Tag Archives: Aesthetics

The World Is a Knee-Jerk

I am sure that I am not alone when I say that I feel in the dark. Not only does the future of the United States seem murky, but what ability I possess to trust my fellow man seems to be crumbling more than it ever has in the last eight years. No doubt this is because of our economic situation, but I am more concerned with the portrayal of “truth” and our ability to recognize it. I know it sounds crazy to think about the abstract when brick and mortar are on the line, and we all face unemployment. We must remember that we live in a time where we can trust neither Lehman nor AIG, McCain and Obama dig into one another on the World’s stage, and a home loan can drive a person to suicide—the truth is just as important as ever. We must ask ourselves: can we trust our “superiors?” How can we select people to trust? How can we recognize the truth at all?

Take the Presidential Campaign as an example. Both sides seem to take for granted that the majority of voters are ignorant and uncritical. The McCain campaign has called Senator Obama “dishonorable,” “dangerous,” and “risky.” Thirty-five seconds is too short a time to get at the truth—to prove that Obama is dishonorable. If John McCain himself flew to my home just to tell me, “my advertisements are meant to inform the voters about the issues,” I would laugh a hearty laugh and slam the door in his face. The McCain camp, then, is only trying to push my buttons. Then again, is there anything more to language than pushing another person’s buttons?

If the American people demand facts, politicians present things in a fact-like way. The problem is that many things are complex enough that they can look false from one perspective and true from another; truth doesn’t look like a fixed thing. To expect real “facts” is a tall order. Who is going to verify these facts? How can we trust the fact checkers? Can we say anything that is impervious to doubt? What would the undeniable truth look like anyway?

If a potential voter demands empathy on the issues, the candidate tries to “show empathy”. How do we know that the candidate really cares about Darfur? Even if he (she) does, he still has the enormous burden of making people believe it! Trust, faith, and beauty are the case here. How could a presidential candidate inspire trust? They could do it with images; they could do it with what strikes the viewer as beautiful, or what simply “looks right.”

All we have left are our impressions of things.

CNN has taken the focus group in an peculiar direction with their reaction meter that looks somewhere between a biometric meter and a seismograph. Both images (of bio-metrics and seismographs) make sense here. During each debate so far, CNN-selected Ohio voters keep their fingers on a dial and record their reactions (negative or positive) as they happen.

This sends a strong message: not only do the words of each candidate need attention but we ought to keep a close eye on the opinions of our “peers.” Are we expected to gauge our reactions by using CNN’s added bio-meter? Or are we supposed to formulate our opinions based on all of the information combined?

Indeed: our impulses, our feelings, our impressions of people, our initial thoughts are what the politicians play like fiddles. This isn’t news. Perhaps you’ve experienced empathy and admiration for Senator McCain when he claimed to have postponed his campaign to help on Wall-Street; this emotion could stick to your ribs and remind you of just how much you love John McCain. Just how long this feeling will last has something to do with: (1) McCain’s word choice, (2) the opinions of political pundits, (3) the opinions of friends and family, and (4) where you place yourself within that mess. We end up reacting—for better or worse—just as we all have in the past.

The world is a knee-jerk. Our partially-involuntary reactions to the world outside drive the stock market down, cause riot in the streets, and keep pollsters employed indefinitely. What we must do, then, is try to figure out what truth could even mean in this world of ours.

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Forking it Over

As I scan the pages of Writer’s Market—digesting fluff advice and skipping from one market listing to the next as a fortunate stone does across a pond—I still imagine how life will be as a professional. “To churn out word after word at the drop of a hat (dime),” I wonder often, “am I made out for this sort of life?” There is a certain confidence this occupation requires, a kind of trust all ‘creative professionals’ must fork over. Indeed, there is true forking taking place here, but it is not a unique one.

There is a strange and fuzzy relationship between writer, written work, and reader. When a writer sits down to write, there is a sense in which the writer does not simply just dump thoughts onto a page—they think about who they’re writing for, what they’re writing for, how they want to be seen. In a sense, the act of writing has an effect on the person writing. I remember reading Orson Scott Card’s introduction to his classic Sci-fi “Speaker For the Dead.” He claims that, after creating an outline for the book, he found himself lacking the maturity to write such a book. It is only after several rewrites that he gained the mental maturity to write such a book.

Are the two entities separate: book and writer? The line is a marred one. The book creates the man while the man creates the book; it may be better to say that there is a reciprocation going on. Better still, we could say that books and people emerge and gain definition simultaneously. I could say that I don’t know who I am until I’ve lived life, until I’ve painted a great piece of art, until I’ve written a bestseller. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I am undefined until I’ve lived life, until I’ve painted a great piece of art, until I’ve written a bestseller.

Writing books, I think, is not a matter of just writing books. It turns out to be the path you walk on, even if you treat it as “just a job.” Like every good path, the ground underneath gives way a bit, leaving an imprint in the ground and a little dirt on everyone’s shoes: something is taken, and something is left over. Like it or not, I am changing with each word, and each word is changing with each thought.

Beginning my writing career will be a messy business. Other people—companies, magazines, journals, papers, publishers—will dictate the terms under which I write, the content they desire and, ultimately, whether or not my content is good enough. That is a vast amount of influence over my character that others wield. Then again, how is this situation any different from any other social situation? It seems that the conditions of the artists world are less foreign than is immediately apparent.

So which way should I fork, what must I fork, and who made the fork in the road? The Writer’s Market would lead me to believe that I must find, or make, a niche in the market. I can only assume that it takes a bit of fast-talk to convince an editor that a certain column is worth publishing—enter the query letter. What sort of person will I become if I succeed? If I fail? How will the act of writing inform my life, and the lives of others? I have already been “informed” that my previous/current work in ad-copy is the first sign of “selling out.” True or not—putting aside what “selling out” means in the first place—those words still have an effect on something.

In the next few months, I should tread carefully: there is a lot going on here that I want to take in.

Can God Be Spoken For?

When Christian evangelicals try to spread the word of God, they are often turned away or given dirty looks. “Why?” I asked myself, “they’re only trying to help people the way they know best.” Even if their help isn’t the right kind for me, it doesn’t hurt to talk things through—right? Two weeks ago, I was approached by a Christian couple, hard at work recruiting members to God’s flock. Instead of turning them away, I decided to see how a pair of intrepid young shepherds would respond to the ramblings of an incoherent crazy person.

They asked the usual questions (I paraphrase): do you know that Jesus Christ died for your sins? What is your relationship to God? What are you doing this Sunday? My answer to the first two questions began: to believe that God is some greater being who judges, loves, and thinks seems odd. Who does God worship at night, I asked. Himself? Someone greater? Us?

A person might take my question one of two ways (this is not exhaustive, however). They might think that I was hinting at some sort of recursive problem in place. If God is just a “thing” that knows everything and can do everything, then he is just a human being with special powers. Thinking of God in this way sounds a bit offensive, and it should be.

A second way one might take my question is to say there’s something wrong with a God that is an authority figure. To disagree with God, perhaps, is treason against the sovereignty of the universe and is worthy of punishment. In human affairs, totalitarian rulers all have opponents—in such a description, I’ll call Lucifer the condemned revolutionary in God’s kingdom. Could it be that God has no more grounds for punishment than Stalin?

Both readings of the problem with God share a common theme: anthropomorphism. There is something fishy about likening God to humanity. Genesis describes the moment God created Mankind in his image, but images are odd things. In all images, we could say, Man places himself into them. God’s grace, the evil of Lucifer, and the beauty of their eternal struggle—mankind sees itself in these images. Is it that God created us in his own image or that God is merelyunderstood in light of our own image? A little bit of both.

To make paint matters of divinity as Human matters on the scale of infinity seems short-sighted. In other words, we make God seem like “less” than what a God can be. I feel that God is so much more, if such a thing exists at all. Does God “love” in the conventional sense of love? Teach in the conventional sense of teach? Does God rule all of existence—what would it mean for something greater than us (in the the more “transcendental” sense of “great”) to do any of these things?

At this point, my new-found Christian friends seemed confused. Like a broken vinyl record, they reminded me that God looks over us, teaches us valuable lessons, and makes the impossible possible. And like a bad DJ, I would respond, “doesn’t make sense for God to ‘look over us’ or ‘teach us lessons'”—at least not in a conventional sense. The image of God is more than just a pretty picture that accords well with the human psyche. My words seemed to confuse them—to be honest, they were confusing me at that point as well.

What is God then? What could “it” be? I am sure our questions were, at that point, one in the same. I’ll save my preliminary conclusions for the next time. The punch-line is coming soon.