2007/07/03 New York
My uncle Ben
Although I’m not a big fan of Charles Bukowski – one of my former secretaries and friends used to admire Bukowski – for one reason or the other I read a few of Bukowski’s poems last night.
The parlando of his poetry is appealing to me, parlando by nature is appealing.
The poem I liked best last night is called “the women” – a lot of his poems can be called “the women.”
This is how it starts:
“my uncle Ben was interested in the
and many a time he would drive up
in his Model-A,
get out and come in with his new
they’d sit on the couch and chatter
then my uncle Ben would follow
my father into another
My friend Mark recently said that poetry is an overrated genre. Maybe he is right.
According to Prof. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi all forms of passive entertainment are overrated. This will also include reading books, watching films or participating in blog discussions about a bad cup of orange mocca frapuchino or world peace. Or as he state it `This vicarious participation is able to mask, at least temporarily, the underlying emptiness of wasted time. But it is a very pale substitute for attention invested in real challenges…..Collectively we are wasting each year the equivalent of millions of years of human consciousness. The energy that could be used to focus on complex goals, to provide enjoyable growth, is squandered on patterns of stimulation that only mimic reality."
PS. Love Charles though!
This prof. didn't bother to think long enough about mimesis, poor guy.
"These words I write keep me from madness," Bukowsky. If anything, his poetry kept him from killing his darlings.
In the same line of reasoning one could also argue that all physical action is overrated. In the context of the whole universe moving a few atoms from one tiny place to another is utterly insignificant.
It all depends on what one defines as a real challenge. Should we better spend our time on saving as many humans as possible? Or should we try to save our planet and therefore strive for as little people as possible?
Active people are almost always more destructive than passive people. So reading books, watching movies or even protected sex are all moments where people are relatively harmless, and thus good for our world.
Oh but he did thought about Mimesis, it’s obvious. Csikszentmihalyi states that Instead of making music ourselves, we listen to platinum records cut by millionaire musicians. Instead of making art, we go to admire paintings that brought in the highest bids at the latest auction. We do not run risks acting on our beliefs, but occupy hours each day watching actors who pretend to have adventures, engaged in mock-meaningful action.
This will merely mean that his approach to mimesis is similar to Plato’s. Plato thought we must get beyond the representation of mimesis as mediation in order to experience or attain the "real". In Republic , Plato views art as a mimetic imitation of an imitation (art mimes the phenomenological world which mimes an original, "real" world); artistic representation is highly suspect and corrupt in that it is thrice removed from its essence. Mimesis is positioned within the sphere of aesthetics, and the illusion produced by mimetic representation in art, literature, and music is viewed as alienating, inauthentic, deceptive, and inferior.
It’s exactly the action itself which matter in the world. And if you would like to observe the universe in a physics approach it will be energy from which it is built rather then atoms. In a quantum physics approach most of what we do is utterly insignificant if we observe it that way and utterly significant. Both theories are equally true, since we can not add or destroy energy and it will only go in and out of form.
The only thing left then is the human experience, which will be fully engaged in an active way.
The fact that active people will be more destructive is true by the definition. Passive creation or destruction is much more difficult to observe. And then of course you can argue about the meaning of doing nothing. Is it a choice? Does it then mean that I am actively busy with choosing? And as for the sex, Protected or unprotected sex is action!
When I was younger I wrote an essay about poetry. It ended with not too positive notes on poetry, my corrector didn't like it, and he asked for my explanation. I'm glad I didn't say 'It's poetic freedom, sir'.
I'll think about the arts.
When you have a poem, or any other art, that's really good and profound (good art doens't have to be profound, but the point i'm trying to make does require it), it makes you think. Whenever you think, you start to new ideas or new visions on ideas, so listening to, watching to, or reading a, does all imply that progression is made.
Even on the scale of a saucy lovesong that makes a horny rugby-guy love his chicky even more, can have an impact that's provocing enough. So, basically, If i do my best, I can counter that professional statement?
By the way, what good is a poem that isn't complete?
I really need to share this: the best short story ever, written by Hemingway:
For sale: babyshoes, never worn. I'm thinking about writing a short story on that.
Approaching poems as ‘profound’ or ‘good’ helps prove how deceptive and inauthentic the mimetic approach truly is. It the aesthetic and illusion that matters to most. Reducing any love song to a saucy expression who could only possibly appeal to a horny rugby player and a chicky is quite arrogant as well. Nevertheless your point does not contradict Csikszentmihalyi’s. He was not that busy in opposing passiveness as he was in promoting passionate actions. So if by watching a movie, reading a book or visiting a gallery your own drive appears…by all means do that! Unfortunately most of us just go and have some drinks after.
That means we immediatly discard the sub and unconsious levels as well?
By the way, I didn't say every lovesong is saucy and only appealing to a rugbyplayer and its chick. I just wanted to state something?
How can we get rid of something which we are subconscious or unconscious about?! In my opinion it is strictly impossible. Please illuminate your point.
I know you didn’t say every love song is saucy and only appealing to a rugby player and his chick. The ones you find profound and good are the really arty ones. Right?
2007: at the adge of postmodern thinking. Please stop imitating. Thank you.
Am I imitating art or is art imitating me?
I would love to give a reply to your comment which contains some kind of substance, since I know Mr. Grunberg is a supporter of good manners, and as a guest on his blog I would try to behave. But I really don’t get it. I would even argue that the post-modern thinking ridicules your cynism
1. I meant edge of course. Typo
2. Give me something new, it doesn't have to be pretentious.
3. I am not cynical (at least not today)
Some of the movies I saw were more intense than some of the sex I've had. So the fact that it is 'action' does not mean it is creative or meaningful.
And then I am not talking about the times I barely was conscious...
Friede, unfortunately it is quite rare to have an original thought.
1.I got the ‘edge’ I’m not sure though that 2007 should be subscribed as de edge of a philosophical movement, typical for the ‘50, ‘60 and ‘70.
2.why should I give you something new? What have you gave me so far?
3.If your comment was not cynical you can surly see that calling a quotation imitation is wrong. Call me a ‘poor quoter’ , that I can handle.
I am curious about the movies, can you name some? You don’t have to mention the names of your sexual partners who didn’t match and I will not be indecent in my proposals, although I feel like it;-)
Obviously you are right, action without passion doesn’t create that much! (unprotected impassionate sex excluded)
An original thought must be treated with care. Especially with whom you share it with.
That's a pretty terrible poem of Bukowski's - to me. Certainly he had better days than that.
Serendipidously enough, I'd just grazed an old friend's blog and came across this video of Bukowski, speaking bitterly about how little he felt about other people's poetry, moments before I read your blog about Bukowski.
It's worth a look.http://www.madameblavatskyoverdrive.com/2007/06/bukowski.html
I think trying to prove a point and pushing it, is only exposing the need to make sense of one's own thoughts. (Take a step or two back and I think we all agree there is no universal truth. ) In the end you'll get stuck in your own argument (i.e. Finding a flawless reasoning, but to what purpose? Someone else will still think differently)
Putting a value on a poem or on sex or on a can of beer for that matter (we were talking about the Big Bukowski) seems rather pointless, unless you're sure you're looking at it from the same perspective.
To quote Frank Black when a reporter was hopelessly trying to get 'to the bottom of things' in what made a good song, he simply answered: 'It's gotta *sound* good.' That's about all that can be said about art.
Art school or philosophy class is not much use, at least not if you're only using it to make an argument.
Back on Bukowski, King of Poets, take a look here: http://www.esnips.com/web/bulowskiIII
Here you'll find some nice recordings of his. If you can't listen to all of them, I'd recommend 'The creation of the morning line', 'Style', 'Law' and 'Death'.
The fact alone that poetry or art, for that matter, can cause this much aggrivation says enough, I think. And no, llanit, I'm not trickable in those 'I know what's good art' kinda things. IF you want those kind of people, send letters to the belgian magazine Humo.
Don’t we all look for the sense of our thoughts? Isn’t it human habituation to loos the senseless ones? I actually hoped to receive some meaningful arguments contradicting Csikszentmihalyi, since I wasn’t sure if he made sense to me. Obviously this blog is not about exchanging contradicting thoughts. I do think however that valuation of any kind of artistic expression is unavoidable. The point is to leave it on the subjective surface. The moment you have two people you will necessarily have two perspective. I personally don’t care much for the ‘intellectual’ critics since they two have other perspective then mine.
Are you always that sensitive? I was trying to prove a point which I myself get caught in from time to time. (yep, will admit I’m human) I didn’t mean to offend you personally and I wasn’t looking for a specific kind of people. What kind are you?
You rhetoric leaves very little room for anyone to say anything, so I prefer not to. Indeed, even trying to, would imply I would understand what you were saying.
Also I had no intention whatsoever to contradict the professor.
I merely meant to state, in the words of yet another mortal writer, Lévi Weemoedt: "Iets is leuk, of iets is niet leuk." (Something is nice, or something is not nice)
No argument can ever outdo that one.
Lutek, the phrase by Levi Weemoedt is a non sequitur if ever there was one. (And a terrible sentence.) If you think the only thing that can be said about a poem is whether it is nice or not you should live up to your own beliefs and stay out of the discussion.
Ilanit, I haven’t read Plato but I’m sure your reasoning will survive without him. To have a serious discussion we should have defined what exactly we mean with mimesis, but for now let me just add a couple of footnotes to all what has been said today.
1.It is a human right to waste your time. I shiver while thinking of a state where citizens are not allowed to waste their time.
2.It is slightly shortsighted to label all books, blogs, music and films as entertainment and then jump to conclusions.
3.Discussions about whether sex itself is more intense or watching CNN are useless. Some people prefer CNN – others prefer sex. We cannot compare these items.
4.As far as I’m concerned we need mimesis to understand life; to make sense of ourselves and the world and others. Without books and films my life would have been much more melancholic. But I don’t think a novelist should defend his own profession.
5.I’m very much afraid that the neurotic fear of not being alive is being confused today with some vague cultural criticism. This does injustice to both the neurotic fears of the participants of today’s discussion and the culture they live in.
(I don’t see what all this has to do with the question if poetry is a overvalued genre. Besides this I regret bringing up the terrible Bukowski. As today’s discussion shows too many people use Bukowski as a loincloth for their own failures.)
@Arnon, I suppose people love Bukowski mainly for what he represents. You can be a postoffice clerk and alcoholic for 20 years, and still there's a possibility you may one day wake up in Hollywood with a bed full of women half your age and Sean Penn as your best friend.
1. The right to waste time is probably one of the rights I use most. I wasn’t advocating against it. Nor against reading, blogging or watching films. The original question was in regard to overvaluing poetry. I wanted to extend this question to other forms of passive practice. Are we overrating it as we might do poetry? That’s all.
2. You can only guess how your life would be without the things you think you need to have. Personally I am interested in reading it as I am interested in reading the opinions of others. But then again as a new blog commentator, I think I’ll stick to the physical bar discussions with friends;-) And as for my own neurotic fears… they colour probably everything I experience including the culture I live in. I am aware of that!
3. Assuming we use Bukowski as a loincloth to our own failures is very far fetched, but ok, as you wish.
Ilanit and Noa
The notion that it is somehow very romantic to be a bum (to use a rather innocent word) is a notion I despise, (because of the cheesiness of the idea and the false idealization of suffering) I’m afraid that it is exactly this notion that Mr. Bukowski evoked to often in his readers. In this context you should read my comment regarding the loincloth.
Once again: not all books are equal.
And Ilanit since you introduced the idea that reading is a secondhand activity (I paraphrase) I concluded that this must be connected to the classic neurotic fear of not being alive.
But most important: do you really think we overrate reading books? I asked the question if we overrate poetry in the context, the very small context, of people who actually read books.
If we broaden the question then I think it is equally valid to ask if we overrate playing tennis? And do you think that playing tennis is much more active than reading a blog? Don’t we overrate the activity itself? Isn’t longing more intense than the fulfillment of it?
This discussion caused some confusion because I’m afraid that some participants wanted to convince others that their choices are the best for everybody. This is more than anything else a sign of insecurity, why do you want people to convert to your life style, to use this terrible expression.
And when I guess what my life would have been without books this is called: a fairly educated guess.
When I guess what my life would have been had I decided to marry you when I was eighteen, Ilanit, this is something we must call: a fairly uneducated guess. Sometimes you should stop guessing.
And please keep posting comments on this site – I scared away too many commentators already, some of them died while posting a comment. We need you Ilanit, your intelligence is slightly above average.
Actually my conclusion will be that it is the mimetic approach which can (not necessarily will) overrate our expectation from any given activity. One do not only idealize suffering but also happiness. We know life is not perfect but we want it to be as perfectly imperfect as we see in the movies or read in the books and yes, not all books and not all films are equal. But in order for you to overrate playing tennis, you need a vivid imagination and loads of ‘original’ thoughts about what playing tennis can and will do for you. And of course we mostly prefer the lingering then the having as passionately as we mostly deny it to be so.
Isn’t it enough you didn’t marry me when you were eighteen, you don’t want to guess how your life would have been should you have? Auch… that hurts even more!
My comments were a part of an experience I decided to do to please sweet Johannes. Stopping commenting will not be because you had scared me away, if anything your comments get me thinking further. I do however try to find the added value of doing it. Maybe you can help? What do you think?
You assume that we always overrate everything. This might be true but it is not necessarily connected to mimesis.
You seem to take the position that life itself is overrated, fair enough.
But given what we know about death I would argue that we have reasons to overestimate life.
As to my uneducated guess about me being married to you. Well here comes my educated guess: our marriage would consists of you humiliating me six days of the week and on the seventh day of the week you would praise me to death.
This is more than I'm willing to take. I hope you understand.
I just want to say that I didn't address myself to you after I addressed myself to you, if you think that part is sensitive, I can say 'yes, I am'. If it's not, I must say, 'yes, I am'.
slightly above average, that must be like a Turkish Dutchguy. Neither Turkish, nor Dutch.
Calling your guess an educated one makes it clear we have a different views on the word education. But I’m sure you think I deserved that. So enjoy cause that really hurt.
As a person having another nationality next to my Dutch one I resent your poor comparison.
You obviously don’t know what you are talking about!
But I am curious though what this comparison makes me? Not intelligent nor slightly??
@Ilanit, do not worry, the commentators to this blog tend to become personal quite rapidly. I'm still wondering why. Once I've figured the workings out, I'll get back to you. In the meantime: beware not te become addicted as before you know it, you'll find you're clicking the 'refresh' button on the still open arnongrunberg.com page every 2 minutes of the day during work hours.
Anyway, are you a singer? http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilanit
I’m afraid you missed the sarcastic meaning of the word “educated”. Nevertheless I think we are both better off being acquaintances than husband and wife don’t you think? The question whether we call this is an educated or an non-educated guess is not so important.
I can assure you I am not worried and do not feel that I am bullied into silence. But tnx anyway for your sympathy and for your wornings. I think I know what you mean, although I doubt the possibility of me getting addicted here. Self-righteousness is not really the energy I want around me and at the end of the day you hardly have any movement here. It doesn’t stimulate my slightly above avarage brain.
And no, I’m not a singer are you?
A guess that is based on a degree of experience, knowledge, or information is called educated guess. Where is the sarcasm I missed?
And no I don’t agree, I think that weather you call your statement educated guess or not makes all the difference.
If we are better off or not is the uninteresting part in this all. As you said- sometimes you have to stop guessing :-(
Ilanit, my comment wasn't meant to be rascist in any way. I'm just trying to make clear that slightly above average is a doomed identity, like a Turkish Dutchguy. This Turkish Dutchguy is not considered Turkish when he comes to Turkey (for he lives in The Netherlands and has to obey their customs), and isn't considered Dutch (because he's trying to maintain his Turkish Roots). Therefore he doens't have an identity of his own and thus creates one (hence the fanatic relligious people, or persons like Ali B (no offence to them)).
Slightly above average implies that you can't be considered normal, but can not hang around with the geniusses. Something like that.
I am rarely personal.
Exactly what kind of movement do you expect?
We can work on that.
Self-righteousness is not exactly an energy I’m afraid, but if you feel like fighting against self-righteousness I’m your man.
Are there other human weaknesses you plan to attack?
Once again: I’m on your side.
I didn’t mistake you to be a racist but your statement is problematic for few reasons:
1- It was Arnon referring to my intelligence as slightly above avarage. Any comments in that regard should then be adressed to him. If you ask me I will tell you that my intelligence is way above that. Nevertheless I can always and anywhere learn something new from people without any regard to their intelligent level. I hang out with everybody!
2- I don’t concider myself normal so you shouldn’t either and it’s ok. But it sounded so smuged- don’t you think?
3- Stating that a Turkish Dutchguy is doomed to abnormality is supporting ethnic cleansing. You can not be Dutch if you have Turkish background and vica versa means we want the pure rasial spesiment. I see my dubble nationality as an added value to me and to the society I live in. And I refuse to use how other people see me as a reason for anything I might have not accomplished.
4- I don’t mind personal, as long as it’s relevant.
I expect movement in the sense of ideas. A willingness to listen and to argue for the sake of opening our mind, with curiosity to see other vieuws and perhaps persuaded to think differently. I want to be a student not a teacher, but I am a criticle student and I always ask why. I don’t mind being called pretentious, retoricly impossible, slightly above, or unoriginal, but I would like it to have a point. Without the agreement to disagree it just not worth my while.
Being surrounded by self righteous people gives me personally the feeling that the energy surrounding me is such. Or as Mark Twain phrased it: "Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great." I don’t think you shouldn’t stand up for what you believe in but self-righteousness veers off from expressing your beliefs in a few key ways, namely that self-righteous people believe they are always right, superior and more knowledgeable than those around them. So how can you possibly have a good discussion?
I am not really into attacking human weaknesses in anybody else then myself. That will be self-rightness, don’t you think?
And what does it mean that you are on my side?
Maybe your comments here will persuade your fellow readers to think differently or rethink their own positions, but it seems to me that this is not enough for you, you want proof that this process is on its way, and that’s both a bit unrealistic and a bit vain.
If you consider the comments of the other participants a waste of time (to use a catch phrase you introduced in this discussion) you can ignore their comments. As a student you should assume responsibility for the behavior of your fellow students. Complaining that self-righteousness gives you bad energy is not a good starter for an ambitious student.
By the way my comment that your intelligence is above average was meant to uplift our spirit.
Now that you stated that your intelligence is way of above average I know that more is needed to cheer you up.
The fact that I’m on your side means above all that you don’t need to look for new enemies.
If you have something to say about mimesis Ill give you the opportunity to write a post on this site. Just send me the text, and I’ll post it. In other words you can be the guest-blogger for one or two days.
This discussion is getting rather interesting, so interesting that I actually looked up "mimesis". That's a nice start.
I’ll start by saying that your comment left me speechless for some hours. I felt the need to inquire and I did. Before I comment I want to emphasise that nothing hereunder is sarcastic or cynical at all and I really thank you for taking the time to answer.
1-most or maybe all of what you said is true. It’s easier to fight for one's principles than to live up to them. I guess vanity is one of MY human weaknesses I will continue to attack. Dens however proved us both that my wish is not that unrealistic.
2-I never consider the comments of others a waste of time. What I meant was my reply to that. I seriously thought that you can not change or influence self- righteousness without being self- righteous yourself. I then assumed that the only way to handle it is to avoid the confrontation altogether. But you are right, this is not very ambitious starter. Are you still my man in that fight?
3-I am amazed by what being on my side means. Wow. Thank you.
4-I was aware of your intention when commenting on my intelligence. It did made me smile and in a way cheered me up. It’s just that it is difficult sometimes not to be intimidated by your wisdom and wittiness. So next time when you want to cheer me up, can you please just take me to dinner?
Ilanit - please now just write your guest-blogger entry on mimesis.
Arnon - do you have a ready made test by which we can measure our intelligence and become candidates to write a guest-blog on your site?
Tess once wondered whether this was all going to end up becoming about Arnon's next top commentator. Maybe she wasn't that far off after all... (and where's JAN THIJS!!!)
1) Personally I consider mimesis as an essential part of the learning process. I'm sure that you agree with me when defining learning as an activity which can be highly intense and by which you can experience the 'Flow' as professor Csikszentmihalyi teaches us. I'm not really convinced that his approach to mimesis is the same as Plato's. They both talk about happiness and how to obtain it. Plato believes that only filosophy can teach you this state. For Csikszentmihalyi any action which provokes you to be completely focused on your action while using all your capacities can cause the feeling of happiness. In this regard I see the professor more influenced by Zenbuddhism.
Although I agree with the professor in his criticism on massculture, did I already experience the 'Flow' by reading novels. F.E. 'Disgrace' by Coetsee provoked that feeling with me.
2) Thank you for your comments. They certainly made this blog a lot more interesting. You hosting this blog is an experience I don't want to miss.
Ilanit & Tess & M Dutoit
Ilanit, unfortunately there are many people out there who are not impressed by my wittiness and wisdom, after studying your last comment for a couple of minutes I jumped to the conclusion that you might be able to convert a couple of non-believers.
If not straight out converting them at least you will manage to sell a few of my books, and we all know that converting people often starts with selling books.
So when are you going to write your first post for this site?
Noa, I assume you would love to write a post or two for this site as well, I take the risk of sounding overly confident but let me just say: Your time will come -- if not in this life, maybe in the next life.
M. Dutoit: I’m slightly allergic to the word “flow.” But if you have experienced the “flow” I wish you well and I would like to point out to you the possibility of the hypno-therapy.
As Ilanit stated: no irony or sarcasm is involved here.
Flow is the word Csikszentmihalyi is using to discribe his theory.
I know -- but does this make the word "flow" any better?
No, not at all.