ENG 300 Journal

Thursday, December 09, 2004

12/9: Individual Presentation

Well the flu caught up with me and I missed class this day. Surely Sexson won't test us on my stuff since I wasn't in class, but for those of you who may be interested I've pasted my paper below... enjoy.

Carpe diem!
Some spend this interval [life] in listlessness, some in high passions, the wisest, at least among “the children of this world,” in art and song. For our one chance lies in expanding that interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible into the given time. Great passions may give us this quickened sense of life, ecstasy and sorrow of love, the various forms of enthusiastic activity, disinterested or otherwise, which come naturally to many of us… For art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments’ sake. (Pater 841)

When I first considered the topic Literary Criticism and the Well-Lived Life, I really struggled to draw parallels between the two. Then I thought back to the above quote by Walter Pater, which to me sums up all of the mysteries of a “well-lived” life. I would argue that to live life well, you must live life to the fullest, exceeding its full potential or at least attempting to. However to do so, one needs inspiration, and what better inspiration that art?

Americans are busy people. Living in the world’s most "powerful" nation has brought about a false sense of what is important. To us, time is money, and money talks; in turn, fewer and fewer people are taking the time to smell the roses. This is not to say that Americans do not see the roses, but take them for granted and make the excuse that they will “smell them” later when they have the time.

Enter Walter Pater. He urges that we squeeze as many “pulsations” into this interval as possible. One may expend years of his life saving every spare dime so that when he retires he will have the means to relax and take time for the little things that matter. First, not every one reaches retirement age! Second, if that age is attained, at best one has fifteen to twenty-five good years left, if lucky, when he or she is healthy enough to seize the day. Yet even if the last twenty years are packed with family, friends, travel – whatever is important to the individual – it is too late. The ship has already sailed. There have been millions of opportunities to appreciate life’s little wonders that can never be recaptured.

An important aspect of Walter Pater’s argument is not only that we do things to expand this interval, but that we feel. Emotions are something that cannot be imposed, but rather inspired. One must present his or herself with opportunities for passion; these opportunities often come in the form of art. Music, poetry, sculpture, or visual art can have any variety of effects on someone.

One of the literary criticism theories that we learned this semester partially refutes the arguments I have presented: formalism. "Formalist criticism is not interested in the feeling of poets, the individual responses of readers, or representations of "reality"; instead, it attends to artistic structure and form" (Norton Anthology 17). T.S. Eliot in his essay Tradition and the Individual Talent claims that, “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality” (1097). Art without emotion; is that really possible? I must argue that there is emotion and personality in absolutely everything we do. What arouses an artist’s interest to create a work if not emotion or feeling? Though I believe that the artist’s feeling must at least exist to create a decent work, it is even more significant that the one viewing the art must engage emotion to benefit from having viewed it. And not only is their emotion significant, it is unavoidable. As I mentioned above, feelings are innate and natural, not voluntary.

There is an element to this theory that is credible, pertaining to art for art’s sake – that art must be appreciated in itself without polluting the aesthetic value with issues such as politics or personal agendas. Too many critics forsake the work of art itself because they are hunting for support for their personal beliefs. Nearly anything can be read and twisted into an “attack on feminism,” or a “push for communism.” It just takes a little imagination on the part of the critic. However this imagination would be much more meaningfully applied by evaluating the work for exactly what it is – art, nothing more and nothing less.

Contemporary Irish poet Seamus Heaney is perhaps the master of our time in creating art for art’s sake. His poetry is music, a most delightful experience that cannot help but arouse emotion or feeling within the reader. In his essay Redress of Poetry he argues that we must restore poetry to its original beauty. “Poetry cannot afford to lose its fundamentally self-delighting inventiveness, its joy in being a process of language as well as a representation of things in the world,” (283-84). Art, perhaps second only to nature, is our society’s most ample source of emotional inspiration. Degradations created by some critics must be put aside. “The good of literature and of music is first and foremost in the thing itself, and their first principle is that which William Wordsworth called in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads ‘the grand elementary principle of pleasure’, the kind of pleasure about which the language itself prompts us to say, ‘It did me good.’ (Heaney 74)

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