To the Dung Heap with a Man’s Ideas

I do not think Shakespeare wrote a single line to express “his” ideas. What some call his philosophy, he would have called common knowledge.

~ CS Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama

A Man is Skeptical of the Innovation Gospel

Peter Thiel on startup culture:

There’s a pessimistic read on the startup culture where you could say that people, it’s not really a typical thing to start something new. That, the large institutions should have far more resources, longer time horizons and so you only need to start something new when none of the existing institutions work. Maybe the fact there’s so much stress on starting new things is the positive tip of the iceberg but the much larger, negative part of the iceberg is that the large, existing institutions are incredibly broken.

To me, this attitude (which Thiel doesn’t necessarily hold) speaks of the belief that tomorrow will be better, must be better. (I wrote about this a few months ago.) Part of what’s going on in this kind of thinking is a denial of history. You have to contort yourself into some really wild intellectual knots to believe that the past was just a bulldozer of scientific, social, and political progress. Rather than face facts, people invent new things.

Josh Gibbs says something similar in his book How to be Unlucky:

The modern man wants every ancient proverb qualified with words like “usually,” “typically,” “generally,” “often,” and “sometimes.” He does not believe there is a way things are. He does not even believe there is a way things tend to be. Rather, he views the world as a series of accidents and arbitrary events. Every thing and every person in the world is atomized, isolated in its being, sequestered off from the habits of existence. Reality has no contours; being has no grooves. The modern man does not believe women are a certain way. He does not believe men are a certain way. He does believe children or kings, farmers or prostitutes are a certain way. He believes that every human being alive is at war with the past, at war with tradition, and thus the modern man believes every farmer is reinventing farming, every kind reinventing dominion, every woman reinventing femininity. Because every farmer is reinventing farming and every woman is reinventing femininity, the terms “woman” and “farmer” are empty. We should not expect the zeitgeist to be content until every weighty word in the dictionary has been gutted. (p. 91)

A Man Goes Where Creative Work is Happening

On David K’s recommendation, I’m reading Jeff Goins’ book Real Artists Don’t Starve. Goins is attacking some common myths that hang around artistic types, like the idea that making money means you sold out, or the notion that success is all a matter of blind luck. Believe it or not, you can work things to your advantage in your pursuit of art. Goins distills his advice into a dozen principles, which he doesn’t call The Twelve Rules of Goins, but I’m going to.

Behold, the Twelve Rules of Goins.

1. The Starving Artist believes you must be born an artist. The Thriving Artist knows you must become one.
2. The Starving Artist strives to be original. The Thriving Artist steals from his influences.
3. The Starving Artist believes he has enough talent. The Thriving Artist apprentices under a master.
4. The Starving Artist is stubborn about everything. The Thriving Artist is stubborn about the right things.
5. The Starving Artist waits to be noticed. The Thriving Artist cultivates patrons.
6. The Starving Artist believes he can be creative anywhere. The Thriving Artist goes where creative work is already happening.
7. The Starving Artist always works alone. The Thriving Artist collaborates with others.
8. The Starving Artist does his work in private. The Thriving Artist practices in public.
9. The Starving Artist works for free. The Thriving Artist always works for something.
10. The Starving Artist sells out too soon. The Thriving Artist owns his work.
11. The Starving Artist masters one craft. The Thriving Artist masters many.
12. The Starving Artist despises the need for money. The Thriving Artist makes money to make art.

Some solid advice there. Take a closer look at #6: The Thriving Artist goes where creative work is already happening. In that chapter, Goins quotes a little detail from Patti Smith on why so many creative types moved to New York in the 1970s: “It was cheap to live here, really cheap.” Obviously NYC is the furthest thing from cheap nowadays. But the art scene of the 1970s is a big reason why the city still holds a flavor that so many hip youngsters find irresistible. Apparently the cycle goes something like this: a bunch of creative people move to a cheap town, meet each other, do their creative thing, and attract lots of other people who want to live in a happenin’ place.

That right there is seventy percent of the reason T and I moved to Birmingham. It’s cheap to live here, really cheap. When don’t have to worry so much about stacking the wampum, you have the luxury to spend your time on other, more creative pursuits. And when those creative pursuits do start to turn a profit, the profit doesn’t have to be enormous for you to make ends meet.

One final thought: my friend Daniel pointed out that there’s this assumption underneath these twelve principles that Thriving Artists are the real artists, whereas Starving Artists are poseurs. Goins makes that assumption explicit in the title of the book: real artists don’t starve. The implication is that, if you aren’t making money on your art, you’re not a real artist. When you get right down to it, is that any more helpful that the reverse? There’s nothing wrong with an electrician who writes music in his spare time and never makes a nickel from it.

 

A Man Keeps These in Mind When Using the Internet

Errol Morris’s 8 principles of photography:

  1. All photographs are posed.
  2. The intentions of the photographer are not recorded in a photographic image. (You can imagine what they are, but it’s pure speculation.)
  3. Photographs are neither true nor false. (They have no truth-value.)
  4. False beliefs adhere to photographs like flies to flypaper.
  5. There is a causal connection between a photograph and what it is a photograph of. (Even photoshopped images.)
  6. Uncovering the relationship between a photograph and reality is no easy matter.
  7. Most people don’t care about this and prefer to speculate about what they beleive about a photograph.
  8. The more famous a photograph is, the more likely it is that people will claim it has been posed or faked.

via Austin Kleon, whose blog is mucho worthwhile

A Man Named CS Lewis Drew Comics

Did you know this? I didn’t. Tolkien was always the doodler in my mind.

Cataloguing books at Theopolis today, I snagged my eye on the subtitle of this one.

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“Hitherto Unpublished Cartoons on the Occult by C. S. Lewis?”

I flipped through till I found them.

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The context is a letter from Lewis to his friend Owen Barfield, who was toying with occultist ideas like anthroposophy (which I have known about for around ten minutes). Lewis is explaining to Barfield why his approach to reality is flawed – the letter is headed “The Real Issue between Us.” I’ll let the author summarize the rest. (It’s worth noting that Lewis wrote this before becoming a Christian.)

Lewis first describes his own approach by an analogy based upon Plato’s myth of the cave: like every man, Lewis is bound to the post of finite personality so that he cannot turn around and observe reality directly; clouds behind him represent that ultimate reality or True Being. His understanding of the meaning of life comes by observing the mirror before him, which displays “as much of the reality (and such disguise of it) as can be seen” from his position. He devotes himself to studying the mirror with his eyes (“explicit cognition”) and also reaches backward with his hands “so as to get some touch (implicit “taste” or “faith”) of the real.” For Barfield the occultist, however, though his position vis-à-vis reality is necessarily the same as Lewis’, his reaction to it is far different.

What I take away from Lewis’s little attempt at art, besides once again recognizing the man’s incredible gift for coming up with analogies, is his attitude toward his own drawing. In his description of the first sketch, he seems to barely recognize the details of what he drew, almost as though he’s discovering it for the first time: “something like despairing hands,” “I detect a curious figuration,” “fancy may interpret.” I wonder if this is something that undergirds Lewis’s imagination throughout his career as a writer, that sense of exploring his own creations as though they carried on a lively existence completely independent of their maker.

A Man has had This on Repeat for the Past Four Days

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Jon T. introduced me to Chris Staples’ stuff. They had him out to the Modest Music Fest in Moscow and apparently, in addition to being a great musician, he’s a total ham.

I know almost nothing about what makes music great. Of all the forms of entertainment in my life – fiction, poetry, movies, TV – music is the one about which I am most likely to say, “I just like it. I don’t know why.” But I’ll try to give a little defense of Chris Staples.

His music is often quiet, which could make you think that it’s simple. But it’s not. There’s a lot going on under the surface, a lot of different layers to listen to. My favorite songs of his have a syncopated rhythm that makes them almost seem to have two “speeds,” if that’s the right word. Listen to “Golden Age,” “Black Tornado,” or “Dark Side of the Moon” to see what I’m talking about.

He has a great blurb on his Google Play profile, too, courtesy of who knows:

There are no casual Chris Staples fans. The man inspires devotion. The turnaround from casual listener to evangelist is nearly instantaneous. Play his music during a road trip with friends and inevitably someone will ask, “Who is this?” And a lifelong fan is born. Such is the unaffected power of these songs, of this voice. Chris Staples fandom is rewarding and lasting (despite his understated approach to promoting his own work, which – as it should be with all artists – seems secondary to the effort he puts into the making of it). We follow where he leads, and our numbers are growing.