There is Beauty in the Void

I have been asked what type of writer i am. What type of movements i follow or give credence to.

This is my answer.

It is my belief that art is ultimately the expression of beauty, whether emotional, physical or spiritual. I do not mean to suggest that all art is pretty, or vain, or trite or harmonic; beauty can be found in tragedy, in the resolution against suffering, or in the courage facing the void.

It has often been said that form is restricting, though true, the fallacy is that restriction is a negative. If anyone could do anything in society, the world would be an uninhabitable place run by anarchy and fear. Order is necessary to frame something into the construction of the beautiful. Why? You might ask, do I say that beauty is only in the constructed and the ordered. It is because our minds perceive the world in an ordered fashion.

There is a body of modernist and post-modernist thought that will largely disagree with this concept. They will say that the most accurate reflection of a human mind’s workings is in ‘stream of consciousness’ – a download of irrational and often manically unconstructed information and sensory stimulus – information which is loosely chained together and leads onto wild tangential distractions form the ultimate narrative.

I disagree profoundly with this idea.

The mind, although at times prone to wild chains of thought, most certainly does not work like that in its entirety. In fact, for six thousand years we have been taught that the most appealing thing to the mind is a story. Even people with severe mental difficulties can understand complex ideas and situations if they are explained in a story form. The mind seeks structure, and seeks to structure itself, and seeks to structure our lives: hence the human is such a creature of habit.

I agree, however, that too much habit, too much rigour and formulaic structure is a hindrance. This is why our mind is also excited by the deconstruction, or the breaking of form – such as we see in the brilliant half-rhyme at the end of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken. However, modern thought has mistaken this delight in the small and intelligent exceptions to form by assuming that complete anarchic oblivion is what the mind desires and operates on – hence dub-step, a deconstruction of musical principles, modern art, a deconstruction of classical techniques. Money enough to pay employees to place a dead shark in a septic tank replaces the intense skill-levels required to produce such masterpieces as the statue of David, or the Mona-Lisa. I am not entirely disregarding ‘concept art’ or ‘experimental music’, as I believe experimentation and improvisation are key factors in producing masterpieces. If Bach’s Prelude no. 1 did not have the twelve bars of discordance in the middle of it, the resolution would be meaningless. But the discord is made brilliant by the fact it is a slow, and small resistance to the formal structure of the logical chord progression.

Ultimately, this argument can also spill onto philosophical and theological grounds, though I will not say too much about that in this particular essay. At the moment, the popular trend seems to be to view this world as a cold, random accident in a universe desolate of meaning, that one day will be absorbed into the illimitable blackness of a void of anti-matter.

You are welcome to hold this viewpoint, but it will give you nothing.

In fact, most people that maintain this view for extended periods in their life end up committing suicide. What I am saying is that, in some sense, it doesn’t matter whether there is, or is not, a god. We have to believe in an architect for our mind to healthily comprehend its surroundings. Many worshippers of Dawkins will say that this is self delusion, but once again I would disagree. Quantum Physics has already determined that we can alter this universe by merely observing it. Control groups were able to change the result of a random number generator by simply concentrating on it, and they were also able to raise and lower the acidity levels of water. There are innumerable reports of people experiencing emotions and sensations akin to telepathy: for example, picking up the phone and being about to call someone and then being called by them that instant, or waking up thinking about a person in the morning who you haven’t seen in ten years, and then bumping into them that same day. Almost every person I know has admitted to me they have cases of déjà-reve or dreaming something before it happens. To quote Dirk Gently from Douglas Adam’s novel: “I believe in the interconnectedness of all things.” – deny it at your own peril.

I know that many people will object to this reassertion of the value of considering the world in an ordered, beautiful, and purposeful way. Some people will also dismiss the evidence I have provided as a self-created fantasy to make my life seem prettier, and to make poverty and hardship seem easier. It is none of these things. An afterlife doesn’t devalue this world, it actually makes it more important, because, to quote Maximus Decius Meridius: “What we do in life echoes in eternity.”

And how does this relate to writing? Remember the profound interconnectedness of all things. Writing is the tool of thought, and if thought operates in structure, then writing that truly speaks to the spirit should also operate in structure. You can’t have your cake and eat it. You can’t praise Shakespeare’s sonnets and then tell me that form is dead. You can’t tell me there isn’t a god and then scream at the cosmos for things to be better. You probably now thinking, that if form is so wonderful, why do so many people reject it  – smart ass? The answer is simple. Responsibility.

To accept a form to the universe is to accept that you have a purpose to fulfil, a destiny if you will, and that’s a pretty scary idea. Similarly in writing, I hear a lot of people say ‘I didn’t want to use the rhymes because it’s too restrictive, I want to say what I mean’. The thing is I reject this statement. I think if you spent time striving to find the word that would rhyme, but that would also avoid cliché, and would embody everything you wanted to say: then you’d make yourself a better poet. Brutal, I know, but true. The English language is incredible. Everyone seems to enjoy hating on its limitations at the moment, but let’s think about its possibilities. It has more words than any other and is continually absorbing phrases every day because it has the capacity to synthesise its own idiom with others. We also have a language that naturally falls into iambic pentametre because we have pronouns external to the words themselves. We also have a greater variation of rhyme – it’s easier to rhyme in Italian because they have declension endings to their words, (hence that the terza rima form of Dante’s Divine Comedy can be maintained for the full 100 cantos!), however, as declensions are all the same, its quintessentially similar to rhyming –ing with –ing. We have the possibility of para-rhymes, consonantal rhyme, as well as rich rhyme and a wide variation of pronunciation which other languages cannot recreate, which is why most continental theatre companies will perform Shakespeare in the original English, because they would prefer to hear it in its original glory and understand the feel of the words than have it in their own tongue and lose the dexterity of construction.

Having said that I absolutely adore Italian poetry, and one of my favourite novels of all time is written in Finnish (obviously I read in translation). I’m also not suggesting that translation isn’t a good thing, it most certainly is. I merely meant to point out that our own language has strengths too, especially when it comes to poetry, and we should not be afraid to use them to intensify the power and structure of our work.

How to conclude? This was meant to be a paragraph for a university module about what kind of writing I practice, but it became this… perhaps it’s because I sense that the world needs some form right now? I’m tired of playing verbal games with my peers, and not talking about when I think something is an act of fate, or deliberately intended to teach us a lesson. I’m tired of telling people that when I spontaneously burst into tears after hearing the first bar of The Moonlight Sonata that I didn’t know why, because I did, and it was because the universe had kaleidoscoped into one ecstatic moment of understanding. It’s because I heard more than simply a set of sounds produced by under dampened strings on my piano teacher’s upright; I heard beyond the flawless E# minor chord progression, I heard that there was, as Einstein put it, “music in the spheres”. Whether it’s a god, or an architect of matter, or an alien civilisation, or simply our own consciousness creating the holographic verse as we perceive it (like a dream), it doesn’t matter.

It only matters, that we listen.

And that’s what kind of writer I am.

Joseph Sale © 2013

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4 thoughts on “There is Beauty in the Void

  1. Very interesting article, i was very interested in the segment about the segment about finding rhymes restrictive, and by not rhyming being able to express yourself better, and i can see its uses. Well done.

    Fli. 😛

      1. Cheers man – thanks for taking the time to read it – it’s a bit of an essay! Glad you found it useful and interesting though. It’s one of those hotly contested issues at the moment – so felt i should, as always, stick my two penneth in!!!

  2. A very personal and very profound appreciation of art generally and poetry in particular. We do need more people arguing for beauty in art and resisting the trend for formless, shapeless, ugly chaos – which leads to identification with it and the corresponding deterioration in the quality of life; a quality which hinges on our beliefs.

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