When we encounter a natural style, Pascal says, we are surprised and delighted, because we expected to find an author and instead found a man.
An artist’s name
The ancient masters of Japanese art were allowed to change their name once in their lifetime. They had to be very selective about the moment in their career when they did so. They would stick with their given name until they felt they had become the artist they aspired to be; at that point, they were allowed to change their name. For the rest of their life, they could work under the new name at the height of their powers. The name change was a sign of artistic maturity.
Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit
Resisting the present
To judge by the clock, the present moment is nothing but a hairline which, ideally, should have no width at all — except that it would then be invisible. If you are bewitched by the clock you will therefore have no present. “Now” will be no more than the geometrical point at which the future becomes the past. But if you sense and feel the world materially, you will discover that there never is, or was, or will be anything except the present….
For the perfect accomplishment of any art, you must get this feeling of the eternal present into your bones — for it is the secret of proper timing. No rush. No dawdle. Just the sense of flowing with the course of events in the same way that you dance to music, neither trying to outpace it nor lagging behind. Hurrying and delaying are alike ways of trying to resist the present.
Whose voice does the reader hear?
I don’t believe that poems are written to be heard, or as Mill said, to be overheard; nor are poems addressed to their reader. I believe that poems are a score for performance by the reader, and that you become the speaking voice. You don’t read or overhear the voice in the poem, you are the voice in the poem. You stand behind the words and speak them as your own — so that it is a very different form of reading from what you might do in a novel where a character is telling the story, where the speaking voice is usurped by a fictional person to whom you listen as the novel unfolds.
“The extension of our sympathies”
The greatest benefit we owe the artist, whether painter, poet, or novelist, is the extension of our sympathies… Art is the nearest thing to life, it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot.
Quote of the Day
We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.
— Winston Churchill
Quote of the Day
Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.
William James: Habit
There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation. Full half the time of such a man goes to the deciding, or regretting, of matters which ought to be so ingrained in him as practically not to exist for his consciousness at all. If there be such daily duties not yet ingrained in any one of my readers, let him begin this very hour to set the matter right.
William James, Habit (read the whole essay here).
William James’s famous essay on habit is mentioned in Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey (wonderful book):
James was writing from personal experience — the hypothetical sufferer is, in fact, a thinly disguised description of himself. For James kept no regular schedule, was chronically indecisive, and lived a disorderly, unsettled life. As Robert D. Richardson wrote in his 2006 biography, “James on habit, then, is not the smug advice of some martinet, but the too-late-learned too-little-self-knowing, pathetically earnest, hard-won crumbs of practical advice offered by a man who really had no habits — or who lacked the habits he most needed, having only the habit of having no habits — and whose life was itself a ‘buzzing blooming confusion’ that was never really under control.”
James was also a chronic procrastinator. He told one of his classes:
I know a person who will poke the fire, set chairs straight, pick the dust specks from the floor, arrange his table, snatch up a newspaper, take down any book which catches his eye, trim his nails, waste the morning anyhow, in short, and all without premeditation — simply because the only thing he ought to attend to is the preparation of a noonday lesson in formal logic which he detests.
I actually find all this heartening. Maybe there is something in the undisciplined mind that enables it to imagine freely. Of course, it is too much to say that lack of self-restraint is a necessary condition for creativity; there are certainly creative people with rigorous self-discipline — William James’s brother Henry not least among them. But, at a minimum, one can say that a disorderly mind and unsettled habits are not a complete bar to great creative achievements, if William James is any example.