Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Art Is as Irrational as Football

Like Rational Caramel!

The more I read about human systems, the more I see versions of the dichotomy between the intuitive and the rational, or novelty and categorization (right brain and left brain), etc.—where we flit between the motivations to act and to plan—and this works as well for understanding artists and the reception of art as it does the contemporary economic situation. Which is, we keep supposing that left-brain, rational, categorization, and planning are to be found when we approach things. And we act as if that’s true long past the point where it seems obvious it is not.

There was a false-rationality present in the beliefs of how the economic system was working and would continue to work. The failure of that model is a bad thing. But (transition!) in the model that I know more about, the way we talk about poetry, the false-rational model has been destructive in very different ways.

We want the economic system to be rational. Rational is good in the public shpere. But in art, what’s the benefit of a rational model?

I’m still thinking about “accessibility” here. And I think this is just another way at the problem.

Many people see art, in my estimation, through the false-rationality handed down from mid-20th Century approaches to “studying” poetry, so that now large numbers of people expect to “get” something rational from poetry, as if a poem were communication in the way an essay on a subject is thought to be communication.

I’ve no problem with art communicating. But when we go to art with that expectation first, it privileges a narrow definition of what a poem can do. It’s a very American notion, I believe, and I think it is why people in this country, by and large, flock (if anyone can be said to flock) to a certain kind of poem, one that looks more rational, and planned. In short, more left-brain-ish. Other countries don’t approach things in this way. Americans traditionally haven’t put forward “intuition” as a national definition. Perhaps it felt feminine or something? Insufficiently manly? Who knows.

It’s my contention that poetry (and the other arts) is only rational in the way that football (or any other game or sport) is rational. One of the large hypocrisies in contemporary culture is the complete lack of realization that sport is highly irrational. Perhaps because sports make a lot of money? Or because they have a rule book and judges? Anyway, sports are not rational endeavors, as the arts are not rational endeavors.

I think this is an important distinction, because I think the biggest problem we face in the arts is this cultural delusion that there is a rationality to them. Accepting this and talking about this (rationally!) would be a good way of anchoring the arts: how to begin thinking about them differently, in the hope that thought carries over into actions. Namely, accepting the arts as an experience of the irrational carried over into language full of the alternate world-creating possibilities of language and reflection. In short: play. But meaningful play. Play with consequences. Even if those consequences are as hard to define as those of football.

Or something like that.


At 7/05/2009 9:08 AM, Blogger brian (baj) salchert said...

Good points, John.

The ostensible rules constitute the formal aspects, but when a sonnet or a pass to a tight end gets underway, intuition in the author or in the football players generates contents unknowable until they occur.

At 7/05/2009 10:32 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

"Contents unknowable until they occur" is just such a perfect way of saying it. I really, really wish I would have (could have) thought of it first.

It explains sonnets and football games (and predictions of all sorts) very well.

At 7/10/2009 6:10 AM, Blogger Justin said...

Thrill in sports is simple and vicarious. Thrill in art is complex and idiosyncratic. Instant gratification tends to lean towards the sporting life. But, hey, you can't pull a hamstring reading Flaubert. Well, then again...

At 7/10/2009 6:33 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Well, on the other hand, there's an aspect to flarf that feels quite vicarious to me. And it also makes me want to eat a hot dog. And maybe wear a beer hat. Something with a big Number 1 on it.


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