not a great poem but perfect. Yellow Afternoon, however, achieves this dufecta! I think it stands as both a summation of & a turn away from the rest of Stevens’ corpus. It rivals Plath’s Among The Narcissi, Frost’s Stopping By Woods on A Snowy Evening, Crane’s The Broken Tower, Cullen’s Incident, Shelley’s Ozymandias, & Berryman’s The Ball Poem as great poems which are perfect, & poems which top off, turn away from &, yet, embody a poet’s oeuvre.”
Perfect merely means that you could not remove or add a single new element to the poem. Its communicative shape has already been reached. The toroid has been completed.
An interesting note on Among The Narcissi. It was written in Plath’s pre-1963 period among the time when she was probably at her calmest state before the last legs of insanity kicked in (if you read the Collected Poems ordered by age, you will be surprised by the tonal shift). During that period you can see that there are a number of poems that hold a vastly different tenor from what Plath is well-known for. Stars Over The Dordogne is actually my personal favorite Plath poem because it’s done in her usual kind of imagery & voice but reaches this extremely moving serene & cosmic tone.
But Among The Narcissi can be seen over here:
Spry, wry, and gray as these March sticks,
Percy bows, in his blue peajacket, among the narcissi.
He is recuperating from something on the lung.
The narcissi, too, are bowing to some big thing :
It rattles their stars on the green hill where Percy
Nurses the hardship of his stitches, and walks and walks.
There is a dignity to this; there is a formality-
The flowers vivid as bandages, and the man mending.
They bow and stand : they suffer such attacks!
And the octogenarian loves the little flocks.
He is quite blue; the terrible wind tries his breathing.
The narcissi look up like children, quickly and whitely.
From reading this you can get a better sense of what Dan’s criteria means. Among the Narcissi includes the little Plath tweaks, and even the lone exclamation mark in line 9 – but this image feels as though it stands on the clear standpoint whereby she’s furthest from her madness, although still displaying traits of it, commenting on it, bringing it to the fore. It is whimsical, and slightly mad, but holds itself up with dignity far farther than the other works in her corpus. It is also short and succinct.
Fuctionary, Creationary, Visionary
Another one of Dan Schneider’s self-coined terminology, but he explains it over here:
“This returns to my idea that there are 3 types of basic human intelligence (in ascending order of complexity): the Functionary– that thing basic IQ tests measure; the Creationary– that which only 1% or less of the population has, but most artists have, which allows them to see further than Functionary thinkers (& sort of Functionary2); & the Visionary– that which only a small percentage of the creative/artistic types have, but allows them even further insights (sort of Creationary2 or Functionary3). The Mensans, despite their lofty IQs, were definitely definitively Functionary. A simplistic IQ test just cannot get a grasp around the more complex natures of the Creationary & Visionary intellects. But, if 1 were to equate the term genius with 1 of these intellects, the obvious choice is the Visionary. It is the most difficult of the 3 & there are far fewer Visionary intellects than Creationary or Functionary.”
Strangely, another Stanislaw Lem short story also deals with something like this. It’s called Odysseus of Ithaca & it deals with a man trying to find hidden geniuses:
“The ideas contained in Homer M. Odysseus’s brochure, The Quest for the Fleece of the Spirit, are simple enough. Humanity owes its progress to geniuses. Above all, its progress of thought, because collectively one might hit upon a way of hewing flint, but one cannot through joint effort invent the zero. He who conceived it was the first genius in history. “Could the zero—is it likely—have been thought up by four individuals together, each contributing a quarter?” asks Homer Odysseus with his characteristic sarcasm. Humanity is not wont to deal kindly with its geniuses. “Es ist schlecht Geschäft, einer Genius zu sein!” declares Odysseus in dreadful German. Geniuses have a rough time of it. Some more than others, because geniuses are not all equal. Odysseus postulates the following classification of them. First come your run-of-the-mill and middling geniuses, that is, of the third order, whose minds are unable to go much beyond the horizon of their times. These, relatively speaking, are threatened the least; they are often recognized and even come into money and fame. The genuises of the second order are already too difficult for their contemporaries and therefore fare worse. In antiquity they were mainly stoned, in the Middle Ages burned at the stake; later, in keeping with the temporary amelioration of customs, they were allowed to die a natural death by starvation, and sometimes even were maintained at the community’s expense in madhouses. A few were given poison by the local authorities, and many went into exile. Meanwhile, the powers that be, both secular and ecclesiastical, competed for first prize in “geniocide,” as Odysseus calls the manifold activity of exterminating genuises. Nonetheless, recognition awaits the geniuses of the second order, in the form of a triumph beyond the grave. By way of compensation, libraries and public squares are named after them, fountains and monuments are raised to them, and historians shed decorous tears over such lapses of the past. In addition, avers Odysseus, there exist, for there must exist, geniuses of the highest category. The intermediate types are discovered either by the succeeding generation or by some later one; the geniuses of the first order are never known—not by anyone, not in life, not after death. For they are creators of truths so unprecedented, purveyors of proposals so revolutionary, that not a soul is capable of making head or tail of them. Therefore, permanent obscurity constitutes the normal lot of the Geniuses of the Highest Class. But even their colleagues of weaker intellect are discovered usually as a result of pure accident. For example, on scrawled-over sheets of paper that fishwives use at the market to wrap the herring, you will make out theorems of some sort, or poems, and as soon as these see print, there is a moment of general enthusiasm, then everything goes on as before. Such a state of affairs should not be allowed to continue. At stake, surely, are irretrievable losses to civilization. One must create a Society for the Preservation of Geniuses of the First Order and from it appoint an Exploration Committee that will take up the task of systematic searches. Homer M. Odysseus has already drafted all the statutes of the Society, and also a plan for the Quest for the Fleece of the Spirit. He distributes these documents to numerous scientific societies and philanthropic institutions, calling for funding.”
The ending of the story is crazy because it posits this:
“Collective human effort carves out a trench in historical time. A genius is one whose effort is exerted at the very limit of that trench, at its verge, who proposes to his or to the next generation a particular change of course, a different curve of the bed, the angling of the slopes, the deepening of the bottom. But the genius of the first order does not participate thus in the labors of the spirit. He does not stand in the first ranks; nor has he gone a step ahead of the rest; he is simply somewhere else—in thought. If he postulates a different form of mathematics or a different methodology, whether for philosophy or the natural sciences, it will be from a standpoint in no way similar to those existing—no, without a scintilla of similarity! If he is not noticed and given a hearing by the first, by the second generation, it is altogether impossible for him to be noticed thereafter. For, in the meantime, the river of human endeavor and thought has been digging its trench, has gone its way, and therefore between its movement and the solitary invention of the genius the gap widens with each century. Those proposals—unappreciated, ignored—truly could have changed the trend of things in the arts, Odysseus of Ithaca in the sciences, in the whole history of the world, but because it did not happen thus, humanity let slip by much more than a particular curious individual with his particular intellectual equipment. It let slip by, at the same time, a particular other history of its own, and for this there is now no remedy. Geniuses of the first order are roads not taken, roads now completely desolate and overgrown; they are those prizes in the lottery of incredible luck which the player did not show up to claim, the purses he did not collect—until their capital evaporated and turned to nothing, the nothing of opportunities missed. The lesser geniuses do not part with the common stream but stay within its current, altering the law of its movement without ever stepping outside the margin of the community—or without stepping outside it totally, all the way. For this they are revered. The others, because they are so great, remain invisible forever.”
But Stanislaw Lem, who didn’t particularly like reading loads of Literature and cared more about reading science papers, was referring strictly to scientific, philosophical, or mathematical geniuses. The story was meant to outline the shakiness of what we view as our own fundamentally logical axioms – humanity could have danced on a different edifice of reason if it had taken that route.
Although, when you compare it to Schneider’s definition, you might be able to get a clearer picture of what he means. Functionaries are people good at doing the in-between knots. Creationaries are remixers or second-adopters. While Visionaries are entire Demiurges, Roads, Worlds, or Universes altogether.
He also states that:
“Of all the arts out there in this world, I think the 1s that best accommodate the Visionary mindset are filmmaking & poetry. An odd duo, you muse? Not really- I think these are the 2 freest art forms. In all of writing poetry can do the most with the least- grammar & narrative understructure are not necessary, & more can occur in a line or 2 of great poetry than in 3 or 4 chapters of prose fiction. Film, likewise, has far more going for it than any of the other visual arts because its visuals change constantly, & because it can meld with good writing. Both forms imbue the artist with what any artist not-so-secretly desires: God-like powers over the cosmos their art contains. &, especially in recent filmmaking, technology has freed the art even more so in its pursuit of godhead.”
The main example he gives of a Visionary director is, of course, Kubrick. You can see the entire lengthy article over here.
These are the few brief starting points that I hope will help segue some people into trying to grasp at more than what meets the eye. But there might still be some questions buzzing about:
Why should you, or anyone else for that matter, care about this guy who doesn’t seem to be writing anything new or contributing anything novel to the varieties of discourse out there? Why should we rate art on the basis of qualities rather than enjoying everything and being appreciative of what we have access to? Why should we hold ourselves to silly-sounding & commonsensical things like ‘don’t write with clichés’ or ‘ensure that everything you write fits consistently and intellectually within a narrative’? Isn’t all this so boring? Isn’t it lackluster & overtly emotionless & vulgar & undignified?
If these kinds of thoughts are swimming in your head, then I will merely have to repeat the words of the illustrious Shen Dao:
“Heaven has light and does not care that men are in darkness; Earth is fruitful and does not care that men are impoverished; the sage has virtue and does not care that men are imperiled. Although Heaven does not care that men are in darkness, if they open their doors and windows, they will assuredly get light for themselves; but Heaven does nothing.”
“To reject the Tao and rules, and ignore the standards and measures, and seek through a single man’s knowledge to understand the world – what man would be capable of doing this?”
Or, to also bring up Dan’s own prose:
“And choice is, in a sense, an omnipotent thing- worlds & cosmoses hinge upon the very fact of whether an admirer of loveliness will pick the wildflower that has caught her eye, or leave it to inspire another aesthete at a future date. Sometimes the urge to do both is so excruciating that time actually passes with notice. We lose time amidst the vales of our desires. To stoop down, or not. To pick the flower, or not. In these realizations I turn backwards toward my own past & learn to accept those things that I was unable to before- my health, my status as a great writer, my status as an unpublished great writer, my far too long solo in to the seas of lovelessness, the hurts & pains inflicted upon me & by me. Here is where I learn to actually embrace the utter shit that populates most of existence. You do so because it eases tomorrow in to focus, & etches its every detail so you will always have its prompt & whisper in your ear. It is mine, or it is yours. It belongs because we belong. The shit of the world is your shit. It is indivisible from you. No matter the effort expended to feint & juke away from you it sticks, even though it remains gray & misty until you make your claim. The future arrives & you-“
True, something may be born from this. True, nothing may be born from this. But it is not up to me to decide whether you want to relish the knowledge on a platter or leave yourself to yourself in your own decisions. At the very least I can say that caring about fundamentals will help you to spend less money on transients and care more about things that take up very little financial baggage. Anger, swelter, critique & violence are not marks of transience if they stem from the very nature of a being, and seek to assert the very nature of that being to himself and himself be joyous in that state. For he is himself known fullest, and the act ensures his knowing.
Should you hold on to standards? Are they a lie that exists only in the minds of an unhealthy elite? Are all of our aesthetics false & bitter dreams? Well, if you believe that, good for you, and live well my brother. On the other hand, the words are there themselves, written by a particularly aggressive and unflinchingly sincere blue-collar ex-gang member who has decided to hold himself to the standard, and they are now in your hands:
“You are not the poet I love most….”
There is the feeling beside that which is felt,
as if a great artwork beyond consciousness,
whether gazing a church tower, or being sifted through its panes
like alluvial photons. There in a bowl of opening roses,
made majestic by a slice of sight reflecting
the spoke of sun upon a slab where something dead may lay,
is an abstract of insight grown well within your wreath of verse,
brief episode of touch, still opening endlessly and growing,
self-illumined, silent paladins of the muse,
like nothing that ever was:
I know nothing of life.
Yet handfuls of this distanceness flash subtle signals
kissing gently my eyes, my mind which wilders yet prompts
the words which core, then filter, sweetly a stumble of laughter,
themselves into the subject’s smile, removed from thought,
as if you, inflaming the gestures of what may occur within,
as if still seemingly supple to God’s will,
the many illusions of its breath:
I know nothing of it.
And then this love- of life, of it, of you-
as if I were what you are, so strangely
itself, like you:
I know nothing of you.
Then, as if newly formed and felt,