Monday, October 05, 2009

I've got soul, but I'm not a soldier

Well he's done it again, posted something that makes the tiny little gears in my tiny little brain start turning and churning so much that I just can't stop it until I leave a comment. Then the comment turns into a long post and I end up just typing it out and posting it here.

Internet Legend Xavier Onassis, Father of the Internal Bushing, posted his thoughts the other day about his inability to "get" poetry and abstract expressionism.
If you have something to say, if there is something you want me to know, just tell me what it is! Don't make me guess, don't leave it up to my interpretation, don't cloak it and hide it in obtuse phrases. JUST FUCKING TELL ME!
XO believes that poetry is an attempt to obscure a meaning. I'm afraid I can't agree with this characterization.

Now, I'm no poet. I'm certainly no expert on poetry. Hell, I'm barely literate! So take this all with a grain of salt as the opinion piece it is (we all know about opinions, right). But I have given some thought to this subject, and here's what I came up with...

Poetry (and really all art in general) is a form of expression that attempts to bypass the analytical left brain and communicate directly with the intuitive and subjective right brain. It is an attempt by one soul to express feelings and moods directly to another soul.

So in order to understand what's being expressed, you have to first believe you have a soul. I happen to believe that everyone does, but many people aren't aware of it or may even deny it. For some people, the soul is like an appendix, an unneeded vestigial organ. Or, more like an unused muscle that has been allowed to weaken and atrophy through neglect.

In my opinion, these are the people who have trouble "getting it."

Granted, there's a lot of bad poetry out there, and a lot of bad art in general. This is probably what leads to the conclusion that poetry is an attempt to obscure a message.

But good art created by a skilled artist is just the opposite. A true master of the form chooses words as carefully and deliberately as any novelist, probably more so. Certainly they are more diligent that you ordinary everyday blogger. They devote as much energy and effort into perfecting the meter and rhyme and other non-verbal aspects of the work.

When executed by a master, the affect is very powerful... more powerful sometimes that a well-written treatise on the Unified Field Theory.

In fact, some works are so powerful, so well executed that even someone as soulless as that heathen Xavier Onassis can "get it."
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Or this one...
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix...
Or maybe...
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
We all experience moods and feelings differently. It's just a function of our humanity. But when good poetry actually connects, the feeling or mood can be like a punch in the soul.

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  1. Now I see the disconnect!

    You believe in souls. I do not.

    I do not believe in the existence of souls, spirits, gods, demons, heaven, hell, ghosts, witches, professional sports in Kansas City, Compassionate Conservatism, unpaid heterosexual dates for @The_D_Rules or any of that other supernatural hocus pocus.

    If you had just stuck with poetry as an attempt by one person's right brain to communicate with another person's right brain, I might have agreed.

    But as soon as you introduce the concept of the soul, you drag in a bunch of supersticious mumbo jumbo that I can't accept.

    Show me a soul. Show me an MRI. Where does it live? How is it generated? How is it sustained? What are its charachteristics? How much does it weigh? What is it made of? Does it have an electro-magnetic signature? Does it have gravity?

    Save your poetry.

    Show me a peer-reviewed journal submission with independently verifiable experiments that verify the existence of what you call a soul.

    If it's real, if it exists, it is detectable, maesurable and verifiable.

    If it doesn't meet that standard of proof, it doesn't exist.

    We live in a rational, explainable universe.

    Deal with it.

  2. We've got a bit of a semantic disconnect here. When I say "soul" I'm referring to a lowercase soul.

    It's the sort of collective set of intangibles that make human beings different from the other plants and animals on this planet. It's what makes the human brain exceed the sum of its constituent bio-electric switches to become a mind.

    Humans question our own existence. We are the only animals that do so. Chimps and dolphins may be intelligent, but they don't draw stick figures on cave walls, let alone paint works like Guernica.

    As for your contention that we live in a rational universe, that may be. But humans are at least as irrational as they are rational.

  3. Yeah, see I get what Emaw is saying because I have feelings, a personality, and another side to my body/person that exists aside from my rational, verified, scientific blood, guts, and bones side.

    That is the side that responds to the poetry for me. (A lot less now than in high school, I give you that much.) It's definitely real. Dude, just read my blog. It oozes with personality and feelings!

    I think that's what Emaw meant by soul, anyway. That's what I'm taking from it.

  4. emawkc - I find your point easier to swallow (ewww) as you presented it in your comment than I did in your post.

    However, because I'm an obstinate ass, I still found areas where we disagree. Yay me!

    "It's the sort of collective set of intangibles that make human beings different from the other plants and animals on this planet. It's what makes the human brain exceed the sum of its constituent bio-electric switches to become a mind."

    I don't know that human beings are all that different from other plants and animals.

    I'm also not sure that our brains "exceed the sum of our constituent bio-electric switches".

    I would contend that every single idea, concept, work of art, novel, painting, scientific breakthough, emotion and sexual attraction are a result of those "bio-electric switches". We just haven't figured out how all of those billions of neurons interact to make it all happen. But we will.

    I am also confident that at some point, what we call the world wide web (or something like it) will eventually "wake up" and become self aware. All of those billions of switches, nodes and routers will begin to function like a human brain. When the global AI is born, will you say it has a "soul" because it is greater than the sum of it's parts?

    "Humans question our own existence. We are the only animals that do so. Chimps and dolphins may be intelligent, but they don't draw stick figures on cave walls, let alone paint works like Guernica."

    Again, I take issue. You are guilty of anthropomorphism. Just because other living creatures don't do things the way we do them doesn't mean they don't do them at all.

    Studies have shown that herds of whales have their own "family songs" which they pass down to their offspring who embellish them with their own touches. Is this not self awareness, culture, language and creativity?

    Ant colonies have an incredibly complex chemical language. Different species of ants have different cultures, pursue different goals and organize their societies in different ways.

    Bees communicate through flight patterns to direct other hive members to pollen.

    Gorillas and Chimpanzees fashion primitive tools from items found in their environment, altering their natural form to serve a different purpose.

    Dolphins have not only been shown to communicate, but they have demonstrated altruistic behavior, putting themselves in danger by protecting human divers from attacking sharks or bringing unconcious human divers to the surface.

    You can buy abstract paintings created by elephants and gorillas. I defy you to tell me how they are any better or worse than anything Jackson Pollack ever created.

    To sum up, humans aren't all that special or unique.

    As far as the "...humans are at least as irrational as they are rational" goes, you got me there. I had to deal with the MO Department of Revenue today to renew my Driver's License. So I got nuthin'.

  5. XO, I may be guilty of a mild form of anthropocentrism, but your comments indicate you are practicing anthropomorphism.

    Just because other living creatures exhibit behavior that is somewhat similar to human behavior, doesn’t mean they have self awareness and the ability to question their own existence.

    The song of a group of whales may change over the course of a few years, however this is not necessarily and indication of culture, language or creativity. My 3-second google search failed to return the study you referred to, but I think it's at least possible that the whale songs could be a result of whales learning to produce sounds not included in their genetic repertoire, by mimicking what they hear in their acoustic environment. But then again, I'm no expert on cetaceans.

    Dolphins may defend people. But so do dogs. I'm not saying there's no intelligence in the animal kingdom, just that this doesn't constitute a "soul" as I described in my previous comments.

    As for paintings made by elephants and gorillas, well you're really asking a bigger question of "what is art," which I'm probably not qualified to answer. I will say that in my opinion true art requires an awareness of aesthetic sense and a degree of artistic motivation. In other words, would the gorillas and elephant in question make these paintings if their human overlords weren't present sticking brushes in their paws and shoving canvasses at their faces?

    There's no argument that some animals, especially insects, live in social colonies that require rudimentary communication. Nearly all animals communicate in some way. Nearly all animals have some form of intelligence to participate in the communication.

    This is a far cry from composing an opera questioning the meaning of life.

  6. For lowercase 'soul', see Rubber Soul;

    For uppercase 'soul', see ancestral or genetic memory;

    For 'poetry', see absinthe, thc, opium, far too fucking much vodka, teen aged hormones, or -surprisingly - an abundance of fresh air over long periods of time. Go figure.


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