Thursday, February 15, 2007

Curiosity and Sincerity

At the end of the "Immediate Need of Confucius", Ezra Pound offers the following observation, which I think remains relevant.

We are bedevilled with false diagnoses. We are obfuscated with the noise of those who attribute all troubles to irrelevant symptoms of evil. We are oppressed by powerful persons who lie, who have no curiosity, who smear the world and their high offices with Ersatz sincerity. (SP, p. 94)

Now, real sincerity, Confucian sincerity, if you will, was for Pound the key to decent social order, and amounted to "precise verbal definition" (good grammar, I like to say). But I've always found Pound's disappointment with the curiosity of our leaders to be the most profound insight in this passage.

The two intersect in the expression "what's the word?", i.e., the sincere statement of the limit of one's knowledge, accompanied by the desire to overcome one's ignorance, or at least a "willingness to move away from one area of semi-ignorance" (cf. ABC, p. 35).

I want to propose that sincerity--the pursuit of the "right word"--is located at the intersection of hope and faith, courage and curiosity. I believe that the urge to create, the artistic motive, the urge toward innovation in form, arises because of a very, very subtle imbalance in the pull of these influences. It is not that artists are especially "unbalanced", however. On the contrary, non-artists (or artists in a creative slump) are precisely that because they are dominated by only one moment: they live on hope or faith or courage or curiosity, often serially. Artists, by contrast, will (at the crucial moment) not let faith extinguish their curiosity, nor let their hope render their courage irrelevant.

Their sincerity is therefore very complicated. That, I think, is what Pound was complaining about. Our leaders, as it were, "honestly don't care" what is going on. Mainly because it's all happening so fast. "An age-old intelligence is not lost in an age of speed," however (Pound, SP, p. 94). Poetry unwobbles the pivot, rectifies the heart.

One last thing about curiosity. Heidegger dealt with it as a dimension of "everydayness" and therefore saw it as a "deficient" mode of Being. But what he understood by curiosity (Neugier) was a desire for novelty, a longing, if you will, for news. Gossip. He did not mean a longing for news that stays news. But that is what we mean. We mean the result of tempering our curiosity with hope, faith and courage. And all the reciprocal effects of this: form.

See also "Li and/or Ethos" and/
or "Form and/or Grammar"

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