Poetic Doublespeak

“If anyone comes to the gates of poetry and expects to become an adequate poet by acquiring expert knowledge of the subject without the Muses’ madness, he will fail, and his self-controlled verses will be eclipsed by the poetry of men who have been driven out of their minds.” -Socrates

In other words, a lot of people try to hide the fact that they’re boring and un-profound in their overly articulate writing. That’s what always irks me about newspaper journalists or columnists or popular “intellectual” authors: their writing is more about appearing sophisticated than actually saying anything sophisticated. They write a lot of stuff that sounds all lofty and romantic, but is actually about something boring or normal.

I suppose in the world of martial arts, this kind of pretense is like getting extremely physically strong and trying to force techniques to work. Or in magic(k) it’s like trying to think overly consciously about a ritual or technique after it has been enacted, or talking to people about it. You know, stuff that kills the natural life of the practice.

The issue I have with quotations and academia is that they are not always necessary to write a compelling argument or work. Academic work is so wrought with quotations, it becomes a real headache. It’s no surprise that there are parallels between what two people writing on related subjects would say. Not to mention, since everything in the universe functions on exponentially similar laws, how is it ever surprising to hear a related quote?

Look, it certainly works to quote things, but it seems to function poetically. Like, it adds artistic resonance to one’s writing, unless one is seeking to prove or disprove some theory (uh, then again there is science, law, history and so forth, subjects which would be completely unreadable without quotes… so maybe I’m an idiot). But! A lot of people hide behind their quotes. Complicated terminology and extensive use of quotes tends to be a way to hide shitty writing.

I think it was George Orwell who said one should always used the simplest way of expressing something to express it. Not stupidest or watered-down but the simplest. Meaning, when you write something it should be easy for people–almost all functionally literate people with an attention span–to read. This phenomenon (complicated technique hiding a lack of inspiration) is prevalent in all of the arts.

I’m sure you’ve caught the irony that, if you’re interested in that George Orwell quote, I don’t have the source or authority of its authorship! How easily my argument is de-constructed! Wahahaha!!!

Blech, whatever. Point remains: Socrates knew the score. A genius is their own reward because their own internal ecstasy can never be measured by anything the world can provide. Nothing else can even compare.

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2 Responses to “Poetic Doublespeak”

  1. I think that was an Einstein quote… Or, at least I know he said something like that, when I don’t remember Orwell saying anything like that. I could be completely wrong. But I do agree with you 100%. I started reading “Against The Day” and the book gets really kind of boring and it’s some 400 pages, but he just uses big words throughout the whole thing. Every now and then I have to look one up in the dictionary.

  2. Interesting post. I took the quote to refer to the fact that poetic talent isn’t something you can just sit down and learn; rather, it is something that comes upon you suddenly, like madness or possession. The best artists understand that they are vessels or conduits for a creative power that operates independently of their conscious selves. You can study techniques all you want, but if you’re not plugged into the creative source, it won’t do you any good.

    I agree with your overall point about clarity and accessibility in writing, which is partially why I have largely given up on “academic” philosophy. Aside from having increasingly little relevence to the real world, I think a lot of what’s being talked about in academic circles is hidden under a layer of obscurantism and technical jargon that exists largely to maintain a sense of mystique. Derrida and other Continental post-modernists are often the prime culprits, but I think a similiar criticism could be made of the supposedly precise “analytic” philosophy of the Anglo-American world.

    The other thing I try to remember is that just because somebody can win an argument, it doesn’t mean they are actually “right”. Often it simply means they have more rhetorical flair than their opponent.

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