Statement of Philosophy

A site for exploration and discussion about verse, poetics, the aesthetic, and creative writing in general.

Because there is a profound difference between writing something to be read and writing something worth reading; and in that difference might beauty be found.



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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Notes on the Idea of Organicism — Part II

Notes on Organicism in Literature

 
This post has been added to the Hatter's Cabinet site via its Best of the Poetry Daily Critique page
 

This second of my posts on organicism (the first preceding this one, here) is something of a patchwork quilt of notes, some short, some long, that attempt to take the information of Part I on the mechanistic and organic theories of artistic invention and expand them out from theory into praxis, and then also to show — if only in a beginning of such — how they are not artefacts of the history of ideas but observations and of the human psyche. There is no attempt here at presenting an organized, unified argument. Rather than lengthen the text by trying to tie it all together, I left this mostly as notes. There is only the barest ordering here. There is no attempt at continuity from one to the next.

As said in Part I, these posts were originally spawned by comments on FB about organicism. Those comments in part guide the subjects of these notes. Though, I did not intentionally structure the notes around the comments, nor are these notes solely guided by the comments: some moments were spurred by the writing of part I, and some I brought to the table myself.


 

Part I
Some Exploratory Notes

 

Section jump menu:
 
1. Note on Terminology
2. Organic and Inorganic "Design"
3. Organic "Unity"
4. The Organic Text and "Natural Laws"
5. Qualities of an Organic Text
6. Organicism from the Reader's Side
7. "How do you certify an organic text?"
8. How can the idea of the organic text be used as a critical tool?
9. Inorganic Literature

 

1. Note on Terminology

Within this commentary, when I am speaking outside of the context of Coleridge, I am going to shift the use of terminology and use inorganic as opposed to mechanical . Neither term is perfect: I believe the word mechanical is today too bound to the material idea of machine to fit well as the term of choice. Inorganic sets up the contrast to organic well, but it might be better if there was a word that did not use organic within it. Since Coleridge himself used inorganic, I am going to move mostly to that one, and give it a spin, as it were.

Though, within my own talking, inorganic can readily be substituted with nomic, cultural, and, within certain contexts, political and naïve (and I will use nomic and aesthetic). Likewise, organic is fairly interchangeable with aesthetic — indeed, to speak about organicism is to speak about the aesthetic text. I am tempted to move to the terms Cassirer uses in Language and Myth: theoretic and mythic. Though, we are here talking out of Coleridge I will stay mostly with inorganic and organic. This point leads quite naturally into a discussion of how the mechanistic and organic theories are demonstration and presentation of the nomic and aesthetic modalities of language and thought. Though, I will belay that engagement until later, and then take it up only in part.

As for the word poetry: I use the word here because that is the general subject matter of Coleridge and, loosely, the context of my literary interests. "Loosely," because in truth my interest lies in aesthetic literature, whatever its form. A text's being poetic does not at all mean that the text is aesthetic: Coleridge's arguments and Wordsworth's Preface to the Lyrical Ballads both speak such about the popular poetry of their day. Also, when I do use the word poetry I do not include under its label every text that could possibly be called poetry. Indeed, neither would Coleridge, or Eliot, or any other critic. They — and I — are speaking out of the relatively small body of sophisticated aesthetic literature: when you are arguing the nature of a category of things, you will tend to argue out of the best representatives of that category. You would not use a child's construction with wood blocks as example in developing a theory of aesthetic architecture. This may seem like an odd thing to point out, but you would be surprised by how many poets and critics write with the hope their readers do not think such, and how many claims about poetry and poems depend deeply upon that fallacy.

So in that my concern — and Coleridge's concern — was really about aesthetic literature of whatever form, I will generally jump back and forth between using the words poetry and literature. Just because Nightwood was written in what is commonly called "prose" does not mean it is not "poetry." Indeed, it might be a healthy thing for the contemporary culture of poetry to stop identifying its exemplary works by how they appear on the page and start identifying them by their aesthetic potency.

 

2. Organic and Inorganic "Design"

It is false to think that a successful organic text can be "designed" in the same way as a Formula 1 engine. The very term organicism speaks to how such texts 'grow' of themselves. True creativity depends upon engagement with or through the unconscious; it is not a rational building or piecing together of a work.

This tapping into the irrational unconscious is reflected in the idea of a cosmos, and in the mystical idea of the human — and the artwork — as microcosmos. The nature of the human psyche is not on of rationality. The human mind is primarily unconscious, and consciousness is but a part of the unconscious. (I dislike the phrase "is an extension of the unconscious" here for various but mostly idiosyncratic reasons.) Our engagement with the cosmos is also primarily unconscious, it is primarily experiential. The whole core of organicism, of recognizing the organic text as micro-cosmos, is that such a text is also primarily experiential (of which rationality is obviously a part). To write a text out of rationality or rational technique (a.k.a. mechanistic invention) will not result in an organic text, or at best will result in one that is minimally experiential in its engagement. And the organic text — like the cosmos, and as micro-cosmos there within — is something meant to be experienced, to be engaged.

What then is the experience of the mechanistic text? It lies within the analytic, within the rational. In that rationality is a function of cultural nomoi, the experience of the mechanistic text (and note I am speaking here of mechanistic creative texts, not texts such as of pragmatic, scholarly purposes) is the "experience" of herd mentality: of safety in repetition, of security in commonality. It is the experience of "I know my place; I am part of the group; we are together; we are safe in our understanding of the world." It is above all the experience of the reaffirmation of truths. (And if you do not think that a person's pleasure in genre fiction is not about repetition of established truths, try to get them to read a non-generic work of the same subject. The response will usually be a variation of "but that is not how such a book is supposed to be written; I like books that are written this way." It is not the experience of the text, it is the experience of repetition, the pleasure of herd — cultural — security.

Now, don't get me wrong. That is part of — and a necessary part of — the human psyche. There is a place and a pleasure for such consumable texts. But that pleasure is not the pleasure of the aesthetic.

 

3. Organic "Unity"

It might be worth a quick note that "unity" does not mean homogeneity. Energy within a text can be created by dissonance and discord as well as through repetition coupled with variance within repetition. "Unity" speaks to the energies of the whole: in that whole there must be difference to create energies. In truth, the word homogeneity as applied literature will usually be little more than a signal of genre, of repetition of the same.

On this, I offer this moment from Eliot's "The Music of Poetry," for the sole reason that I just read it not a few hours ago, out on the patio before dinner, and it applies (not only to this note but the subject of organic literature as a whole):

Dissonance, even cacophony, has its place [in poetry]: just as, in a poem of any length, there must be transitions between passages of greater and less intensity, to give a rhythm of fluctuating emotion essential to the musical structure of the whole; and the passages of less intensity will be, in relation to the level on which the total poem operates, prosaic — so that, in the sense implied by that context, it may be said that no poet can write a poem of amplitude unless he is a master of the prosaic.†

The footnote:

This is the complementary doctrine to that of the 'touchstone' line or passage of Matthew Arnold: this test of the greatness of a poet is the way he writes his less intense, but structurally vital, matter. (24-25 in On Poetry and Poets, Noonday Press 1961)

Something about those lines and that "touchstone" appeals to me. It very much speaks to the nature of organic unity, in that such a text does not — and cannot if it is to be successful — stall out whenever some framework needs to be assembled. I heard someone speak in a presentation long ago that the hardest thing to do in fiction is to move the characters from the dining room to the living room. What he was talking about was threat in such moments of the artistry of the text breaking down so the author can get some basic, factual arranging done: it's a moment that threatens to pull a text into the inorganic — very much so into the mechanistic —, and it generally does if not handled well. Indeed, one measure of the sophistication of a writer is how they handle such moments in their works.

 

4. The Organic Text and "Natural Laws"

I have read such by some critics and writers, so let me take a very brief moment to point out that it is a false line of discussion to say that organic texts are written in accordance with "natural laws" (that is, as opposed to"physical laws"). The reason why is that the idea of "natural laws" — whatever the context — is actually counter to the ideas of organicism. All discussion of the idea of "natural laws" are always at their core nomic, inorganic discourses, though concealed hrough that appeal to some "universal" body of "natural law." Any natural law discerned by people will really only ever be inorganic statements of fact, rationalities that exist not within nature but within nomic culture, within an ethos.

(Though, as an added note, one should be alert when coming upon the term "natural laws" to the time and context of the writing and the ideas that lie behind the use of the phrase. Not only because there can be very different underlying assumption behind the use of the term, but because sometimes the phrase is used with organic intent. Not always, but sometimes.)

 

5. Qualities of an Organic Text

Organicism is not a guarantee of the success of the work. This is obvious when you think about it. Not every poem, art work, etc., comes to fruition. Even, not every poem, art work, etc. gets past the their embryonic stage. I think it is a fairly safe assumption that most writers have a drawer full of données that never germinated. Plenty of works reach only an incomplete or mal-formed maturity, and it is part of sophistication to be able to recognize what (and where) of your own does and does not. The arts are full of stories — fictional and not — of artists and writers struggling to find the nature and unity of a piece. The wonderful short film "Life Lessons" by Scorcese, in New York Stories, is about the struggles of organic creating, of a seed seeking the earth, water, air, and light it needs for its germination and growth. It is also one of the best fictional depictions of the function of the unconscious in the making of art I know.

Neither does organicism does not speak to the complexity of a work. A simple piece can yet be organic in nature: Pound's "In a Station of the Metro," for example. Nor does organicism speak much to the accessibility of a work, at least not in a relative sense among all organic works. H.D.'s poems are quite accessible (even if of a depth that can elude readers); while Finnegans Wake is not at all an easy portal to pass through. Though, organicism does speak accessibility in that organic texts, being not of the modality of cultural nomoi, are not dependent upon familiarity with the conventions of those nomoi to be understood: true universalism, that "universalism" that is often touted as one of the highest qualities of great literature, can only be found within the aesthetic. For only organic texts invite all readers into their micro-cosmoi. Inorganic texts welcome only believers. Also, readers who are primarily mechanistic readers have greater difficulty with organic texts than readers who develop their aesthetic acuity: they are looking for repetitions, for how it is supposed to be, for "what it means," and an organic text is always only that which it is: an individual microcosmos meant to be explored.

 

6. Organicism from the Reader's Side

I am going to approach the question of the reader's engagement with an organic text by starting from the side of the writer, and do it through the general idea of the mythic demiurge.

To useful ends it can be said that the writer is the creator of the microcosmos of the work in the very sense of the demiurge. In most traditions that have a demiurge or creator-god, the cosmos existed before the actions of the demiurge as the unformed union of the archetypal masculine and feminine principles: as infinite possibilities and endless potential, perhaps, as with the gnostic Poimandres, differentiated only into the elemental states of earth, water, air, and fire.

To be honest, I can never remember which adjective goes with which noun — possibilities or potential — and I might be completely mis-remembering with "endless." If I have it right, feminine is infinite potential — all possible forms of being exist within the dark chaos — while masculine is endless possibility, any one of those forms can be brought to reality. What the demiurge does is, in effect, build the cosmos by collapsing infinite possibilities and potentialities into one cosmic order. (Traditions that do not have a demiurgic god generally have the cosmos form in the moment of the union of the primal principles: possibility and potential collapse at their meeting into a single, unified cosmos.)

The action of the organic poet is the same. (And when I say "organic" artist I am also saying aesthetic). But the artist does not begin in infinite possibilities and potentialities, outside the unformed reality, looking down upon it: they begin within the existing cosmos. There is, then, limitations upon artistic creating, and the resulting work can only ever be a micro-cosmos within the greater cosmos. For this, there is an inherent commonality between all aesthetic works and all readers, as readers also are part of the cosmos, are psychically, in the mystic sense (and this mystic sense is fairly descriptive of the aesthetic sense) micro-cosmoi themselves. It might seem silly to say a human cannot know the cosmos — cannot engage the cosmos — the same way as a parrot engages the cosmos. but it points out that commonality: all humans are, at the core, human. We share a evolutionary chain millions of years old. As such, we all share the same modality of aesthetic engagement from a shared (though in no way identical) basis. As such, all aesthetic texts — all organic texts — participate within that shared ability to engage the world around us.

When a reader looks at an organic text, they are not looking at a message being used to communicate fixed meaning (minimizing distortion and noise) to the reader — which is the nature of inorganic texts. They are looking at a the material surface of a vital, energic, micro-cosmos: not ideas in the mechanistic sense but a field of active ideation, the possibilities and potentialities of thought guided by the text before them. The reader thus, to engage the organic text, will themselves become demiurges: creators out of the raw materials that are set before them. Aesthetic reading, like aesthetic writing, is a creative act. The only difference is that the writer is creating the material reality of the text, while the reader is engaging that material existence.

While the artist is creating in their aesthetic work a field of play, and while that field of play is open to — and opens itself too — all aesthetic readers, the work is limited by its material reality. A book exists in print, as a particular text, in a certain font, with words and images displayed on pages in a certain way. The text is written in a certain language or languages, written in a certain cultural time and place. It is also limited by the psyche of the writer. In simple example, a less sophisticated writer will create a different text than they would if they started the same text twenty years later after two decades of technical, intellectual, and creative development and experience, and the works created would speak that difference, which is to say their field of play would each be limited differently and would offer the reader different potentialities and possibilities. Of course, the reader's aesthetic sophistication is a factor the engagement with the text just as much is the writer's sophistication. The ability of the reader to engage a text aesthetically will have influence on the reading. If a reader has only ever read naive, generic narratives their whole life, they will not have within them the tools to engage something as, say, the opening sections of Zukofsky's "A" — something of which I can speak for myself. The first time I cracked that book — which was very early in my literary explorations — it fell dead upon my mind. I did not have the knowledge or sophistication to engage it.

[To note, this is in essence the debunking of what has been and continues to be a primary — if ill-informed — attack against post-structural thought: the charge that post-structuralist ideas means there "is no text" or the "is no meaning in a text." Of course there is a text: if I pick up and read Moby Dick I have picked up and read Moby Dick, not The Unnameable. What post-structuralism is saying about texts — as was Coleridge — is that meaning, meaning as something relayed in communcation with attempts at clear transmission, is an inorganic aspect of reading. In fact that is the aim and purpose of the inorganic text. But in that every text must be organic/aesthetic in nature, in that, as Coleridge points out, the mechanical theory is only part of the story, and the text only part of the reading experience, every text is open to aesthetic engagement by readers. Which, for mechanical, inorganic texts, usually means the revealing of the mechanisms of culture and nomoi operating within the text.

So, the reader: in a way, the writer of an organic text as put on the page the DNA of the psychical engagement of the text. The reader, in the same manner as described by Coleridge with the initial organic creation, engages that DNA and creates a text, their engagement with the text. The text itself is the seed that will develop during the reading and with each re-reading, that will bring into itself what raw materials the reader brings to it through their engagements with the cosmos, and which will develop into a vital, organic engagement with the text. The text is limited for the reader only by its material existence and by what raw materials the reader is able to bring to the organic engagement of the text.

Does the phrase "this is an organic text" have any import to the reading of the text? Only in that if spoken by a trustworthy source, it tells the reader something about the modality of the text. Is the recognition of the organic nature of the text something that the reader can use beyond that introduction? Not really, for two reasons. (1) Semantically, it is rather the equivalent of saying "does recognition of an animal being a horse offer the rider anything for the riding?" The phrase "organic text" is a descriptor only, not a thing in itself outside of the text. (2) A reader should always be striving to read aesthetically, organically, whatever the nature and modality of the text. That is what is good, literary reading. (And makes for good pragmatic reading as well.)

 

7. "How do you certify an organic text?"

Risking sounding facetious: in how you can speak of the object's beauty. A saying of mine: An art object is aesthetic to the degree that you can talk about it aesthetically.

That may very much seem caught in the old joke of "I know it when I see it," but there is no small truth in that statement. Aesthetic texts are engagements: as such, they are defined by what the reader brings to the text, and they are also only successful in accordance to the reader which comes to the text. A reader of highly developed sophistication can often have difficulty engaging texts of no great sophistication. They find them boring, or trite, or the inadequacies of its construction get in the way of their reading of it. Obviously, as said, a reader of less developed sophistication will have difficulty engaging a work of much greater sophistication.

A reader of sophistication similar to that of the book they are reading will be able to engage it profitably, enjoyably, even brilliantly. That is the nature of the aesthetic: it is a process of development. But all in all, across the three examples, aesthetic engagement with a text can really only be spoken about as regards the specific reader: this is what I get out of it; this is what I see within it; this is my experience with it. So an organic text can only be certified by a reader being able to read it organically. If the text opens up for you aesthetically, it is for you an organic text.

Now, I've simplified this a touch for the point. A reader of high sophistication should be able to speak of the organic nature of an unsophisticated text, despite all its problem. And here lies the role of the critic: to identify organic texts and to speak of their sophistication, accessibility, complexity, etc. Critics of the aesthetic should be guides of literature — not interpreters, not definers. They should — not unlike a real estate agent — giving the reader a tour of the micro-cosmos of the text, revealing it positives, its negatives, how it functions, how it is organized, how the energies work within it. If I am a newbie to the world of literature, I will look for critics to help me find texts that will be accessible to me as a newbie. And I will look to them for direction as to where I should turn to develop my own sophistication. Which leads me to the next point.

 

8. How can the idea of the organic text be used as a critical tool?

It seems to me there are two elements of this.

First, the categorical. If I am a critic interested in the world of beautiful objects (of whatever medium), I am going to be interested in and want to write about organic texts, for the world of beauty will be found within the organic (the aesthetic). (To note, this is not a spurious connection being made between organicism and beauty: they are one and the same. The argument to that connection is beyond this presentation. Though, it is an argument I continually make upon this blog.) So, in part, the "critical tool" that is organicism is that it is the desired subject matter. If I am an ichthyologist, I am interested in studying and talking about fish and things of a fishy nature. Perhaps however it is better to say: the critical tool of organicism is the ability to say that is not my desired subject matter; it does not belong in this discussion.

Second, the modal. If I am an ichthyologist, I will want to speak the language of ichthyology. So also with aesthetic objects. If I am a critic of objects of beauty, then I will need to be able to speak of and in the language of organic objects, of organic systems rather than inorganic statements. If, say, I wanted to espouse a poet's works as objects of beauty, I would have to be able to open those texts for experience for other people. I could not do that if I approached the text through convention and rigid structure, through definitions and categorizations. I have to be able to reveal to other readers the energies that are the life of the object. To do such I have to learn how to speak those energies such as to reveal them to the reader.

Though, as said in the previous note, the idea of the organic text is really a subject matter rather than a "tool" when approached by the critic. On the theoretical side, there is the exploration of the organic and inorganic texts; but even that does not speak of it as a "tool." Perhaps, as stated above, the only real place the idea of the organic text exists as a tool is in delineating what is and what is not an organic text. For example, to be able to say, "Irrespective of its line breaks, that is a political text, not an aesthetic text, and so lies outside the domain of the aesthetic and the discourse on the aesthetic." Which may seem a simple idea, but which has an important edge to it in such discourse as the contemporary culture of literature, which — being primarily nomic in nature — would very much like to eliminate the distinction between the two as irrelevant to the study of literature, and, in much of its criticism and polemics attempts to do just that. It is a dangerous thing to the poetry of politics to say to it that it functions mechanically and not aesthetically, and that it thus lies outside the discourse of literature in which Eliot, Pound, Wordsworth, Williams, Shelley, Coleridge, etc. were involved; dangerous in that political poetry wants to lay claim to the same accolades as aesthetic poetry. Which is a shame: political poetry should be striving for the accolades that apply to it, not to something wholly different.

 

9. Inorganic Literature

While the point of the presentation of Coleridge's organicism was to develop a grounding for the term, I have to admit I was far more intrigued and engaged by Abrams's presentation of the mechanistic theory than the presentation of organicism. For one thing, I was finding myself quite surprised by how much the rhetoric of the mechanistic theories of the period echoes the voices and ideas one hears today within the field of cognitive science. I should not have been too surprised because they are of the same modality, and I wonder if that surprise was really in that I had forgotten that the mechanistic theory would be the nomic philosophy of the day. However much cognitive science may speak out of a greater complexity of understanding or make claims to scientific rigor and testing, it is very much the contemporary version of mechanistic psychology and suffers from similarly functioning a prioris. It has merely replaced — I should say "updated" — the mechanistic with something more contemporary: the computational.

But that is for another time. What I found equally intriguing was how the elements and language of the mechanistic theory so aptly described the nomic text. So I have had the thought that, in that it is often useful to explain out of the negative, perhaps it would as useful in developing the idea of aesthetic text to demonstrate its counterpart through the ideas of mechanistic theory.

(1) The elementary particles of the mind

Any attention to contemporary genre fiction or popular movies (which are real visual genre fiction) will show how they can be broken down into their constituent parts. I have usually here demonstrated this through the epic fantasy genre, which has for decades been mostly the same tale retold again and again with variation — in accordance with the inorganic modality — being only the substitution of one part for a permitted other or rearrangement of the ordering of the parts. But I believe the example of horror films will be equally understandable by more people. It does not take that much critical acuity to begin to recognize the standard parts of a conventional, genre-based horror film, and I am sure most people who watch horror have read a review talking about a film that merely repeats the standard elements of horror. If I may a quick list of some of those common elements:

  • the opening sequence of happy normal world (usually involving a moving car or a roving camera);
  • the initial sinister event that is strange but not strange enough to freak everyone out;
  • the first person figures out something's wrong but no one believes sequence;
  • the chase through the woods (or creepy house) character death that you think is over until the surprise moment of death;
  • the pinned in the corner death;
  • the sex scene that goes terribly wrong (leading to the naked gal running through said woods or house death);
  • the valiant but stupid attempt to defend another (usually equally stupid) person death;
  • the secondary character that you think is dead but comes back then promoted to a primary character;
  • the early path to safety/freedom that doesn't work or gets shut down;
  • the creepy thing behind the slowly moving door but no warning, creepy music scene, and its variant, the slowing moving door with creepy music but no creepy thing scene;
  • the startle that for the viewer up the last moment was the evil but then switches to being just a person scene;
  • the look away and look back to the mirror scene;
  • etc.

This is the nature of the nomic narrative: it can readily be fragmented into its constituent — and interchangeable parts.

(2) The motions and combinations of the parts

What connects the parts is almost always the line of the narrative: it operates not unlike Newtonian physics. I have a small piece on my website (here) that I wrote up after watching my daughter play with story cards: she would lay out the cards in the floor in a line and the make a story out of them. However, it would always be a wholly linear, wholly elemental story: the only connection between the elements was the idea of and then. Event A would happen, and then event B would happen, and then event C would happen, etc. It is a very Newtonian thing to watch: a line of balls that was put into motion when the first ball — the first scene — was struck. That ball then strikes the second and passes to it the "energy" of the main character. That second ball then moves on to pass the main character on to the third, and on it goes to the end.

The narration of connected events does not create the unity of an organic text (though, within an organic text it would be part of the whole). Though, in inorganic literature it is usually the narrative that creates the illusion of organic unity. Of course you have the movie open with the female lead realizing that her present relationship is built on illusions. That is what sets up the "real relationship" she will have with the male lead. But within such a film, the relationship between the two scenes is merely cause and effect, the Newtonian bumping of one ball into another. It is trivially more sophisticated than the child's and then for it functions the same way.

A commonly seen example of how mechanistic narratives are but parts connected linearly is with the disc releases of Hollywood films with alternate endings. Those endings might connect to the rest of the movie narrative-wise, but very fact that there could be greatly dissimilar "alternate" endings usually speaks that there is no real organic unity to the film; the film was but a sequence of independent events, connected by rules of contiguity. Whichever ending made it through the test viewings got stapled to the end of the final reel. (One, great exception to this is Apocalypse Now, where Copolla came to Cannes with two endings, unable himself at the time to decide. Both endings maintain organic integration with the rest of the film. They separate in that one is ideationally focused on Kurtz — the unused sequence of destruction of the compound by airstrike — and the other more focused on Willard. In that the movie is mostly focused on Willard following Kurtz up the river, I believe the one chosen, the latter, was the superior one.)

(3) The law of associative attraction

What makes a good connection between parts? The justifications are very well described by the language of the mechanistic theorists: the examples given by Abrams was Hume's Resemblance, Contiguity, and Cause and Effect and Hartley's contiguity as found within real life. In an organic text, every "part" is intimately associated with every other part of the plant, and cannot really be called a "part" but artificially. However, in an inorganic text, the parts need only link to each other where and as they connect. Recognizing that shows how the above laws of attraction function within the whole: not as a unifying principle of organization, but merely as linking principles of organization.

This leads directly into #4 so let me just give a quick example and move on thereto. One of my favorite horror films is 2005's Boogeyman (dir. Stephen Kay). During the final chase sequences, the narrative breaks away from spatial and temporal contiguity. It is rather cleverly done, and creates a wonderful experience that develops tension through the disorienting shifts. But, that break from the rules of narrative did not go over well with audiences, and if you take a look at the non-professional reviews on sites like IMDB the majority of them are negative reviews that complain — in various words — about the breaking away from a narrative structure that they could understand.

(4) The problem of judgment and artistic design

One of the common errors of beginning writers when working from real events is that they include events in the text, or write the text a certain way because that is how it really happened. They are using the narrative as it exists in memory — which for the mechanistic thinkers was the same type of text as a literary text, only with the original parts in the original sequence — and transferring it to the page. At one level, their justification is legitimate within the inorganic modality: the story is made of elements assembled into a chain by rules of contiguity. It fails as a good story, however, because it lacks the quality of "artistic design." The writer has fallen too far into reportage: the direct retelling of events, without the interpretation, emotional affect, editing, etc. which makes up "telling a good story."

You can readily find writers and workshop leaders and MFA professors talk about what makes up a good story. For the most part, they will primarily be offering conventions, which can be more accurately labeled as "those qualities that are the elements of those stories that make the best-seller lists right now." Inorganic literature will always be conventional, generic literature, after all. And what is genre literature but doing what the person before you did? doing what the readership is expecting you to do?

"Artistic design" is, in the end, logically part of mechanistic theory as a whole. With the mechanistic theory of psychology, they used the deus ex machina of "judgment" and "rightness." It is not at all different with mechanistic literature today, or any other time. Always "judgment," "reason," whatever you call it, even the "intelligent and powerful being" from the quotation from Newton's Principia, breaks down to verisimilitude, to mimicking the "truths" of reality.

As would be expected, this is the point where the discussion can only move to a more theoretic discussion. Because of the nature of this text, however, I am going to limit myself to presentation. I speak enough about the whys elsewhere.

As said, verisimilitide is "writing (or painting, or what) in reproduction or in imitation of the truth of reality." Even when the text is imaginary, it must still conform to the underlying truths of reality — which are of course cultural truths — for it to be judged as "artistic." In the mechanistic theory of Coleridge's time, the images of artistic invention had their source in the perceived world. The laws of association that governed the mechanistic theory — resemblance, contiguity, cause and effect, etc. — speak the demand for a basis in "truth" and a justification of the rightness and quality of the text through appeals to "truth." The example of the ending of Boogeyman, above, speaks to that governing principle: when the film broke away from the natural laws of contiguity of space and time, it was no longer mimetic of the truths of nature, which is to say mimetic of the "truths" of generic horror, and was rejected by the audience as a poor film. In art it is said that the least sophisticated form of painting is direct reproduction of the image: the "art" of the work has been reduced to nothing other than technique. But such paintings are readily accepted by mass culture as good art because they speak the presence of verisimilitude, the basis of artistic design. (To give another example that is not so true to life, the same can be said for images of Christian iconography.)

Thus, generic narratives find justification — and "unity" — through their appeal to the truths of reality, which are really the truths of culture: thus how "truths" include the conventions of genre and of artistic governors of taste and of moral/ethical truths as well as physical or naturally observed truths. As long as the balls bump one into the other without mishap and the narrative never strays from reduplicating and reinforcing the accepted truths of its readership's culture, and if it gets the balls to move cleverly or prettily, it can be judged as "artistic" literature.

As an aside, the phenomenon prevalent in film where the "reality" of the laws of science and knowledge are frequently discarded for cultural truths is both curious and demonstrative. Superman is supposed to be able to throw that car like that, even though the physical laws of action and reaction say it would have been impossible; and the romantic couple are supposed to be dressed like that in that scene, even though those clothes are grossly impractical for the greater context, and they are probably freezing their asses off for it.

Another example: While they became over time heavily conventional, I believe that one of the purposes (conscious or not) of the dramatic unities as originally observed by Aristotle lay in that at their core they were a methodology for eliminating (or limiting) mechanistic structure, if not forcing organic structure. (Remember, contrary to what most critics say, Aristotle's Poetics was not a prescriptive tract on what makes for superior dramatic tragedies; it was a descriptive tract on what Aristotle observed as common within the superior tragedies.) In reminder, the unities are:

  1. one main action, with no or few subplots
  2. single physical space
  3. no more than one day in time

If I may pick but one approach to stand for the whole of the idea, consider that if all the action occurs in one place and one time, then all the back action has to be brought into the play through the interpretive voices of the characters, which forces the playwright to move away from reportage. External events can only be brought in through interpreting voices — and in better plays each voice carries its own interpretation — and will only be brought in if it contributes to the energies of single action that is the play. In turn, with the play being a single action, it is difficult for something to be brought in without it having influence on the whole of the action. The unities make it difficult to have a play that is a sequence of independent action related mostly by the rules of contiguity and cause and effect.

One more example: I am here also reminded of the "clowns" in Shakespearean plays, and how criticism will divide those more aesthetically sophisticated comedies, where the clowns are integrated into the play, and those less so, where the scenes with the clowns are almost but insertions in the plot — vaudevillian interludes, if I may dare — put in to entertain and keep the attention of the groundlings.

The above gives an albeit brief description of the nature of mechanistic literature. It does not strive to be all encompassing, nor does it very much go into argument or justification. Neither of those aims fit with the purpose here. In that fact and reality do — by the necessity of the material reality of texts — have a play in texts, that organic texts use within its unity elements that can also make inorganic texts, we can see how narrative can both serve both as the contiguum and artistic justification of a mechanistic text and be also part of organic text. (King Lear is greatly a linear narrative, but it is yet a masterwork of aesthetic drama.)

The above doesn't speak much to the organic narrative; but from a pedagogical point of view, that is not such a bad thing. After all, as with the workshop rules of the inorganic culture of popular literature (and within today's literary culture, those works called "literary" are infrequently far removed from the mechanistic texts of popular culture, in both novel and poem), following by example is merely creating a new verisimilitudinal "truth." And as Nietzsche points out, the primary tool of the aesthetic pursuit is the hammer: one smashes the inorganic and conventional in one's work, and builds to their ability out of that gained knowledge. But, then, they again take the hammer to it to find the inorganic aspects, and from that learning build again. That is, really, the only path to sophistication. The cyclical history of the arts — with its revolutionary moments of brilliant literature followed invariably by greater and greater degrees of mimicry — speaks that truth quite clearly.

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