19 jul 2007

Cahiers de Corey: "...your life really matters": Aesthetic Education

There is so much to say about this post, it is hard to know where to begin.

(1) The aesthetic.

Josh seems to segregate the aesthetic as some category of special knowledge that may or may not be relevant to creative writing students. The question "whether it is in fact necessary for every creative writing student to remember the aesthetic" seems to imply that a negative answer is possible. "Yes, let's teach in such a way that the 'aesthetic' is not that important." How could this possibly be? What is there in writing that is not aesthetic?

The aesthetic is part of everyone's normal, everyday life. Clothing, gastronomy, architecture and urban design, decoration of living spaces, industrial design, music and entertainment, use of language, the graphic design of computer sites... The aesthtetic is omnipresent and inescapable. Why should "creative writing," of all things, belong to a realm removed from aesthetic consciousness? Shouldn't it be a more rather than a less aesthetic enterprise? That is to say, life is aesthetic already, shouldn't art be too?

(2) Aesthetics and ethics.

It is precisely because aesthetics is a basic feature of human life that Nazis have their own aesthetics. It is impossible not to respond aesthetically to the world, so the Nazi will love his Brahms and the mobster will enjoy his cannoli. The aesthetic in itself isn't inherently ennobling, and past works of art and literature have been produced by people whose ethics we usually won't agree with.

On the other hand, denigrating aesthetics is itself an unethical stance based on a fundamental misapprehension of the problem. Making the world an uglier place is an unethical act. Promoting aesthetic dullness is a way of taking away a valuable part of life--valuable not just to writers but to everyone. The idea that only professional writers would care about aesthetics is deeply condescending.

(3) Carol Bly.

Carol Bly is not a very good writer. Why she is employed as a teacher of writing is beyond me, with her graceless, clunky prose and aesthetic puritanism. Not only employed as a teacher of writing, but writing books advising others. Ugh! I am very surprised that someone like Josh Corey would give her that much credence.

(4) The rules.

There are no rules for writing. Writing in different ways will produce different results, but there is no hidden codebook of absolute rules. The idea of learning rules before you break them is idiotic.

Now if you want a shortcut, you can teach Poundian principles. That will produce writing better than not following these principles will. And this will be perfectly compatible with a more avant-garde aesthetic, which still favors concrete visual imagery, concision, etc... Why you would want to teach conventionally bad writing produced by workshop rules!

(5) Content.

No such thing. A bad metaphor that produces muddled thinking about writing. How could you teach "content" anyway?

[UPDATE] (6) Aesthetic consciousness.

Josh implies that aesthetic consciousness can be achieved definitively, and afterwards has limited utility. Aesthetic consciousness is actually something that is constantly renewing itself.

15 comentarios:

Jordan dijo...

Kierkegaard didn't stop with aesthetics and ethics, either; he went on to a third nebula, the category of the religious.

More and more I am discovering that no one I know besides you, Ange and Franklin takes aesthetics seriously, even though it is as fundamental as breathing. The other day I saw a poet whose work I hold in the highest regard dismiss the entire category as crypto-science about prettiness. (Thanks a lot, Bourdieu!)

Anyway, this is a friendly word to beware -- or anyway, not to assume that anyone would agree on terms for this discussion, let alone have a passing familiarity with the required reading...

But I hear Kent's footsteps down the block, my cue to get in the helicopter.

John dijo...

Aesthetics is the opposite of anesthetics, which is to say, unconsciousness.

Aesthetics is consciousness, the whole sensorium.

Aesthetics is knowledge.

I wish rhetoric were taught.

"It's tone I'm after, tone I'm wild about." That's a paraphrase, and I'm not sure who said it -- Oppen? Williams? Whoever it was -- right on.

The only way to teach content is to teach desire. What do you *want* to write?

There are no rules, but there are lots of tricks. There used to be bunches of rules. No harm in learning them, if one is so inclined. I love John Hollander's essay "Rhyme's Reason."

Oh! The workshop! The only workshop I'm interested in is Santa's! With his cheery, diminutive -- well, "slaves" is an ugly word in this context, isn't it? -- his volunteers!

Henry Gould dijo...

Jordan, excuse me for batting at you again, as I do too often; but it strikes me that you are constantly involved in a process of discovering which coterie you belong to.

Snobbery is not required for Aesthetics 101; in fact it's what usually gives aesthetes a bad name, ethically speaking.

Kasey Mohammad dijo...

Mmm, cannoli.

Kasey Mohammad dijo...

I just flipped through Bly's book. Although I find her terribly short-sighted, rigid, and unimaginative in certain ways (I love that she can't even conceive that her friends might really be enjoying a Genet production), I don't think she's a clunky writer at all, and I do think that her take on ethics deserves serious attention.

Her political stridency strikes me not as misguided at base--it is the same kind of stridency you see in a lot of more rigorous Marxist critics--just somewhat hampered by its incoherent entanglement with unexamined liberal humanist pieties. So, for example, she thinks writing students should avoid theorists like Foucault and DeMan because they are "loveless."

What I do find of value in her position is the idea that writing workshops often fail to engage adequately with "content," or if you like, "context." I haven't read the book carefully enough yet to know whether this is anywhere near where she's going, but I would say that a big part of the problem is the artificial separation of "creative writing" and "literature." Not that there aren't individual problems with the way both of those are frequently taught on their own.

To speak of aesthetics and ethics in isolation from each other is always wrongheaded. What I like about Bly so far is that, even if I disagree with her specific conclusions, she sees their inextricability.

AB dijo...


do you really believe that only three poets you know take aesthetics seriously?

You should be in our living room most nights. Come over!


John dijo...

someone walks into a bar and says to his friend, hey, you & A. & F. are the only people I know who're serious about X . . . only it's not a bar, it's a TV soundstage of a bar, and the show will be broadcast in perpetuity . . .

and meanwhile, someone like for example *me* is hurt -- hurt! -- that the speaker has left me off the list -- hey, I'm serious about X! and I've read some of the texts! . . .

only I figure, complaining to the attractive companion about their lack of attraction to me doesn't make me more attractive -- flirting does! (F O'H would approve.)

. . . and then someone else appears and accuses the speaker of snobbery -- giving the impression that *he* is hurt that the speaker has left *him* off the list!

and we all know what Ron would say. Long live coterie-ism! (Allen Ginsberg would approve. F O'H too!)

tone is ALL. tone conveys one's feeling-toward-what-is. which is much more important than "content."

remember your rhetoric!

Jordan dijo...

John, I can't help provoking people who can't help feeling provoked.

Here's the problem -- history gets told by the victors; I notice most tellers choose to live in houses with spectacular views.

This discussion is already an example of not keeping the eye on the ball without my confusing the issue further.

Javier de la Iglesia dijo...

Thank you very much, Jonathan, for that post and your comment.

You say: "How could you teach "content" anyway?"

I believe you can't teach "content" per se, but you can "move" or, if you have all the luck, entice to new contents in the students' compositions (changes in the contents' field and changes in the rhetoric field and so on..).

Excuse my bad english writing...

Henry Gould dijo...

There certainly is an aesthetics of name-dropping : the NY Schoolies are very gifted that way. It's a kind of living tradition now, maybe the only one left in American poetry. Kent Johnson. Jordan Davis. Bernice. Gerard. Stephanopoulos.

Jordan dijo...

It is the American way to love names, Henry.

John dijo...

You realize of course, Jordan, with your talk of victors and history, that this means WAR.

And if I win, I'm gonna build myself a HUGE glass house and throw All * the * Stones * I * Want.

Jonathan dijo...

I know I am "supposed* to believe that aesthetics and ehtics are inextricably intertwined, but somehow I just don't. Usually that's just a way of justifying the aesthetic to the inner moral censor who wants it to be good for you. Mozart, if it doesn't make your baby smarter, is still Mozart. The value of art is in the fact that it's largely useless except for what it does really, really well... and that something is frightenly autonomous from ethical considerations.

Anónimo dijo...

I can't buy that art is "frighteningly autonomous from ethical considerations" except by accepting a most shallow and generalized idea of what ethics is. Of course that is a lot of what comprises address of ethics and the way the relationship has been warped to ideological ends.

And art comes from something and I can't comprehend that the act of creation is similarly unbound from the circumstances that surround it.

Nada Gordon: 2 ludic 4 U dijo...

Jordan, I'm annoyed.