Perusing Poetics: Why I Write and Other Passionate Rants

If you’ve been reading these posts for a while, you know a couple of things–I hope. The thing pertinent to this discussion, however, is that I have no problem trashing the readings that I do for this class a lot of the time. So when I say I enjoyed William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All, you know I’m telling the truth.

This is an entire long work, so there were a lot of things that spoke to me in here. However, one thing that I want to talk about is this quote right here:

“Complete lack of imagination would be the same at the cost of intelligence, complete.” (28)

This is one of many things that Williams says about the relationship between intelligence and imagination–one of the more succinct and easier to understand without context. However, the basic gist of the idea is that intelligence cannot exist without the imagination. If you have no imagination, you can’t get smarter.

Right about here, I put the book down and smiled.

See, the thing about being a Writing and English double major is that you get a lot of flack–especially with the Writing portion. At least when I say English people say, “So you’re going to try to be a teacher before you start collecting unemployment.” When I say writing? Hahahahahaha that’s funny.

Before I go any further, I need to clarify what I’m not saying. I’m NOT saying that if you are in some kind of technical field you have no imagination. I’ve seen my brother building a computer and I know that would be IMPOSSIBLE without imagination. Scientists have to be able to dream, etc. But what I AM saying is that I’m sick and tired of being told that because I have an overactive imagination, I’m not smart.

Perhaps one of the biggest things I’ve learned in my readings so far (relating to my own personal life; the scholastic portion is gigantic) is that people have spent THOUSANDS of years recognizing the power of the storyteller and then tearing them down. Thanks, Plato. You can’t say “writer” and have people recognize that you sit there and create up realistic people who are not real who, in their plots, can explain something about humanity to you or illicit some kind of emotional response. No, you say “writer” and people just think “…oh.”

So when Williams says that intelligence depends on imagination, I feel just a little bit more justified. I have another set of quotes for my quiver of arrows to shoot against Those-Who-Need-To-Shut-Up. When ever Plato is scared of storytellers, you should know something’s up anyways, but sometimes people forget that. People write “apologies” and justify their craft and don’t stop to think for a second, “Hey. Plato banished poets because of how much power they had. That’s pretty damn cool.”

I’m not saying that I write to change the world. I’m not saying that you could. What I am saying is that if you deny the talent and the intelligence of a writer, you’re denying a human tradition. You’re denying how our stories are what connect us and explain our humanity. You deny your own personal story.

So maybe I, as a writer, will never make as much money as a neurosurgeon (sadly). I didn’t become a writer to do that. I also didn’t become a writer because I wasn’t smart enough to do anything else.

I became a writer to tell our stories.

Advertisements

Perusing Poetics: All the World is Speech (and Humans are Really Strange Creatures)

When I was born, my parents got one of those dumb baby book things. Under family resemblances, my father wrote “Worf from Star Trek.” I HAVE A BIG FOREHEAD, OKAY?

This has absolutely nothing to do with this blog post, except for the fact that this week I’m talking about Benjamin Lee Whorf’s Language, Thought,and Reality and I keep thinking of Whorf from Star Trek instead of this really smart linguist. So now you know something really weird about me.

How I arrived at my topic for this week’s post is also kind of weird. It’s a convergence of three things, really. Firstly, there’s Whorf. One of his essays in this collection is titled “On the Connection of Ideas,” and it’s basically him writing to this compiler of psychological terminology asking for a better term for connected words and ideas than “association,” which he finds lacking for a multitude of reasons. The takeaway here is that he, a linguist, is asking for help not from another linguist, but a psychologist. Kind of weird, right? (Not to me, as you’re about to see.) Then, there’s this craft class I had today with poet Li-Young Lee. He said today that he thinks that art is really just another version of psychology, since all art comes from an inner psyche. Finally, there’s me, and my now three-year-long maintaining that if I wasn’t an English and Writing major, I’d be a psychology major.

When I first had a little wonder, as a freshman, if I should major in psychology (preferably educational), I threw it out of hand almost instantly. “I’m not science-y!” I said. “I’d never survive. The connection makes no sense!” So I continued on my merry English-and-Writing way. And I’m glad for it.

Me. Doing science.

But the thing is that there is a major connection between art and psychology. A BIG ONE. I’m going to focus on writing here, because I can’t art in any other way, but I’m sure an artist or musician–for example–would probably have a connection to make as well. What is a writer, but a creator of character? When you’re in a writing class, one of the major things you are told you have to figure out is “What do your characters want?” Writing–especially, for me personally, fiction–is simply accessible psychology. (The good stuff, anyways.) You sit down, you read a story, and you understand step by step why a person or a group of people do what they do within the story. You learn how people change, grow, fail or succeed through story arcs. To me, it’s pretty bloody magical. It’s why I write. The human brain fascinates me. Psychology is only one access point to the crazy questions humanity poses about WHY. Writing is another.

Whorf, however, is a linguist, so we have to break this down a little bit further. Sure, the connection between stories and psychology might make sense, but Whorf is operating on the word level. He’s seeing a connection to humanity through not just whole stories but single words and syllables. He suggests this hypothesis about how someone’s language is a major part of how they understand reality and behave within it. This collection basically admits that this hasn’t been proven, but it hasn’t been disproved.

To me, what he’s saying just makes sense. (Okay, well, not some of the time. But what I can understand from him, I like.)

It’s why I still wish I’d gone into psychology sometimes. It’s why I want to find some way to get a PhD where I can explore the links that Whorf talks about, between language, society, culture, etc. It’s because when I engage in my area of specialty (the young adult book world), I see the connection between cultural norms, young adult reception of these stories, and society at large. YA novels work in massive trends, but it’s fascinating how the slightest shift in language can make or break one vampire novel to the next.

At the reading by Li-Young that I attended tonight, he said that he was currently engaged in a massive back and forth with a minister friend of his because Li-Young is trying to convince him that all the world is speech. Well, that’s the world I choose to see, too.

speech-bubbles-world-map-vector-306917