There’ve been a few times I’ve been drained enough at night, when there’s nothing left in the tank to write, and I think of literature as is, the way I think of nature, of politics, and people. Though it can be hard. Most of the time literature is Hemingway, and Lady Brett outside the plaza, or Tolstoy and the beautiful war, of Steinbeck and Joad beneath the grape vines (there are very few things more beautiful than Joad and the grapevines). And then too are Guevara and the manifests, Neruda and Wordsworth (and the daffodils, to the one who knows me well). Of literature, I know too much, and knowing too much can ruin thought, like clogged leaves in a gutter. The dumb and simple are particular to good thought; it’s one of their benefits. The brief moments when the mind has hit a snag are where you can think of nothing and write it down solemnly. The best thoughts are when you can think of nothing, because those are the least tainted, and the most simple.
Overtime, the notes gather into something meaningful. And at the same points where you are bored, and your work is going nowhere, then you can compile something coherent and logical, and you can understand yourself that much better, though never completely. Essays are very purely a collective thought on discollective notions, and never to be seen as ideal comprehension, but an attempt.
From my notes, there is a coherent structure to literature. Literature, as is, is very simple to understand, and its place can be grouped into three basic categories:
It would be easy to add more, but then adding more would draw the process out, and bog down understanding, (the way it works in government, add more clauses to confuse the process and gain loopholes). To leave out the loopholes, I’ll discuss literature in terms of basics, in terms of three.
As an Art
Literature, because of its dimensions, is more difficult than politics or nature, but easy to understand if taken the right way and looked at squarely. Literature is a core art, and art is very simple. Art has definable characteristics, and can be understood with four particular primaries: the mastering of movement, of pitch, of language, of visuals (or more properly known as acting, music, literature, and drawing). Art may act as a purity of one of these primaries, or a hybrid of two or more. Take a pure symphony, and a pure stage play. Combine the two, and there is opera. Story and color, and there is the comic book. But to control the primaries purely takes skill and talent, and these are the best of the best, i.e. Mozart, Hemingway, Van Gogh.
Vary rarely are the hybrids fine art, except on certain occasions, as in film. Today the most successful art is film, and probably the most poignant and worthwhile in any country. Music has become numb and submissive, as it has a tendency towards from time to time (but watch out, because it will come back strong). The art of drawing has lost all its true talent and has so for a while (maybe since Wyeth)—the art requires a strong leader and a movement behind it, not scratch and thrown paint; Pollack was given too much credit for doing nothing and now too many people want the same, so nobody works to get better, just lucky like him. That tends to be the drawback of art in modern culture. The artist’s isn’t the same artist. A modern artist isn’t a man who works hard at a craft, studies, practices, and masters, like a Da Vinci. Modern day art is the lack of hardship. It’s falling asleep drunk and the picture accidentally spilled onto the canvas in the tumble is the masterpiece, or the riff, or the prose. And that’s how we get men like Pollack.
To craft a masterpiece, you have to craft the artist. Until then, film will win every fight in my book.
But literature has importance because of its variance, which will be discussed later, but as general fiction, the art is quiet and dead. The best of literature is film, and the best of acting is film, and when one man combines the two well, something beautiful, synthetic and lively comes from it. But the man has to be the visionary. When the film is thrown together for the sake of film, in a chop group of twenty or thirty then the film is like drawing, and crap altogether.
Literature today is a lesser art. There are few good stories, no good artists, and no strengths. There’s little money to be made too. A recent story of my own garnered a good $25 dollars on publication, and I was happy with it. But money can lead even the best astray (sometimes weeding out the poor, but still catching some talent from the weak minded) as is human nature. The few who strike gold with vampires and wizards, those are our Pollack’s. And then the many who want to be like them. With Word and a laptop everybody is an author, just the same as anyone with a box of Crayola and some white paper is a Monet. And they will be loved as heroes, praised as stars, and read briefly enough to be thrown away and forgotten the moment something meaningful comes along. The shapes are fine on the freezer door, but above the mantel should be saved for integrity and discipline, not slop.
Art is a very interesting in that all humans have a tendency toward it, either to create it, or to crave it. Each primary has a specific taste to it, like the pallet. In the way a man can eat shrimp, but not steak, and another water and not milk, it’s inherited in the genes. It’s craved by what we need. People see in drawings, structure and dominance. They see in acting and dance, obedience, submission.
Music and literature oppose each other. The selfish care about music, (not to be confused with those who create it, that’s a different matter). In general music is an expression of self. People take from music themselves, and when they don’t see themselves in the music it isn’t good. The art is like water, and reflective. And then from literature people learn people. Literature is how you learn people, their nature, their storms, their calms, their subtleties. I’ve learned more from Steinbeck and Hemingway about people, about their tendencies, their likes, their anger, their complexities, than I have from people. The best creators of literature are those who can make people, and make them real. Unlike music, the art reflects nothing, only takes in. And the purpose of literature really is then, people.
Literature has a unique place among the arts for its play on human politics. No other art belongs in the arena, and looks foolish if it does, (though many try, and fail each time). But the understanding of politics is rooted in the aim of literature. They coexist flawlessly on fundamentals.
First, you have to understand politics, which is simple if you take it into perspective. There are many levels to politics, though they are identical in structure, and act no differently. It’s the same if you look at a home. A home is a structure to ward the elements and to live in. Add more people, and it’s still a home. Add vaulted ceilings and crown moldings, build separate rooms, and doors, add curtains, counters, shelving. And always it makes no difference. The home is still to ward the elements and to live in. Its actions do not change. The size of the house does not matter, mansion or mud hut. And with politics you have politics regardless of size. There is the municipal level, district level, counties, zones, states, countries, leagues, unions. But the best way to analyze politics would be on the country level, as many people cannot think beyond that well enough, below it and people cannot correlate. Most see the country as stable.
No matter the decorations, the politics of any nation will be dictated by the select few regardless of want or desire from the people. This is a fact with no dispute, only dreams and poor thinking. Always there will be the people and there will be their leaders, no matter if they are the curtains, the vaulted ceilings, the shelving, the elected, the dictators, the monarchy. All of it is the same. There are the elite (the fortunate) and there are the people. You can spare yourself a lot of time and angst by accepting that right away, or you’ll learn it later with some expense.
After taxes, it’s the elite’s job to decide how the people will live, either with free movement and no protection, or with interjection and decisions in their own part. Capitalism, and Socialism. (there have been many attempts to micromanage the two, and many debates, but it is purely, will the government intercede or will they not: in a yes or no question there are two answers. The debate is solved—to delve further wouldn’t aid comprehension.).
Capitalism is wishy washy. It’s good when the privileged few (elite) care for the unprivileged masses (people) sincerely. When the rich and spoiled and educated boys are naturally good, honest and caring people—which generally happens when the system is young and patriotism and pride are at work—then people can be spared, and capitalism can be the bearer of beautiful empires. And then too, when the rich and spoiled and educated boys are what men truly are, then people are given no mercy. They’re strangled and choked till they can take no more, and then in irony, they revolt to Socialism.
But then Socialism can take its toll too. The elite are replaced with a few more elite, which vow to never let themselves have too much power, by giving themselves enough power to do so. Then men are forced equal; all men except the few who decide who are to be equal. And then the people are people again, and the fortunate are sure they are not included, and when the people ask why, they are strangled and choked until they can take no more, and then in irony, they revolt back to capitalism.
And so it makes no difference, by human nature. People are dictated always by people, and so people are what truly matters, and people are horrifying. To understand and live in politics you have to understand people, and to understand people you need to understand literature.
Toward politics, literature is not only an art, but a weapon. Of the core arts, literature is the only that can be feared as much as loved. The movement of literature means understanding. It destroys foundations, religions, families, countries. It’s why books are banned and scorned, while the ballet remains always. The worst to any philosophy is to read the argument against it. In human history, the best armament has always been understanding. The more literature taken in and the more you understand people, and the less you accept from them. And people can be horrifying when looked at properly.
Literature is the basis of all revolutions, whether for good or bad.
People are creatures, and lackluster. It would be hard as hell to argue otherwise because for every good reason given I can think of a million more bad. At best then people are mediocre, and I love them, myself included. Everything I hate, I do very well, which makes me very human, and lackluster all the same. And still, I don’t love myself anymore than what I am, otherwise I would I’d be listening to music.
The progression and future of literature is definite because of its role as a primary in the arts. There will always be the art of pitch, of movement, of visuals, and of language, because they are as much to humans as water and sustenance. The arts exist because they are human, and while we exist they will be present by nature. While film will be gone, another mixture will fill its place. In time there will be more Hemingway’s. Monet will be shown up. Mozart will be overwritten. These are the unmistakable fields that move and churn with time, and humans are fickle with them.
In terms of future, art is structured in this way: it operates in the future, but dictates the past. Long after the deserts have dusted the people, and long after the leaves and the weeds have grown green on the blood of the dead and gone, society is no more than its artists. The artists live while the people die, and while the buildings fall and politics have no meaning. As long as there are men, art has a future and a will, and there will be artists, and there will be the primaries.
If you’re not smarter the next day, then you’ve gone nowhere. Tomorrow is only tomorrow when you’ve gone with it. For any culture to progress they must draw, they must dance, they must sing, and they must write. That’s why literature will always stay.
The next time people need it, literature will be strong. It takes a need to bring it out of men, I’m not sure why, but it’s true. The future is always bright for the lesser arts, and gloomy for the margrave.
In terms of progression, literature is progressive too, like the sciences. Each piece is built on the wrongs of another until, in succession, maybe something right comes out of it. And that’s why too, this essay comes to be. It isn’t to be taken as a theory, but as an introduction to the topic, and amended; the entirety is only a thesis.
What’s written is in no way right, but by being wrong then there’s something to build on isn’t there? The right ammunition for thought is failure. It makes people angry. And when people are angry they react. Which then, is the weapon of literature, and the point of it all anyway.
|Erik Berg is an author of short fiction and poetry publishing in magazines such as Southpaw, Blue Lotus, The Stray Branch, and Badlands. He lives in Southern California with his wife and son.
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