Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Archive for the ‘Quote of the Day’ Category

The whole and the good

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The task of maintaining oneself as a locus for the free resolution of conflicting responses will make a far greater demand upon one’s “moral” energy than any that has been made before. For the good person to realize that it is better to be whole than to be good is to enter on a straight and narrow path compared to which one’s previous rectitude was flowery license. To have no more responsibility for oneself is to become incessantly responsible; and from the place where that paradox has meaning it is easy to discern that what is called “moral responsibility” is only a somewhat crooked expedient for avoiding all real responsibility whatever.

John Middleton Murry, God: An Introduction to the Science of Metabiology

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March 26, 2017 at 7:30 am

The utility composer

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In literature, the man who has neither the vision, the imagination, the sense of beauty, or the wit that are popularly supposed to go to the production of a poem, novel, or play, can turn his literary skill, such as it is, to the production of advertisements, book reviews, and crime reports. He is a utility or workaday writer. In painting, the same type of man, able to use a pencil and brush with some skill without attempting to be a Cézanne or a Picasso, can profitably and pleasantly spend his time in such varied ways as the designing of book jackets, the faking of old masters, and the painting of presentation portraits. In the three-dimensional arts one can distinguish even more clearly between art and craft, and the carpenter who makes a chair can claim to be satisfying a universal demand which is not met by the sculptor. A chair is undoubtedly more comfortable to sit on than all save a few examples of the sculptor’s art. But in music there can be no such thing as a chair opposed to a painting, or the craftsman opposed to the pure artist.

The whole theory of utility music is based on the misconception that one can distinguish between the aesthetic and the useful in this particular medium. Apart from music for organized and non-aesthetic action such as military marches and foxtrots…music is only useful if it is good music, whether light or serious. Unless it provides one with some vital experience which no other art can convey it is not only useless but a nuisance. The objective craftsman that Hindemith sets up as an ideal is far more of a sentimental luxury than the despised aesthetic “tone poet.” His daily covering of music paper is a task as essentially fruitless as those strange tasks assigned to the innocent dupes in the stories of Sherlock Holmes, the man in “The Red-Headed League” who copied out the Encyclopedia Britannica or the stockbroker’s clerk who was set to making a list of the pottery firms in Paris…

With an altogether praiseworthy modesty Hindemith appears to imagine that by ceasing to write for his own satisfaction he is necessarily writing for the satisfaction of others. There is an old and trite saying “If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will,” and in music it may with equal truth be said that if a composer is not interested in his own music he can hardly expect others to be. Even the most nauseating of popular tunes, that would appear to be written solely with the desire to satisfy the public taste at its least critical and most mawkish, must mean something to the composer, and be primarily written for his satisfaction, if it is to “get the public.” Purely “occasional” music whether deliberately vulgar or deliberately refined always brings boredom and distrust in its wake. Unless the composer has some definite reason for putting pen to paper, he had far better play patience or do a little gardening.

Constant Lambert, Music Ho!

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March 25, 2017 at 7:01 am

Quote of the Day

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March 24, 2017 at 7:30 am

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Quote of the Day

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March 23, 2017 at 7:30 am

Quote of the Day

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If you had asked [Tennyson], at the end of the day, to describe the prosody of the poem to you, he would no doubt have had to think for a moment before he could answer you, not because he was ignorant of the terms, but because he had been writing a poem, not a metrical exercise. At every point, he was exerting his free will. And the outcome of that exertion was the form.

James Fenton, An Introduction to English Poetry

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March 22, 2017 at 7:30 am

Posted in Quote of the Day, Writing

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Quote of the Day

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Any attempt to define literary theory in terms of a distinctive method is doomed to failure…Just think of how many methods are involved in literary criticism. You can discuss the poet’s asthmatic childhood, or examine her peculiar use of syntax; you can detect the rustling of silk in the hissing of the s‘s, explore the phenomenology of reading, relate the literary work to the state of the class struggle, or find out how many copies it sold. These methods have nothing whatsoever of significance in common…However generously liberal-minded we aim to be, trying to combine structuralism, phenomenology, and psychoanalysis is more likely to lead to a nervous breakdown than to a brilliant literary career.

Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction

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March 21, 2017 at 7:30 am

Quote of the Day

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March 20, 2017 at 7:30 am

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