A conceit, or the importance of blogging

Wednesday, 15 January, Year 6 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

Contrary to what your average English-language-only singer-songwriter imagines (through the ever popular process of thinking about it as little as at all possible), art is not predominantly the result of one's imaginationi, nor is beauty primarily the result of the author's will, whether in a pedestrian, Nietzschean or in-betweenian reading of that word. Nor is either the result of the author's genius, whether in a pedestrian, Platonic or confusedii reading of that term.

Both art and beauty are the result of the resistence of the medium, which is exactly why some mediums are more and some mediums are less adequate to produce either art or beauty. That resistence of the medium casts its universal net over the populace, and from it selects, it selects! those who may put up a decent struggle before failing altogether. Before failing altogether, I say! Because that's what's going to eventually happen, or as Marsellus Wallace aptly puts it,

You see, this profession is filled to the brim with unrealistic motherfuckers. Motherfuckers who thought their ass would age like wine. If you mean it turns to vinegar, it does. If you mean it gets better with age, it don't.

This out of the way, let me point out that writing is as much art as painting, and beauty emerges from the written page as well as from the painted toille, and more importantly, perhaps most importantly, the page to be written, the yet blank page has a resistence all of its own. This has nothing at all to do with the friction of pen on paper and nothing at all to do with the soft coils of the keys in the keyboard. It has everything to do with the power of empty space to resist meaning much in the way the vacuum between the stars resists heating.iii

And this is where it gets interesting : in the endless if doomed quest to achieve a modicum of the ultimately impossible, man will fall upon some roads, some hillsides, some natural points for placing a foxhole or leading a charge. Much like a fifth armyiv venturing in uncharted enemy territory to achieve greatness over the wind-polished skulls and withered bones of the army previous and the three coming before it will encounter the same rivers, have to make the same pontoon bridges - often among the rotting remains of previous bridges - and avoid or be mired in the same bogs, so man trying to write will find the same white face of paper, whether it be paper or vellum or a very large glass cathode.

A conceit, in case you're wondering by now, is a cognate of conceive and concept. It also is an ancient word. What it means, what it denotes, is such a bridge as we've mentioned. Because men being what they are, which is to say wilful and blessed with memory, but also metasyntactically able (something lesser beasts, including computers or dragonflies, are not), the survivors of the fifty-ninth charge speaking to the survivors of the fourty-eight can simply say "the rotten bridge" and even if certainly the same bridge was not in fact seen by both, nevertheless the clear knowledge of what is meant emerges, because both encountered the same blind, mute, cold resistance of the same one void. Because there's only one void, and in its unique unity it forces something of a similarity among people. A brotherhood, if you wish, the only true brotherhood of man : of those who have faced the same one doom.

Which is exactly the importance of blogging. It is ultimately an impossible activity, one that can never be accomplished. And yet, when Shakespeare says that his girlfriend's eyes are nothing like the sun he does not merely put words together, but he also pointedly shows that one particular Petrarchan conceit is of no further use or interest to him. We who have read them both can follow what he means and understand the words, especially if we too were at that gullet, on that slope, in that ravine. If not... well then it means a lot less, if anything at all.

Take perhaps the best known conceit of the English language, Donne's flea :

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is;
It suck'd me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.
Thou know'st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead;
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pamper'd swells with one blood made of two;
And this, alas! is more than we would do.

O stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea, more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is.
Though parents grudge, and you, we're met,
And cloister'd in these living walls of jet.
Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that self-murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

On its face the proposition is absurd, and as our puritanical friends may well point out, quite unsanitary. Unsafe. Unhealthy. Improper and definitely unbecoming. Like smoking, or "carbon footprinting", or fucking children, or not caring to feed the world out of imaginary bounties you can't bring about.

Nevertheless, the proposition has a point, even if not directly the point it states, and to the cultured, to the literate, to actual men and women this is enough.

This is what blogging is : an unescapably necessary part of the intellectual life of he who aims to have an intellectual life at all, because by retracing the marches and great battles of large armies in times past with their own stick horses and paper swords, children of any age can understand what their coddled mothers could never explain : why the world has to be so, rather than that or this other way. They get to develop a taste and an appreciation for the conceits of greater men and women that came before them not on the flimsy grounds that those were "great" men or women, whatever greatness may even mean in the first place, but on the quite solid footing of seeing why those choices were made, and why exactly alternatives perceived in the fancy, imagined in the mind were not actually available on the field.

Tis easy for any Miss America chicklet to answer the "how would you change the world" question. That ease comes from her complete ignorance of what the world is (encouraged for financial gain by them asking the question, of course, but that's scarcely our concern here), and that ignorance comes from the fact that she's not blogging, not really.

So my friends : do not be afraid of all the things that are scary. The most they can do while under your gaze is make you stronger. Be instead afraid of the things you make no effort to understand, because from behind they can give you quite the sound trashing. And the worst part of it is... you'll likely never know.

  1. And rechristianing that as "creativity" changes precious little on the actual field. []
  2. In the classical Greek view of the matter, genius is an actual, separate, sensata-identifiable entity, apart from the author and working in a different incentive structure than the author (so the separation is not mere artefact of thought, as you could pretend your hand is separate from your body but then again even should you cut it off, you as a whole, you without your hand and your severed hand are still players in the same game, by the same rules, and the severance a loss to all).

    Tellingly, in that cultural context a genius is called daemon, and as you might have heard later Christian authors predictably thought very little of it and feared it quite a lot, as the main opposition to their peculiarly stunted worldview (because "the daimon made me do it" isn't as you might interpret it a sort of abandonment of the self to oblivion, as in "the drugs made me do it", but quite the contrary an abandonment of the self to sublime, as in "for greater justice", or, quite adequately, "for the sake of art"). Clearly the xtian mind could have none of that, they were setting out to carve and conquer empires out of the world, not to make beautiful statues of young boys.

    Conversely, the genius in the puritanical* contemporary version of English (as that language has barely survived to this day, mangled by the illiterate peons across the sea) is a substatial attribute of the agent, like the power is of the engine or the range of a rifle.

    * What you believe shapes what you see, and what you see shapes what you think, and soon enough you end up with things like the Telegraph dedicating an entire day's edition to wondering why is it that the French don't seem to think it's any of their business what their President and the women he knows do, did or think about doing apart or altogether and generally don't care.

    The reason obviously is that your average English speaker mostly jacks off whereas your average Frenchman mostly has sex, and that happens because the remnants of puritan thought rotting away at the fundaments of the former's mind are preventing him from reaching adulthood and so he's stuck in permanent highschool.

  3. This, incidentally, was a conceit. []
  4. This, incidentally, is another conceit. []
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6 Responses

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