Saturday, July 07, 2007

Work, Value and Creativity

Here's one of Ezra Pound's typically luminous economic observations:

Work does not create wealth, it contributes to the formation of it. Nature's productivity is the root. (Guide to Kulchur, p. 357)

It got me consulting my dictionaries because he sees this as part of the misuse of the word "create", and that's something I have noticed when editing texts written by Danes.

Danish writers (in English) usually write "create" whenever they mean "skabe", although this word (in Danish) often means precisely "contribute to the formation of" or "establish" (as in "establish suitable conditions for"), i.e., when it makes no reference to creation ex nihilo, whether by human or divine agency.

As it turns out, the English word "shape" is a relation of the Danish "skabe" (and the German "Schöpfung") going back through the Old English "gesceap" to Old Norse.

To "contribute to the formation" of something is arguably to "shape" it. Finally, it seems that "worship" is, etymologically, the "creation of worth" or, let's say, the "shaping of value".

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Kirby Olson responds to my earlier post about fascism and writing by saying "fascism and communism [are] the same thing." Good writing is equally impossible under both systems because a "one-party system, with penalties for outliers" prevents honesty.

I agree that there is an important connection between honesty and good writing. This was also Hemingway's point: good writing can only be produced by people who "will not lie" and fascism is a system of government that requires people to lie. (It is a lie.)

What Kirby means by "communism" is probably as inimical to honesty as what Hemingway meant by "fascism". I am not entirely sure that these systems of government are inherently more honest than, say, liberal democracy, however. And I am not sure that fascism and communism are "the same thing" when seen from the point of view of historical plausibility, or imminence, let us say.

What I mean is: writers have very little to fear from communism today. It is not likely that the lie they will be required to support in their work is that of communism (leaving open just exactly what that lie might be). I do think, however, that fascism, which is to say, the total and absolute "incorporation" of private and public concerns (regardless of how many "parties" there may be), is a real threat today. Social life is increasingly conditioned by the coordinated activity of big business and big government.

On a more optimistic note (if that it was what it is), let me say that I have begun to think Hemingway was wrong. Good writing can be produced under fascism. The political ontology of Flarf is arguably "fascist" for precisely this reason: it will not allow fascism (come what may) to destroy poetry. In fact, it seems to me that the whole post-avant tendency is a rejection of honesty (at least in the form that fascism can prevent) as a sine qua non of good writing. That doesn't mean it is a rejection of honesty as such, of course.