Sunday, June 08, 2014

Art vs. Utopia

"The chief cause of false writing is economic. Many writers need or want money. These writers could be cured by an application of bank notes." (Ezra Pound)

"Don't write a novel about problems that a well-intentioned social program could fix," I once told a writer friend of mine after reading some of his stuff. I now realize I was talking mainly to myself, as most critics-who-would-be-writers no doubt do. All of my literary ambition, it turns out, is undermined by the fact that whatever I might say about social life, indeed, my entire critique of existence, could be rendered instantly irrelevant with an application of bank notes.

Pound, of course, meant that the blather of people who wrote to make money could be silenced by paying them off. That, I hope, isn't the case for me. (I make a decent living but exactly nothing from writing.) I could, however, accept any human condition that did not humiliate the poor. I would accept whatever forms of life emerged from minimally decent living conditions. And having accepted those forms of life, I would have no reason to compose a poem or novel. Except to entertain. And, with the "basic food positions" taken care of, I would not want to waste anyone's time with entertainment. That's just the sort of artist I am.

I.e., my art (if I have one) and my utopia are at diametrical odds with each other. If someone should come along, some latter-day Huey Long, and find a workable way to get those who own it to "share the wealth", then I would pack in my entire aesthetic, epistemic and ethical project, and start doing some useful work in the fields, or repairing the bridges, or helping old ladies across the street.

William Carlos Williams sternly rebuked those critics who (around 1944) were saying that "after socialism has been achieved it's likely there'll be no further use for poetry". I doubt that too. Socialism isn't actually the answer. But I have been able to imagine a pretty simple utopia, a well-intentioned social program, if you will, after the achievement of which there would be no further use for my poetry.


Presskorn said...

"Don't write a novel about problems that a well-intentioned social program could fix." is, if not quite a "mayhewianism", then at least a good shot at a Basbøllianism.

Presskorn said...

BTW, As Foucault said:

“To say to oneself from the start, “What is the reform that I will be able to make?” that’s not the goal for the intellectual to pursue.”

Thomas said...

Yes, which is why it is intellectually disappointing, however ironic that may seem, to find one's thoughts always terminating at a perfectly sensible reform. And something as boring as monetary and fiscal policy!