Monday, April 17, 2006

The World of Forms and Related Ideas

I begin this post with eagerness. Rarely do I have rants (or essay topics as I should properly call them), and even more rare is the opportunity to share them. That rarety of topics is the precise reason I institutionalized my opportunities to share them--this 'blog. Thus, when a time like this comes, I am prepared.

I will probably instigate argument at several points along my way through this post. I would herein introduce a new form of "footnoting," specifically designed for this medium as well as the impulsive nature of thought. See my last footnote, improperly numbered "1", for a brief explanation of "impulsive nature of thought."

Now, onto the monkeys. (see note 2)
I have recently been occupied with the philosophical notion of "forms." I'll share some context for those of you who don't know. Plato first propounded the idea of a world of forms, a world where its occupants were the ideal forms and they corresponded to the slightly less ideal occupants of this world we live in. We have many different cups to hold our tea--but there is only one in Plato's world of forms. That teacup is ideal, meaning that it fulfills its function, going no further beyond that, and in fact fulfills the purpose of all teacups. Every teacup we have aspires to be that teacup, in spite of its being too short, painted with flowers, or having a Starbucks logo. (see note 3)
Plato's world of forms not only applies to inanimate objects. The world of forms also contains many abstract concepts like beauty, knowledge, and virtue, some of which I will elaborate upon later. This "world of forms" might sound trivial at first. After all, who cares if there is an ideal teacup out there? (see note 4) I shall point out that where you stand on Plato's world of forms is fundamental to how you view the world around you, how you react to it, and even how you interpret it. But first... more history!
Aristotle, who came after Plato, agreed with Plato's ideas--but softened up Plato's position. After all, Plato claimed that such a world of forms does exist--whether or not we may reach it. (see note 5) Pretty tall claim, especially for a guy who doesn't travel anywhere sandals can't carry him. Aristotle said that such a place does not necessarily exist. Instead, the world of forms is a concept that we use to define and interpret this world. Aristotle settled with knowing that there is an ideal teacup by believing it could be attained here, on this Earth.
It wasn't until the medieval period that William of Occam (famous now for "Occam's razor" [see note 6]) took Aristotle's view to its ultimate conclusion: these ideals are only convenient constructions of our own minds. As in, our ideal teacup does not exist. Further, we only make up "ideal teacups" in our minds because all of our teacups share certain qualities--like holding tea, balancing just right so that we can hold our pinkie finger up, and having a good lip for sipping. The definition of "ideal teacup" changes with what we feel is particularly necessary for teacups to have. Not necessarily earth-shattering stuff? It is when you realize that Occam's ideas apply to more than just teacups... and when you realize the vast implications.
Since Adam first gave the hippopotamus its horrendous name, mankind has been preoccupied with labels. Occam's perspective on the world of forms is called "Nominalism." Plato and Aristotle's position is that of the "Realists." These names will probably be hindrances later, especially as quite a few of you know the very, very precise definition and a more accurate history than I have told. (see note 7) For now, like the labels have helped Adam's race, these names may help us.

We live in a world formed by nominalism. We rarely have a definition for what is a "good life," so we make up our lives and say that we are satisfied with them. I won't compare my life to yours, especially since we don't even use the same criteria for deciding what a good life is. That sense of "differing criteria" screams "nominalism." We choose the criteria according to whatever is convenient for us to use--not necessarily what is true. Now we fall down the spiral staircase of nominalistic thought, for then, how do you define truth? How do you define definition?
Nominalistic thought even pervades the small adages we in a society say to one another. In Spokane, businesses post sayings to attract business. (see note 8) One reads "If everything seems to be going your way, you're in the wrong lane." That sounds funny, sure, but what does it mean? That, even when fortunate events happen in your life, something is always wrong. Is that true? It's true to whoever wrote it. Maybe its not. Maybe it's just a funny phrase, and I'm taking it too seriously. Then, I ask, how seriously should we take the words a city of people read everyday?

I'm going to take this essay in a slightly strange direction, breaking the form of the essay, if I may be so bold. (see note 9) After all... it's not like my footnote format is conventional in any way; why should my post?!
So, the direction I am going--I will take this dichotomy of Realism and Nominalism and apply them to different spheres. I will relay my experiences in those spheres, indicating nominalistic thought and realistic thought as each occurs. I warn you, though... this could get messy. (see note 10)
Poetry. Unless you've had at least three credits of high school poetry, you'd consider the great masters of poetry to be the ones who can get the lines to rhyme. Look at Shakespeare--the meter, the rhyme, the quadruple entendres! He's a master! Look at Robert Frost--he's a master! This is a passage from Alexander Pope's Essay on Criticism, which is actually a long poem, about poetry itself.

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
as those move easiest who learn to dance.
'Tis not enough, no harshness gives offence;
the sound must seem an echo to the sense.

Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows
and how with smooth streams the smoother numbers flows,
But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,
the hoarse rough verse should like the torrent roar!
When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw,
the line too labors and the words move slow.
Not so when swift Camilla scours the plain
Flies o'er the unbending corn and skims along the main.
Hear how Timotheus' varied lays surprise
and bid alternate passions fall and rise. -Alexander Pope

I included the second part because that's how my ex-roommate and I memorized it (see note 11). Da3vid, my ex-roommate, often challenged me just by pointing out several observations he's made. He introduced me to this segment of Pope's poem, and the whole sentiment echoed in me what I found so wonderful in several other poems. The sound of the poem must be good, yes--which is the cry of half of postmodern poets. The sense of the poem must be good, too--which is the cry of the other half. No one in a poetry class proposed to me that a really good poem has a sound that echoes the sense. I was always a fan of Shakespeare's sonnets. Even when I was surrounded by creative writing students who preferred Ginsberg or Cummings, I found something more appealing in Shakespeare, and then later Frost.
It wasn't so much the content. After all, many of Shakespeare's sonnets sound like each other, echoing themes of love and love and love. But I loved the mastery of his work. Frost's too. Da3vid expressed this, too, that somehow the more modern the piece of poetry, the less mastery seemed to be exercised by the poet.
Da3vid wanted to write a poem. He, a philosopher and science student, was not an expert in poetry. Still, knowing some about philosophy, he was able to reason a good portion. He chose to write his poem in "Terza Rima"... a form.
I do not think it is coincidence that, in poetry, a "form" is a structure of poem that must be strictly adhered to... or else it is not a poem of that particular "form." The structure of the poem must be carefully built in order to achieve this--and because Free Verse ( [properly] defined as poetry without meter, rhyme, or stanzaic structure) is the most popular, most academically vogue nature of poetry--form poems are considered very hard. I should mention here that Da3vid's poem turned out a success. I don't know what the result was with the girl whom he wrote it to, but I do know that I was able to proudly give him the title of poet. So was anyone else who read his poem.
I was told in one of my earliest creative writing classes that the goal of each poet is to set up a rhyme scheme or a pattern or some kind of expectation for the reader--and then to break it. Not surprisingly, I was told this by a professor who was a contemporary of Allen Ginsberg (I actually saw him conduct an interview with the acclaimed poet) and the Dada movement. I think of the word nihilism and terms like 'anti-art art.' Then, in a contrary vein, I think of an interview I heard of the poet [W. B. Yeats--I credit Rebekah Tucker for correcting my memory lapse] who wrote the Lake Isle of Innisfree ... and a story [Yeats] heard about another previously famous poet, like Browning, I think. Browning was attending a conference at a university and happened by a classroom where his poem was being read--and read horribly. The poet storms in, snatching the poem away. "It took me a devil of a lot of trouble to get that thing into verse--and in one reading you have just undone that work!" (see note 12)
So... while I was with Da3vid, I was taking a poetry course. One form we covered was the villanelle... which is a unique form that repeats two lines throughout the poem. It's a difficult thing to do, and easy to respect. You'd recognize it if you've read Dylan Thomas's "Rage Against the Dying of the Night." Anyway... the professor claimed that it was the hardest form. That any poem she saw in her class completed in that form deserved an A--if only for sheer effort. Not one to pass up an easy grade, I went for it.
Now, that was not my only reason to attempt the villanelle. I also used that form because I considered several poems we'd read in free verse extremely easy to do. The form was getting called "difficult" because no one was trying it. I had to do something. So I did it. I wrote a villanelle. The process took a little bit longer--some extra hard work making the same line mean a few different things each time you hear it--but I did it. I turned it in. I got an easy A in the class. ... and, if I remember right, my villanelle occasioned one of my most favorite compliments (see note 13). We all had to read our poems aloud to the class and receive discussion from the class in silence--just note-taking. Well, when I finished reading my villanelle, one girl spoke after a long pause. This girl in particular wrote free verse only, and with subject material that we as a class still didn't understand after she explained it to us. Anyway, she looked right at me and said, "I really like your poetry. Each poem has this timeless quality to it. It's cool." Everyone agreed. What I think she, and everyone else, found "timeless" in my poetry was the adherence to a form, whether made up or real.
These instances all pointed to a superiority of having a form to not having a form. The only support of Free Verse was that it broadened the definition of what could be a poem. Free Verse makes it okay for amateurs to continue writing bad poetry--no one can correct it. There is no way to fine-tune Free Verse... consequently, there is no way to master it.
Form poems get a bad reputation--I mean, the ones written by contemporary poets--because "forms are a formula for poetry." Half the work is done for you, they'd say. It's cookie cutter poetry. The nominalists, who say that a poem can be anything we define it to be, have stolen from us the concept of good poetry.

I'll go very quickly through a discussion about painting. I want to rush because a correlation is made here in the fine arts. The Dada movement didn't only affect creative writing--it influenced painted art and sculpture. A slogan of Dada was "anti-art art." Because I grew up in a household with an artist (see note 14), I knew the difference between Monet and Da Vinci, Dega from Picasso. I like Impressionism, as a movement and as an influence.
The world of forms appears in art, too. In the Renaissance, realism was a term given to artists who drew anatomically "correct" people. Look at Raphael... Look at Rembrandt. Look at Michaelangelo's "David." Think about the painting of Aphrodite at the Lake (I hope that's what the painting I'm thinking of is called.) These all show people as they are. The only real contemporary parallel are comic books--for they draw a representation that very closely resembles the original. Not unlike Aristotle's approval of actuals that try hard to match the ideal. From realism springs impressionism, which broadened the definition of good painting. Monet, Van Gogh, Degas--these men sought to portray beauty in its purest shape, in its most sentimental aspect. They stripped literal form from their page... and then began to paint the form of "feeling." They threw out some bathwater, I think, and managed to keep the baby.
Then come the more abstracted paintings. We've all seen pictures that, but for the availability of a canvas and paints, we could do. White tiles with red tiles--swirls of color that signify nothing. Dada artists admitted they were not in the pursuit of beauty--they were in the pursuit of shock value. The broadened definition of what could be "good art" finally lost what art it had.

The interesting correlation I would make here between Poetry and Painting comes when nominalism is used to interpret art, rather than realism. Realists acknowledge that there is a form of good art and that they are always seeking what it may be. Nominalists suggest that we make up those definitions just for our own convenience. When the concept of beauty has its definition questioned, the arts themselves suffered in a strange way. (Those of you who like quotable statements should enjoy this.) With the form of beauty lost, there was a transition from art that was made by a few and appreciated by all TO art that was made by all but appreciated by few. We all can write free verse poems and paint abstracted figures. But it's a few indeed who can produce "Ode on a Grecian Urn" and "The Mona Lisa."
It's the talented who suffer now because they are no longer distinguished. Think about the film The Incredibles. A message that gets repeated is that if everyone had superpowers, no one would have superpowers. The things that make us special would be erased if EVERYONE has that same "special." This HAS happened on the level of poets and painters! The artist of no real value who lives closest to New York or L.A. becomes acclaimed as "better" simply because he is "popular." There is no way to claim one is better than another because we've un-defined what good art is. Yet--even yet!--there remains an ephemeral quality under the skin of the abstract painting or poem if the artist is truly skilled. We cannot say what it is, only that some comparisons show that other pieces do not have what this quality is. We don't know what to call the quality... so we say "quality." I'd propose we say it is good. It would be easier to see how skilled the artist is if he attempted something really hard.

Now we make the jump again to a different topic. Perfectionism. (We approach a critical stage of my composition--it is past midnight. Wife and child sleep. I don't know if I can finish this last stretch.)
I have always had a sneaking suspicion that there is a right way to do things, and a wrong way to do things. I imagined, when I first left home at five to go to school, that I would learn the right way to do things. At first, I did. Color in the lines. Sit quietly in class. Math rules, school rules. When I came across more than one way of doing something, I was still able to recognize that one way had advantages over another. You see, I believed there was a form of the action "to spell my name." From there, I concluded there must also be other forms of actions. Mowing the lawn. Doing the dishes.
When it came to composing an essay, I was so intimidated by the idea of trying alone to reason out the "right way" that I attempted to write a poem instead. (see note 15)
When it came to that, too, I intuitively stuck to a form. It took me the entire class period to write my poem because I discovered the form for myself--and I settled for nothing less than doing the poem right. How could I? To do the poem wrong would be to write a failed poem--I was already writing a failed essay! If I wanted any credit from the teacher, this poem would have to be good. And that's how I learned the creative artist's sharpest double-edged sword: Perfectionism. (see note 16)

Perfectionism, because of its characteristic pursuit of the ideal, falls well within realism's boundaries. Part of my dilemma is deciding what to do with it there. Because most of my society reckons perfectionists as sick in some way (because they strive harder than everyone else to achieve an ideal), I am loathe to defend it. I recognize unhealthy tendencies in my own perfectionism (see note 17). After all, the greatest criticism of perfectionism is that it runs a race that it can never finish. Yet, I wonder if there is any way to harness the constructive energies of perfectionism. Perfectionists, as writers, will revise and revise and revise until the masterpiece feels "complete"--which it never does. If forms describe the purpose and definition of a thing (like any written piece), forms would give perfectionists the ending, the finish line, they are looking for.
[I owe Forrest Tucker for the mental "spur" which goads me on to write further about perfectionism.]
One defining element of perfectionism is its struggle for a sense of control. Be it their sense of organization or their attempts to merge contradictions, perfectionists attempt to gain control of a world they perceive as falling apart. Forms, too, represent a control--a control of the same things our modern perfectionist attempts.
In the early medieval period, whoevers voice was loudest dictated the terms of certain forms, such as church services or building of common structures. This is the inherent folly of a realist's position, that it cannot assert the definitions of any certain form without establishing some margin of error. Suppose that my post becomes outrageously popular (see note 18). I therefore set the standard for what structure blogposts should have, what their average lengths must be, and so on. Suppose I come out and say as much--that your blogposts must have footnotes and bear organized paragraphs. At that point, I have constrained too much the definition of blogposts and established a form that may or may not be the "true" form of blogposts. (Some of this paragraph sounds like a watering down of my ideas. It is not. When it comes to matters of ruling people and leadership, I maintain my hesitation to ascribe any certain way of doing it. I once liked the idea that "he who rules least rules best." After all, my current manager at Starbucks is a micro-manager who too easily loses sight of the bigger picture. Yet, I understand that law must be made, that an order must be established and then upheld. These are grander things than I have considered and deserve to be a topic later. For now, I recognize that whether realist or nominalist everyone in power over others should make their actions with as much deliberation as possible.)
It will take many years of thought and academic scouring before realists can begin to claim the definitions of these many forms. For now, I consider Father Bear of the Berenstein Bears as a model for their research: "This is what not to do! Let that be a lesson to you." Our forms are so shattered that people will have to spend a lot of time considering what a thing isn't before we can agree on what a thing's ideal form is.

I enjoyed writing this post almost as much as having the ideas themselves. I hope for some good feedback so that I can continue forming these opinions. Perhaps I can even reach the truth of this matter--a reliable knowledge of forms that I can use to interpret my own life. This pursuit of knowledge, medieval as it is, comes to me as fresh and new. I don't want to believe my only definitions to use are the ones I make up. I know, when I glimpse an ashtray that catches ash so ideally, when I see an unfamiliar bird doing all the things birds do, when a bent nail refuses to go into a wall, when I see the last unicorn die, I know that there is a right and a wrong way of doing things. I know there is a good and a bad. And I know the side I strive to be a part of.




18) Just for the moment, okay?

17) For instance, I continually asked if my hair looked good. I didn't style it in any particular way, but I was obsessed with my hair just happening to be good. This was before I shaved it all off. I'm glad, too.

16) Daniel Leslie Peterson has an essay on perfectionism. Ask him for a copy!

15) This is the true origin of my first published poem "Mummy on the Loose."

14) My mother took her undergraduate degree in Art. Then, veering slightly, she took a graduate degree in Business. That, she has often admitted, was something she regrets. It also afforded a lot of living, though.

13) I do have compliments that stand out as favorites. Right now, because I shaved my head, I get a lot of "you have a nicely shaped head." The shape of my head not a matter I stay awake at night thinking about. When I do receive a compliment about a topic which causes considerable insomnia, I make a special note of it. I wish I had them numbered even. My most recent one is "Your handwriting looks like archaic, old writing. It belongs on a scroll, you know."

12) The coolest thing about that quote was that an Irishman said it. Say it in an Irish accent... layer on a good deal of age to your voice... and deepen your voice to sound resonant. I wish I could remember this poet's name because I'd like to give him due credit for his voice.

11) His name, when I met him, was spelled "David." But a while later, he added the silent 3... which of course is the most brilliant re-invention of self I've seen yet. Da3vid and I were roommates during my years in the University of North Texas. He and I were the sharpest minds around (though I maintain he is the sharpest of us both), and together he and I braved the wilds of undiscovered thought. It is to him I am indebted whenever I can impress someone by reciting the words of REM's It's the end of the world as we know it. Many of my fondest memories are of the times we spent together.

10) Really. Messy, as in, your own feelings about a lot of controversial or endlessly debatable topics will probably get churned. To mix a metaphor, you're churning your own butter--use it in your cake.

9) I don't see any reason to adhere to a particular form of blog-post anyway. It's not like any of you will say "No, no, no--that's not how to write it!" or even "Your blog post should have been more like this...". More of you may say that there IS no form for a blog post. That, you'd say further, is the exciting nature of technology--it opens up territories we have yet to discover! I hope later to have expressed myself enough so that I am at least justified in saying "That exciting territory is exactly why we need people to think about what form blog-posts should take or naturally do take."
[Further thoughts. There is a true irony in my position. As an advocate of forms, I will continue to do things that appear to break form. My interest in organizing this post well, for instance, is uncommon to most blog-posts. Does that mean it goes against the ideal form of blog-posts? Those who read this post must give the answer. Does this structure I am attempting to establish help to express myself clearly? If so, then I think that we have discovered one aspect of the natural form of blogposts, and can go on to advance it.]

8) I have to say, despite how corny or ill-put the business sayings are, they are often better than what I have seen printed on church street-boards. "Sharpen your life with the Bible!" "Exekiel knows what's best." "Answers inside. Jesus knows." [Thank you, Forrest Tucker, for one of the funniest I've seen, "God has your picture on His fridge."] It's a strange idea that wit equates to short, quotable quips. Perhaps we can blame all those people who tried to copy Mark Twain's success with short quotes. I do not put bumper stickers on my car, not because I do not believe in a given slogan, but because I do not believe my personal philosophy and beliefs can fit neatly on my car's bumper.

7) If you do, please supply them in the comments box. I like learning, even if it is a correction of my own suppositions.

6) I have often had a problem with Occam's razor, which simply put, means "the simplest explanation is often the correct one." Perhaps I have a problem with it because I'm a fiction writer; it's my business to create problems with excessively complicated explanations. But then, I also think about Sherlock Holmes. If you've ever read a story about that detectivest detective, you'd see several examples of Occam's razor. A certain hat is relatively large, larger than most hats. Thus, Holmes concludes, the hat's owner is an intellectual. "It's a question of capacity. Surely with a head so large, there must be something in it." That's an example of Occam's razor cutting through the rigamarole of interpretation, supposition, deduction. However, if you look at any of his cases, you'd see that these simple problems have incredibly confusing explanations. The case with the large hat, for example, is about a stolen diamond found in a goose's crop that happens to be sold in the London market.
That happens to be fiction, too. Which probably confirms my earlier suspicion that writers are ideologically at odds with Occam's razor.
[Further, there has been conjecture about the difference between Occam and the variant spelling "Ockham." I did a minute amount of research to come to an informed opinion. The town William is from is listed in the English survey as Ockham. Google.com lists approximately 200,000 more sites that use "Occam" than "Ockham." I owe Craig Thompson for his insight into variant spellings and pronunciations: "Use which ever affords you the more opportunities to correct people." Ockham is the name of the town, after all. But--in an exercise of fraternity--I will continue to use "Occam" as the spelling.]

5) I entertained the idea for a while in 2003 that Plato was describing "heaven," as Christians define it. That might not be accurate. We shall see.

4) I do. [After a request for some explanation as to why I care, I wrote this: The ideal teacup represents much more, just as many small matters collected together amount to one large revolution. The form of a teacup may shape the masses that drink tea.]

3) I am indebted to Brooks Hansen for best illustrating Plato's forms in the book The Chess Garden. It's definitely a book worth several readings. I could form a bookclub around it, but I have so few people who would A) be interested in the book B) be interested in meeting often to discuss a book C) have enough insight to attempt understanding it. Thus, almost as much as I am indebted to Brooks Hansen for the book, I am indebted to Daniel Leslie Peterson for reading it with me. [Further, I am indebted to Richard Weaver for his influence on my thoughts. Without his book Ideas Have Consequences, many of these thoughts would only have taken the form of small nags in my brain, questions without any real form at all. I also owe Dan Peterson a thank-you for reminding me to credit my sources!]

2) When I was a child and my family took me to the zoo, I would tolerate seeing the reptiles in their glass cages. I would accept that we needed to steer our course near the lions. I even pretended to act excited at giraffes. But the main goal of any excursion to the zoo was the monkeys. I love the monkeys in a zoo. Still do. Some people can watch the shopping network for hours. They might be losers. I can watch the monkeys in zoos for nearly hours... and I am certainly no loser.

1) My brain works in a way I do not understand, which is why I want to say it works in a "strange" way. This is not to exclude the several of you who, no doubt, believe your thought-processes are well within the boundaries of "normal." Instead, I would propose that our thoughts come to us in a way very UNlike our creative activities in the world outside of our minds. As we make an object, parts of the whole appear. The potter's pot takes a shape before his eyes. Yet, as we have a thought, the thought comes in its entirety--not in parts of speech or in a fuzzy image lacking definition. When I ask "What is the first little phrase of the Gettysburg Address?", those of you who know the answer know the answer in its entirety. "Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers blah-blah-blah." When I am asked to form an idea, as if for a painting, I do not mold the different parts of the idea. No, the whole idea comes as an inspiration, like an actor from the wings of a stage, like a deer from the labrythine woods, like a suspect in the foggy streets of London. These ideas come without our bidding them sometimes. When we will for them to come, they do not always come immediately. Facts, word spellings, locations of bars and caf├ęs--these do not come immediately. That is why I consider the nature of thought as "impulsive."

9 comments:

Dan Peterson said...

Wow! It's long!! Maybe I'll get to it this weekend.

Rebekah said...

I haven't finished reading the post yet...but on monkeys: yes, they are so fun to watch!! We went to a zoo last year with Rick & Rachel and really enjoyed the monkeys/apes. A particular species (unfortunately without an identification sign) was especially fun to watch as Rick monkey-shrieked at them. It was hilarious.

Rebekah said...

The poet is Yeats. And, before you go thinking, "She knows her poets!" let me say, I only know this from looking it u[ on Google! pathetic, I know...

Rebekah said...

I found it cool and interesting that you brought The Incredibles movie and idea behind it into your essay/rant/dicussion, after we talked about that a few weeks ago. :)

Rebekah said...

As to form...I'm thinking of Haiku...I am of the school of thought that you don't have to follow the rule of 5-7-5 to write a good Haiku. (If you do, it doesn't guarantee a good Haiku--you know this if you have seen much of Homestarrunner!) So, in a sense, you might say I don't follow form. But, there are other rules, maybe unspoken, that I think most Haiku connoisseurs would agree with, that I do follow. So I guess I do follow a form (and do in any poem I write) whether or not it's the conventional or traditional one.

Forrest said...

Great thought provoking post, I wonder if part of some peoples love for form or free doesn't come for our desire to have control, I find those artists (be you painter, poet, musician or author) best who, just when you think you have them figured out they come from the opposite direction...on bad Church signs this one takes the cake: "God has your picture on His fridge".
P.S. I think we are in dire need of a Catan night!

Daniel Leslie Peterson said...

I wonder if the ideal form is Occam or Ockham?

A contemporary classic meaningless bumper sticker phrase is “random acts of kindness.”

You define free verse as “poetry absolutely without structure.” That seems extreme. Does the more technical definition (“without regular meter, rhyme, or stanzaic forms”) not serve your rant as well?

Which is more difficult: to write a poem with an established form, or to write a poem that establishes a new form?

What do you mean by referring to a form, “whether made up or real”?

Is it possible that the advent of photography played a part in painting’s departure from realism? This suggests the broader subject of the role of technology in the war between realism and nominalism. (I’m surprised you did not credit Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences as primary fuel for your rant! The thought just mentioned comes from his remark that the conspiracy against philosophy and civilization is “immensely aided by technology.”)

Regarding the “impulsive nature of thought” (note 1): Do you believe it is possible to control one’s thoughts?

Regarding note 4: In a short paragraph, explain to me WHY you care if there is an ideal teacup out there?

Regarding note 9: Breaking form to write about form: is this a form of irony?!

I note a hint of superiority in places (note 3, “enough insight”; note 11, “sharpest minds around”). Should I let this go, so as not to be a nominalist, or should I call you to practice a more ideal form of Fraternity in relation to the rest of us dummies? (Thanks again to Weaver.)

Youssef Sleiman said...

I'm not certain if it is apparent, but I have chosen to give most of my replies to the comments in the blog-post itself. I am able to go back and edit it--and with such great corrections and challenges, how can I choose to leave an erroneous post and pursue discussion within the comments box? It seems wrong to me to only reply here if I am able actually change the document that started it all.

Now, onto some thoughts I could not integrate easily into the post.
\Which is more difficult: to write a poem with an established form, or to write a poem that establishes a new form?

What do you mean by referring to a form, “whether made up or real”?\ I believe the distinction questioned is best worded by the question before it. A "made up" form is a form that has been well established. All poetry forms are made up, having been established by some poet somewhere. However, and here I admit an error I have made that I cannot correct because I can't find it yet, I ought not refer to the forms as "real." What I mean by "real" is that some forms are longer established than others, with proven results. The sonnet, for instance, has a longer heritage than a form that I made up in my poem "The Object as Emotion." The sonnet retains its wonderful sound and organization throughout ages and different poets' use. I doubt my own form would survive a decade of scrutiny.

Now, which is more difficult to accomplish: writing a poem in a new form or writing a poem in an existing form? The actual process of writing the verse to fit any form is difficult. But if there is a new form to make--that I would consider extra work. Thus, writing a poem with a new form is more difficult. (Then again, that can be gainsaid; after all, some forms appear more naturally than others.)

About the technology aspect... having given it considerably less thought than realism vs nominalism, I wrote more in a direction to avoid the subject. However, it is a marvelous subject to tackle, especially in the light of my recent addition to my conclusion. One topic of current consideration is "what is a human?" The ways we approach that question depend upon how much of realism or nominalism we espouse. Yet, the question of "what is human?" is intensely relevant because of the growth of technology. Nanotech, brainwave research, cloning, biotechnology--all of these will change the human beings structure in fundamental ways. Without anyone to at least propose an answer to that question in a public forum, technology will have done things terrible and wonderful--and no one will know it.

There is a hint of superiority in my words. It might be the voice in my head as I type. My mind dictates the words; my fingers put them down in the screen.
Or, just as likely, realists have a difficulty with a false sense of superiority, in a similar way to perfectionists. The perfectionist and realist recognize a hierarchy--that certain things get done better if organized this way, that Alex is smarter than Bill. Nominalism would have this hierarchy gone, ignored, or considered irrelevant. Yet these differences are very real. Ignoring them is about as insane as ignoring one's own pain.

And... about controlling one's own thoughts...
Does Jesus imply that we can control our thoughts when He states that to "look with lust in your heart on a woman is to have committed the act," that to anger against a brother is to have murdered? I have been bothered by those words because I cannot control my own mind very well. But just because I cannot do it doesn't mean that it can't be done.

I must learn more fraternity. That, to all my friends, is going on my to-do list.

Anonymous said...

from Lynne


There is a difference in the thought that jumps into your head when you just happen to see a pink hippo(... you think.. "pink hippo") and the thought that could come from that. Noticing that someone is pretty could be a begining to lusting after them. I don't think we can controle the first notice or glance but the part we CAN controle is what we do with that information that hits us from every side. Just because I see a pink hippo and my mind says I like that pink hippo it doesn't mean that I cannot learn to distract my thoughts from coveting said hippo.
When Jesus says that if you look with lust after a woman than you've already committed adultery with her (I think) is refering to looking for someone to lust after or not distracting your eyes when (even though you aren't looking) you see something that arouses you.

Also with anger... we can hold onto and even cherish an anger against someone THAT is what is wrong.

If Jesus ment that we could never feel the emotion of desire or anger than even he would have sinned because he became angery at times