As humans, we have a natural propensity for permanence. We tend to (at least aim to) mate for life, seek stability in employment and housing, and form long-lasting friendships. You might say that permanence is expedient when it comes to our very survival.
Yet there are many ways in which aiming for permanence can be inappropriate, even destructive. We fear and try to evade transience and loss, when embracing it might actually pave the way to a more freeing environment.
As a species, most of us have a habit of locking ourselves down to fixed categories, defining who we think we are by adjectives, rather than actions. People like to identify - whether in words or presentation - as kind, for example, or noble, attractive, fit, intelligent, and seek to deny any incongruity, such as an act of unkindness, or an 'ugly' day, that might threaten their sense of self. When that denial drives us to extreme behaviours and ritual, it becomes too much to sustain; I imagine most of us have had experience of this at some point of our lives.
As a rejoinder, I propose what I term the ultimate defence against the allure of permanence; an embracing of transience. Such a stance comprises both an acceptance of and a seeking of transience, as appropriate. I've laid out examples of both below:
- I always conceive of relationships as transient, even if I love my partner and wish things to be permanent. Relationships are day by day relating, positive or negative, and a relationship that ends has not necessarily a bad one, and nor should its nature be defined by its having ended.
- I've written about this elsewhere in this blog, but when it comes to earning money and getting a career, having made 'progress' in one's industry and attained a degree of wealth doesn't have to be an acquisition that we adhere to doggedly. It's generally thought of as odd if you decide to take a pay cut, or go back to the coalface of your trade, having got near to the 'top of your game.' But that's only true insofar as you buy into that culture. Wealth and status could be reframed as something you move in and out of, should you be lucky enough to have attained it - unless familial responsibilities dictate, there's no real reason it should ever be permanent, and if we're not careful, we become enslaved by that belief. Let us not simply accept this impermanence, but be bold enough to alter the narrative, and ally ourselves to it; I mean, what if we sought to be richer just for a while, as opposed to forever? It would spell a great untethering, I wager.
- Likewise, the body (see this blog I wrote for the Huffington Post). We acquire a satisfactory level of fitness or thinness and try to maintain it for life, fearing its loss at every turn. But no one ever says they're going to get fit for a few months, then see what happens. But what if we did?
These are just a few ideas, but I intend to use them to inform a new charter for the way I live my life. Muchos wise and exciting, or blarney? You decide!
Note the use of quotation marks sandwiching the word artist. For the purpose of this post, I'm going to use the term to mean someone who has attempted - via their work - to challenge or intrigue the consumer (with entertainment being either an incidental, intended or irrelevant factor). I'm aware that that interpretation might not speak to everyone, but for now, I intend to use it as a shorthand within a reflection on the stance of the artist, post-production.
Writers, painters, sculptors: they're an enigmatic bunch. We - the great unwashed - can infer and interpret all we like; we may never come close to what an artist intended their work to mean, and nor will we ever know. Of course, every artist is aware that once they cede their art to the public for consumption, any number of paradigms may be applied to it, some of which the producer never foresaw; was it likely that Mary Shelley envisaged a homosexual reading of Frankenstein, for instance? And it seems to have always been the case that to divulge one's intentions or hidden meanings behind their art is counter-cultural, T. S. Eliot - who explained the myriad references in The Waste Land in order to educate his readers - being a notable, but rare, exception.
But why? What harm could it really do to be more open about one's art, not just with regard to its layers of meaning, but also its cultural significance, its influences, even its weaknesses? Granted, it would take the mystery out of it, and any Leavis-esque deconstruction on the part of an artist would almost certainly stifle, rather than encourage, further interpretation. But I do see a place for the admission of limitations. That is, an acknowledgement of the fact that originality is difficult, and that rehashing older styles or 'techniques' does happen ... and that it might not always make for a polished piece. Consider the notion of the stream of consciousness, for instance, or its sister concept, free indirect discourse: writers employ both nowadays, but it while they may serve a specific purpose within the narrative, they might sound clunky and contrived in a contemporary novel. And yet there are not that many stylistic options for into a character's inner world; a nod to the irreconcilability here might give the work, and the artist, a bit more kudos (see this article by Guardian writer Toby Litt for more on the pitfalls of artistic 'borrowing').
I'm not about to call myself an artist, but I am open about my books' shortcomings. The Tammersford Lot - a series of short stories - was a book I wrote to raise money for charity, and while that's no excuse for it to be below par, it does have its limitations. I often read it back and suck my teeth; it's very 'school of Joyce' or 'school of Salinger' in terms of style and composition (though please don't for a minute mistake my comparison for arrogance; I'm not putting myself in their league), by warrant of my taste in literature. If I wrote it again, I would have taken more risks; I would have channelled my own voice to a much greater extent.
I still consider myself a baby writer, and I wouldn't say I've entirely found my voice, or my preferred medium, quite yet. However, I will always be prepared to account for what I've written, including any shortcomings or stylistic limitations. That may not be the most conventional stance, and it has nothing to do with faux self-effacement (or 'fishing')! Rather, it's going one step beyond saying 'well I'll never please everyone;' it's saying I wrote something, it met some expectations but not all ... and here's why ...
A series of miscellaneous ramblings.