Friday, January 9, 2009

People who want to write should ignore me

... people who want to write should ignore me. After all, what do I know besides what I know? Glad you asked. I know that one has to be a genius, a veritable genius, these days to write an original and historically significant poem or novel. The same applies to painting and classical music. And by “significant,” I mean something that will not only astonish but will change forever how we regard the form. And as you know, I don’t think this is possible anymore. And this, too, is a function of age, the world’s age. When an art form is just emerging, when an aesthetic movement is still developing, genius isn’t necessary to create memorable works. [...] Leaving film aside, since it’s a relatively recent art, the arts as we know them have run their course. You can argue this until your face is blue, but it won’t change the historical fact. Time and technology wait for no artist, and unfortunately history has seen fit to alter our sense of time by the invention of new technologies. That and the inevitable etiolation of genres and formal methods of creation now account for the dearth of great art. Can I be wrong? I suppose. You could argue that the idea of “greatness” is itself a false category, an artificial and socially constructed yardstick. But if we’re talking about the human need to create and respond to momentous works of human endeavor, then, please, show me a poet or a novelist of whom one can say, as Eliot said of Yeats: “He was one of those whose history is the history of their own time, who are part of the consciousness of an age which cannot be understood without them”? [...] The postmodern world, even as it summons a defense of literature, cannot save literature. I don’t say that good poems or novels can’t be written today; I just feel that that they can’t have the significance they once had, and this is a terrible thing to admit. [...] The fact remains that this age cannot cede to poets the importance that earlier poets could aspire to, and this, I think, works subliminally to their disadvantage.

-- Arthur Krystal, interviewed by Wyatt Mason


Jim Murdoch said...

Much of this is to do with the lack of time we have and the amount of things (arty things included) that we need to cram into that time. And so so much slips by that, if only we gave it a minute's worth of attention, we might put it aside to read properly later. But we don't. Blogs are a good example. I subscribe to too many and there is no way I can read them all and so I make a judgment call as I scroll down FeedReader, this I'll save to look at again, this I'll pass on. Today you were lucky - in the ten seconds or so I afforded you to pique my interest you did and I'm actually quite embarrassed to put that in writing even if it is true. It always amazes me the things of quality that slip by me unnoticed. I subscribe to SFX for example and that's it. There was a time I'd pick up an assortment of science fiction magazines each month but now if it's not in SFX then the odds are I'll never get to hear about it. And I get it posted to the house to save me the time I'd 'waste' going to get it. Information has become such a burden.

Don Share said...

Thank you, Jim, for this thoughtful comment, which sounds right to me - and, of course, for stopping by.

J.H. Stotts said...

this argument of being ultimately late only holds if we assume that we inherit everything we make. it's easy to forget with all the disposable memory around us, but we hardly retain anything at all.
it also discounts early greatness--at the beginning of an aesthetic 'genius isn't necessary to create memorable works.' who are these overrated geniuses? chaucer? homer?
one thing time does is clean the slate, almost completely, to give a false sense of a complete history when all we have are scraps and traces. a sort of survivor fallacy has maybe convinced krystal that poets used to be something more than what they are now. i doubt it, but what do i know, besides...

Michael Robbins said...

I think it's entirely true that this is not possible anymore:

something that will not only astonish but will change forever how we regard the form

& I think, hurrah, we are all aggressively minor poets now. (Someone at CR coined that phrase, not I, but I like it.) I mean, who wants to go around changing forever how we regard the form?

For the record: does the audience for poetry consist of more poets than it does people who just like to read the stuff, without feeling obligated to try their hand? We hear this a lot. If it's true, then Krystal is even righter. Name another art form in history where this was the case. If it's not true, but close to true, ditto. I mean, I'm always reading novels, but have never yet attempted to write one nor have been tempted to.

I just like novels.

Jordan said...

If I'm not mistaken, "aggressively minor" was used in CR to describe Hoa Nguyen and Ange Mlinko among other poets.

Three cheers for pessimism!