Thursday, May 15, 2008

On the Uses of Literature

I have come to reject the way books are typically treated. I grew up feeling like I had to read and approach literature and even nonfiction a certain way, and that was it. I've come more and more to dislike this way, how to use it, and what to get out of it. Years of reflecting have made me ultimately become revulsed by this attitude, though my revulsion for the way people view other mediums, such as music and film is even greater. But that is a topic for a different day.

A big source of discomfort and irritation for me when I study works of any kind is that people conventionalize different forms of creativity. Books are this way, and paintings are this way, and rock music is another way, and dancing is certainly this way, and they all fit a certain place, and clearly occupy different realms and are inspired by different sources of creativity. Or so I have always been taught - and that is where my revulsion has its roots. People do not understand that every medium is exactly the same thing, comes from the same source, and has the same function. A poem and a painting and a composition are all the same. I cannot stress this enough. They are all creative expulsions from the soul; the most beautiful and honest form of catharsis a human being can experience. They are all products in a great machine: we pick up information with our senses, modify it with reason and emotion (often conflicting), package, read, and alter it and change our behavior accordingly. The purpose of this is twofold: it is a reiteration of our situation (a commentary on the human condition, to formalize), or to some way alter or effect it. And it is in this regard that all creative mediums are exactly the same. However, people give some more worth than others, or attribute certain qualities to some they do not think exist in others...which is an extremely poor way of treating these things. I will not get into the details of these discrepencies of popular thought, but if you reflect you will understand what I mean.

And so it can be said that every book, poem, or other literary work is just as artistic as a visual work, just as rhythmic as a musical one, and certainly on par in worth with either. And like all creative works, every literary work is its own sequence of LOCALES. I do not read books merely for pleasure. And this is where my approach differs. My approach may be different, but it is not all that odd, as it is the most reasonable and valuable way to use a work of any kind that I can fathom. In a literary work, every paragraph, let alone every single sentence is its own little locale, its own mindbomb, its own intellectual atom ready to be split. My process of reading books is quite simple. I read, I process, I analyze. I mark every sentence - every locale - I find worthwhile. And then I go back and take notes when I'm done. I keep copius, obsessively organized notes of all my thoughts and all the things I read. Long, long lists of just thoughts - locales - that can be central to a thousand different essays, or applied directly to life. When I write, I can then go back and pull everything I need from any source I've read. Every book I have is marked through with ink. I have no qualms with this because books are simply vessels for more important ideas, and ideas are more easily manipulated in this direct manner than by simple reading. Yes, this process is time consuming. But it's worthwhile. (If you will notice, for example, my post about 20 Jazz Funk Greats is really just a tidying up of a section of my notes on that book. It is not a review, nor a summary, nor a commentary. It is the most important set of locales I found from that book.) Note also that locales can be things that are not main ideas or arguments, as a typical English course would have you to believe about every poem you've ever read.

As such, I get as much as I can from everything I come across.

The best thing anyone can do for previous authors and artists is to synthesize what they can from their work, get something out of it on a personal level, and then use what they've just discovered in the best way possible - meaning you must, if you agree with it, apply it directly to yourself or your surroundings. Any Enlightenment writer did not mean for us to walk away without reflecting on the powers above us, if not directly altering them!

And so, I declare: Written works, or any works for that matter, are no longer artifacts for their time, a record of people and how they work and respond to their surroundings. They are that, but so much more. They are LIVING ideas that are up for the taking if only you will just reach for them. Even some of the most educated people never get anything out of what are called "classics" because they don't approach them properly. People aren't willing to wake up and apply what they experience through these works to themselves or their societies, and that is an utter shame. Thoreau, Fitzgerald, and Eliot did not write merely to provide fodder for your English class! Their ideas go to waste when you accept them as bits of junk from a long-gone era. Become a senator, and apply some Voltaire to your government. When you are angry, raise a riot on Rousseau's principles. Live like a minimalist off Lao Tzu's words.

And that is that. It would seem utterly simple, and it is, yet so many people get bogged down by the quagmire of how teachers, the media, and ultimately fellow citizens want you to approach things. I feel almost exasperated to make such a point of these things, because to me they come so simply, so easily, yet for others that doesn't seem to be the case. I am sometimes so alone when I cry such things. This only means I am either extremely foolish, or one of the few people with any sense of drive anymore. I continue to hope it is the latter.

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