Tag Archives: 20th century

Communicating faster than creativity

I ponder in my isolation as only the digital era could provide the question of creativity in our time. We have it and use and present all over, yet I wonder whether we realize the shallowness it exudes in the newness of complexity that all these intersecting signals have created. We raced to get here as fast as we can asking not what it means but rather what it can do, or do better, or faster, or longer, or smaller. We threw our net wide and incorporated the world from streaming internationally to communicating globally. The Earth isn’t as large or mysterious as it once was, the universe too now shrinks more and more. We hunger for information, raw and unchecked, that we aggregate it all to measure its success. Yet through this conglomerate of what we can present we have lost something meaningful, something only human. In our hunger to know we’ve forgotten context and depth. What matters now is a false sense of objective knowledge crowd sourced to the masses. In that importance we deemed the editor unnecessary, the journalist a waste, and the critic ourselves. With the communication of the digital age we all became the critics and informants of our own world, assuming that because we can now get around the critical eye, the critical eye is no longer necessary. Why learn from a historian what you can google on wikipedia? Why read from a journalist what you can learn first hand from twitter? why pay to experience the new when you can create (or decide) it for yourself?

The internet and the digital age has such an ability to create depth and yet all it has been used for is breath. We are losing touch with creativity because we no longer know what it means to be creative. We trust that which we don’t understand and fear that which is unfamiliar. We are as lost as ever despite everything that is helping us get found.

In all these vague generalizations what I really mean to say is something rather simple: We have lost our desire to be challenged intellectually. The 20th century saw the childhood of this concept in art, modernism though born in the 19th century truly came into its self in the 20th. But in so doing it created a world of art that needed to be engaged, thought through, and then understood. Modernism isn’t easy art, you can’t look at it once and understand it, it takes time and thought and engagement and discussion and research and understanding, and an open mind above all. But with all the tools of communication at our fingertips we have no interest in spending time figuring something out, rather we’ll just google it. And in so doing, we fail to fully understand it.

I challenge us and myself to stop googling. I challenge us to return to our tried and true techniques of learning the hard way. Use what has come before us, trust the disciplined approach it takes to be called a historian or journalist. And if through the internet we have come to believe that these academic processes for creating measures of distinction in our society are truly damaged or corrupt then lets fix them.

-Huysmans

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Henry Green

I recently read Living (1929) by the fairly obscure author Henry Green. Green fits into a general current in British fiction at the time of upper-class authors attempting to approach working-class life on its own level (or going slumming, if we’re being less charitable). Green took this project more literally than authors like George Orwell who attempted something similar – Green, a member of the aristocracy, actually went to work in his father’s factory out of what he later described as class guilt – and he took an idiosyncratic approach to prose that’s apparent from the beginning. On the second page:

“‘Tis ‘im, who was works manager, and Mr Dupret’s son were going about this factory. They went through engineer’s shop. Sparrows flew by belts that ran from lathes on floor up to shafting above by skylights. The men had thrown crumbs for them on floor.”

The most easily pinned-down of this style’s many peculiarities is the use of articles. The narrator usually omits ‘the’ and ‘a,’ but uses ‘this’ and ‘that’ as determiners a lot more often than they would typically be used. (There can be something disturbing about unusual uses of ‘this’ and ‘that,’ a lot more disturbing than you would think syntax could be.) The Wikipedia article claims, without a citation, that this styles is meant to mimic Arabic. Certainly, at times the narrator’s voice sounds like it’s not entirely fluent in English, but there’s more to it than that. Again and again the narrator conspicuously does things that omniscient narrators do not do, like make comments that do not seem to attach to any character and seemingly lose track of the story. It resembles more than anything else an oral storyteller who is ad-libbing from memory. The narrator is incompetent. It is certainly not an imitation of the voices of the blue-collar characters, who speak in a colorful but competent English, but it seems to be a mockery of someone, though it’s not clear whom.

The reason Green chose to use an unusual style is that he felt the need to distance himself from his subjects, to avoid coming off as condescending. I don’t think that it’s meant as a mockery of the less-educated, but there certainly is something off-putting about it. If it really is an imitation of an Arabic speaker’s English, then I could call it insulting or at least fetishistic, but I can’t come up with any particular reason to think that. There’s no reference to Arabic in the novel that I recall. The style was probably just an arbitrary choice, but I can’t help but wonder why he did it how he did.

~therighthandofnixon