Friday, August 25, 2006

How to Write Concepts Down (2)

Is a bit of white paper with black marks on it like a human body?

Ludwig Wittgenstein
(Philosophical Investigation, §364)

I mean I don't do as Bill does--notice something and write the note down and then type it off.

Louis Zukofsky
(Pound/Zukofsky, p. 78)

I'm a great admirer of David Hockney, both in practice and in theory. But in 1981, introducing Jeffery Camp's Draw: how to master the art, he made a mess of the difference between drawing and writing. The passage is worth quoting in full.

Everybody learns to write. We are taught to write by copying marks, and even when we copy marks we all make them individually, we all have different kinds of handwriting. Within a year or two of being taught to write, things happen to our handwriting and personal ways of making marks develop very quickly. That's the way, really, you learn to draw. And in learning to draw (unlike learning to write) you learn to look. It's not the beauty of the marks we like in writing, it's the beauty of the ideas. But in drawing it's a bit of both - it's beauty of ideas, of feelings and of marks.

Maybe Hockney doesn't know any poets, or never talks to them about writing. Later on he makes the following outrageous assertion: "Drawing is a more interesting way than writing of passing on feelings about the world you see, the world you feel about."

I know a woman whose instinctive response to people who claim they don't know how to do draw pictures is, "How do you see?" I sometimes feel the same way about people who claim they can't write. How can you think? How can you be sure you know anything at all? "The only time I know something is true," said Jean Malaquais to Norman Mailer, "is the moment I discover it in the act of writing." It strikes me as absolute rubbish to suggest that writing is a less interesting means of expression than drawing.

Hockney thinks that "learning how to write" is a matter of learning how to form the letters. He reduces style to handwriting, and then claims that writing style has nothing interesting to do with seeing or feeling. But in order to write a good sentence you have to be able to see your world, feel it, think it. The beauty of the ideas depends on the beauty of the marks. A well-crafted remark, like a well-written strophe, is aesthetically sastisfying. That is, it's a bit of both, even when you've stopped using a pen altogether and type everything you write. Even when you've stopped typing and Google everything you write. It's how the marks work on the page that matters.

Writing, whether our notes are conceptual or emotional, helps us to attain precision in suffering. Wittgenstein described the writing of the Philosophical Investigations as a painstaking process of making sketches, selecting the good ones, and then arranging them. I think this positive analogy is much stronger than Hockney's negative analogy. We put marks down on the page and then work on the arrangement of those remarks until it satisfies us.


Presskorn said...

Your comments on how to write concepts down are thought-provoking, which is unfortunate, since they make it harder, in your idiom, to free your mind up to do more responsible things, like editing. But do keep up being a distraction.

Brian Campbell said...

I think you're right on here. But people who for whatever reason elevate one form of artistic expression over another or others... they should take their poo poo and dispose of it where we can't smell it! (My very polite way of saying what they're full of)

I responded by the way to your remarks on the Lanier quote.