Humble Executive. Literary Artist. Altruistic Libertarian.
Chapter 11 - Conclusion
Sentient wind flows holy unbound,
Casting folks sober islands around.
Mountains which pass loathsome alone
Slaying them souls Eolian blown.
A. Wheeler, Vida Corporate
Not everyone can write a literary novel. Many people are born without the mental capability; countless others grow up uneducated; the literate often read little more than the newspaper and a paperback now and again. Even so, tens of thousands around the world are smart ‘common readers’ with the aesthetic sense necessary to create unique literary art. Those special individuals capable of artistically expressing their dreams and don’t, cheat themselves out of a uniquely fulfilling experience, and in their non-act, reduce the potential wealth of the human universe.
The actual world means nothing to more to humans than it does to a fish.
What’s it all about? In the actual, empirical, physical universe, not a thing. It’s only what we create within the human universe, and what those around us create, that matters. Everything significant, meaningful, and worthwhile in a human life ‘emerges’ from the biological substrate, innate drives and instincts masked by a thick haze of habits, desires, perceptions, and dreams. Humans live, act, love, and survive in collectives known as ‘civilizations’, ‘societies’, and ‘cultures’, all of them, in their emerged abstract forms, nothing more than grand fictions, ephemeral realities, constructs, ‘matrices’. For humans, language arises from this universal lie, and with language, the ability to think, to remember, to conceptualize, to create, to communicate, to write and to read. Language becomes the storehouse of history, remembered humanity, cultural bond, civilized glue, societal adhesive. Gutenberg changed the human universe forever. Now we all have it, the word, where once only the privileged few.
Humans worship god(s), ones they have created many times in many places. Such humans, ones capable of such arrogant disregard for their minor state, ones with the temerity to create from nothing a Zeus, Yahweh, Allah, Buddha – these are the ones, the creators, that deserve worship, not the gods long dead (pace Nietzsche). Today we (in the West) miss the dead gods, the certainty they once represented, the conviction that anything we did, any crime committed, any borders transgressed, we did so with holy permission, with commands from on high, to purge a land of heathens, to win back Jerusalem for Christendom, to purge with hot fire sin from the devil’s flesh.
Today we know better. Science, and the rational application of the human mind, has eliminated much mystery from the universe. We no longer require gods to explain the rain, or the existence of evil. We know from whence they come. We understand the basics of the actual universe, even though we can’t see it, touch it, comprehend ultimate explanations, or develop a unified theory of everything. We know that whatever we think we know with certainty will change. Paradigms will shift. The horizon will never be reached, no matter how fast we race. In the end, it’s likely that humans, in their current biological form, do not possess the mental capacity to genuinely comprehend the actual nature of things. Thus marks the limits of philosophy, of science, leaving precisely one form of human endeavor that remains limitless—Art.
Most people enjoy art in some fashion. Music is ubiquitous, painting common, reading widespread. Often without explicit intention or understanding, artists act as modern gods, creating new worlds, alternate experiences, art objects that make living for many people worthwhile, or at least less tedious. While these activities often serve as pleasant distraction, minor entertainment, or mere games, the basic value is common, in that they break the relentlessly mundane of actual existence and spice life with creative interest.
Ascending from entertainment into the realm of art means gravitating from the ephemeral into the permanent. Artists create objects that contribute indefinitely to the human universe, and add to the cultural edifice that each generation inherits from the previous one. We live a rich life because so many artists have lived and created before us.
The natural next step for those who take pleasure in art objects is to create their own. Yes, others may benefit, but not in the same manner as the artist him or herself. The creative act is unique, as is the joy of berthing something special.
But what is ‘art’?
Art is the creation of something significantly meaningful that is essentially unique and practically useless that, without its deliberate creation, would otherwise not exist.
Some people assume tautologically that art can be defined as anything found in a gallery (Duchamps “Fountain” for instance) or performed on stage (Cage’s 4’ 33”). When they find that some of these items/performances have nothing in common, they resort to a concept known as ‘non-art’. Not only does this category of non-art items/performances include urinals placed in museums and 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence, but everything else in the universe that does not meet a meaningful definition of art, including space ships, tuataras, sidewalks, clouds, or a game of Parcheesi. In other words, the concept of ‘non-art’ is useless, as it’s impossible to know what non-art is without defining art in the first place. Once art has been defined, the concept of ‘non-art’ is no longer necessary.
A literary novel is a work of art, and therefore subject to the definition above. Most novels, however, are not art: they are neither meaningful nor unique, so often written as they are from formula. Romance provides the best example, but many genre novels are so similar that it’s difficult to tell them apart.
Even so, any novel is an achievement, and the writer should feel good about completing one. There are many creatively written, wonderfully entertaining novels that do nothing essentially new, nor create new meaning, yet have been enjoyed and appreciated by a large readership. In some cases, it may prove more difficult for a genre novelist to succeed in a common form, than for a literary novelist to create a new one.
The challenge for the genre novelist is to take their literary work more seriously, and strive for some element of permanence. For the serious novelist, the charge is to make their work more entertaining and accessible to common readers while retaining literary substance. An important element of meeting this challenge is for both the serious and the genre novelist to read, and read well: the best novels; the best critics. Develop one’s own taste. Doing so will lead to sharpened critical skills, ones that can be energetically applied to ones own literary projects, making them shine. Good literary taste will help one write good novels, ones that the writer will enjoy reading, books that might even be widely appreciated.
Many writers write too many books. They don’t take their time or commit to unique works. They rush them to print, perhaps because they need the money (after all, their novels may be their only income).
Novelists should be something other than writers. Like sex, you can’t do it all day. But unlike sex, other activities (work, travel, sports, romance) can contribute to the quality and range of ones literary work. In fact, it may be impossible to imaginatively express something of lasting interest without experiencing much of the world (Emily Dickinson a rare exception).
A writer who draws depth and substance from the most meaningful elements of their own existence, and allows that substance to soak and percolate and build up until it becomes something truly special, has a chance to write a great literary novel. It’s not easy to express the feeling that accompanies such an effort. Despite the general meaninglessness of existence, creating a literary novel makes one feel special and important, no matter what happens on the outside.
To bring the literary object to fruition requires preparation and planning. The feeling may exist inside, perhaps one that promises literary fulfillment, but unless one is inordinately lucky, the full expression of that feeling will not occur without setting it down in outlines and designed structures over an extended period of time. Just writing may feel good at first, until one begins to question where the text is headed, and what the point is of continuing. Those who write to ‘discover’ the message and meaning of their novel are lucky—not good—if something worthwhile actually emerges.
Harvest your dreams, corral your discoveries, mine your understanding and assemble it into a literary work of art, and share it with the rest of us.
Aesthetic form resides nowhere.
Creation sends over all’s energy.
Trivia drains and bores routine;
Nothing good that bears, Germane.
A. Wheeler, Vida Corporate