Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Dust of the World, Part 1

It's funny how inspiration can just pop up unawares out of the blue. All manner of thoughts can coalesce into what at first seems like a nice pattern of a couple of words arranged in a sentence. It is far more beautiful a thing than that, however; the thing that poets celebrate, the thing that philosophers curse. But, then, sometimes it is the other way around, so much so that we could say something instead, like; the thing which poets should celebrate, the thing which philosophers should curse. The limits of archetypal thinking here becomes abundantly clear.

I had just finished reading an essay by Jorge Luis Borges. It was called "The Superstitious Ethics of the Reader" and it was about the way in which the search for perfect style in literature leads to the failure to recognise good literature. What Borges meant by this was that literature can become at times fragmented, carried away and sloppy, but that this can be a desirable thing as it reveals the author's passion for his work. A work of literature, Borges holds, can come together as a whole without relying on too many empty metaphors, designed only to seduce and nothing more. "This vanity about style," Borges writes, "is couched in an even more pathetic conceit: perfection." This he thinks is a fallacy, and that over use of certain words and metaphors leads to their ineffectuality, their non-meaning.
Definitive words, words that postulate prophetic or angelic wisdom or superhuman resolutions -unique, never, always, all perfection, finished -  are the habitual barter of all writers. They do not understand that overstating something is as inept as not saying it at all, and that readers sense the impoverishment caused by careless generalizations and amplifications. Such imprudence depletes language.
He ends with a beautiful passage, made all the better in its placing as the conclusion to an essay about how the search for the perfect style can lead to dried up prose nearly devoid of any meaning (in an abstract, extreme sense). It is a conclusion about the nature of literature, how a kind of self-loathing can befall it. The rejection of sloppy, yet effective prose, in exchange for streamlined, elegant, yet over indulgent writing full of devalued meaning is this self-loathing. He ends his essay as thus:
... I do not know whether music can despair of music or marble of marble. I do know that literature is an art that can foresee a time when it will be silenced, an art that can become inflamed with its own virtue, fall in love with its own decline, and court its own demise.
I put down the book, enamored by the essay. I felt like I had learnt something, or that my own half-thoughts and gentle musings had found some sort of correlative edifice from beyond myself in Borges' essay. And then a sentence came to mind, out of the blue:
The dust of the world (will) fall(s) on the world itself.


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