Thursday, December 27, 2012

Of Art and Literature

Of Art and Literature

What is literature?

Literature is commonly defined as “the art of written work” and literally means “things made from letters”.  A very general and meaningless definition in which Art does not come into play. Can we consider a flyer or an electricity bill to be Literature? Still, we can consider literature as a global and very ancient phenomenon. Mostly found in its historic form than enhanced battles and virtuous fighters, it gradually became divided into literary genres, claiming a lineage to dead authors, times and places.
If I tried to analyze what literature is, purely and simply, I would say that it all sums up to “telling stories”. Of course those who enjoy it will have different definitions, and would be glad to hear and discuss about it. I like to divide literature into two distinct parts, with their corresponding goal and methods. On the one hand enhancements of historical fights will promote extra ordinary values and leave traces from the past (ancient literature).
On the other hand entirely made up stories that are drawn from pure imagination and brings creativity to its paroxysm: “modern” literature.
The latest seems put all the efforts in the world to create a world that is not, with characters that do not exist simply to point out the similarities that may have existed with reality.

Poetry and Literature: from Art to business

In my point of view, literature and poetry are diametrically opposed in many aspects: Poetry comes from a highly meditative feeling, where the author tries to translate the spiritual into something “of this world”, something that the mind can understand such as words. While the reader is trying to recreate the way the goes from words to feelings, the writer is doing the exact opposite of this process, and I believe it takes a highly sensitive spirit as well as a purely altruistic feeling to be a poet. In this definition, 2pac was a poet. He had understood many things and had felt it from within, and was trying to translate it for those who did not have the education to understand. His approach was the one of “an activist poet”.
Another problem, as it is often the case, is that poetry is turned into ridicule in popular culture. When we think about poetry, many people think of it as a stupid and immature expression of love. I say that poetry is not the expression of the shy. It is the expression of the sensitive. A highly-misunderstood sense of the divine wrongly reduced to the platonic expression of a teenage love.

Gradually, with the book business, many people began to try to look intelligent reading the last success. Modern literature took the sensitive aspect of poetry without delivering its soul. Using beautiful words to depict the lives of useless imaginary characters, to which we are supposed to identify. I would say that modern literature has become the false expression of intelligence and poetry, aimed at those who are not able to experience the here and now. Using art in a mercantile way always results in the loss of its soul. This principle also applies to martial arts.

Literature and the meditative state

I have to agree that I find very little pleasure in reading modern literary texts because I feel as if it took me from my connection with the now rather than enhances it. To me, reading about imaginary things I have never experienced seems to be a waste of time. I’d rather spending time learning about the world that surrounds me, searching for new standpoints and ways to experience it. Also,my low ability to focus on a story has always kept me from entering into the world of literature and to some teacher, felt like a lack of sensitivity. Unmoved by art? Why would I practice martial arts, play several instruments and write then?

Literature and intellectuals

I do not deny that literature belongs to the “mind” sphere. And to a certain extent, it might show a certain level of refinement or analysis. To become an English (second language) teacher, people must be able to draw the meaning from a text, both what was visible and invisible. Reading literature trains your mind to understand what is not said. It may also train you to anticipate, such as in Agatha Christie’s extremely popular novels. What I highly regret though, is that people who want to use literature see themselves as very cultivated and superior to others. I have to say here, that this point is more common in Europe, and I terribly regret that people who pretend to know more about music, cinema or literature are actually the ones that I would qualify as blind. Those “critics” to me they are blind because they are not capable of feeling the spirit of something. All they can do is to accumulate knowledge, compare and criticize. But they cannot feel. They cannot create. They are not artists. Yet you can see these very “cultivated” people on every channel in Europe. They are here to criticize, be as harsh as possible towards an artist who may or may not be sincere. If a book is to be read, then it has to be while putting the ego aside and with a true desire to learn. The more critics seem to know about literature, the less they seem to actually like it.

Literature as a way to freedom

The only kind of Literature that I feel, is respectable, would be the one of criticism. Authors such as Zola or Rousseau were to me, hidden revolutionaries. They used their talent in creation to put pressure on their governments, with an ideal of justice and values. Yet it seems like the writings of the real revolutionaries (those who did not have any political supports) were suppressed and will never be known. “Story is written by the winners”. Another kind of literature appears as highly valuable, such as the work of those who have lived for their struggle and wish to pass it to the next generations. In this sense, Frederick Douglas is probably the best example. A self-taught black man, he became a prolific writer and a political activist after gaining his freedom from slavery. Autobiographies and apprenticeship novels can be a valuable source of knowledge in the building of the self, just as the books which value the here and now.

Todai ling


  1. I agree with your perspective that literature is the telling of stories, because this approach suggests that it is a phenomenon shared by all human societies, not just those who have a written tradition. I see the latter as something that arises in the context of empire, when you won't necessarily meet either your colleagues or public face-to-face (given the expansive distances between various parties), and so writing becomes a tool for carrying out many sorts of communications that would otherwise be conducted face-to-face... not unlike FMK online

    Being 'literate' then becomes a matter of how one is enculturated (or learned) to understand various means of conveying stories. In this manner, just because a person cannot read English or French writing, doesn't mean they are absolutely illiterate. Example... a representative of Advanced Education flies in to a very northerly community in Canada to give a talk about literacy. She arrives a day early, and wants to see a local monument to bush pilots, because her grandfather was one. So she takes her map and sets out on foot to find it. As she encounters locals, she asks them to show her the location of the monument on her map. Invariably, they ignore the map, point her in the right direction, and give her verbal instructions, "Go up the street here to a yellow house, turn north there, and follow the trail up that hill." She eventually finds the monument, but is concerned. The next day, when she goes to give her talk, she recounts this story and says, "Nobody could show me where the monument was on my map. Your community has a serious literacy problem"

    When I'm outside in nature, and truly engaged, I know the stories unfolding among many of the plants and animals. I follow these stories with each repeat visit, and learn from them. I would consider this too a form of literacy. And if I bring a university professor out there, even perhaps a biology professor, odds are they will be proven illiterate in reading the stories that I am able to perceive. Literacy, in this sense, may transcend language altogether. It may be very, very ancient. Perhaps it is even pre-human, something we have inherited. I'm quite sure many of the animals, the more intelligent birds for instance, follow one another's stories out there too

    1. Dear Ryan, thank you for your insights and personal experience related to this problem.

      1) I realize that the division that can be made between oral tradition and written literature is also an important subject, especially in the martial arts. Some people consider that art can only be learnt face to face, while others keep all their researches and techniques written in order to pass it someday.
      What I believe though, is that we should use the tools we have depending on the audience facing us: some people will feel more comfortable a less direct transmission of the information, since it gives them time to reflect on it, whereas others may prefer oral, pragmatic instructions.
      2) I can feel poetry in your post, in the way you express about feelings with nature. It is a kind of sensitivity very few people can have. Every time we interact with the world, and that is all the time, we kind of write in the book of those infinite number of beings. Your expression of this principle is important too.
      Once again, thank you for taking the time to write ;)

  2. I think one Chinese sage said :words are there to give us meaning. Once we get the meaning we should forget about the words. Is there any person that had forgotten words so I can have a word with him?
    Funny thought... Great post

    1. Dear Alex, thank you for your reply.
      I am very keen on these kind of sayings, that ends with a note of humor. I believe humor can reach to everyone and is the sign of a brilliant mind.
      In this sense, I really love when Osho starts saying "let me tell you a story..." because it talks to the child in me and at the same time connects with the spirit.

  3. Litterature, modern literature, ancient litterature... It's the same with music, there is many musical labels, when the music is only here to be feel and enjoyed. The classification of art used to, in a way, piss me off. In it's essence, all arts are supposed to be free from labels, titles or else. And then as i accumulated all sorts of songs in my computer, i started to create music files, here and there. And then it made me think, i'm not different than any music stores in America, i'm putting my music in folders and stores put them in styles sections so you can easily find your favorite artist. So as for the literature and art, it doesn't piss me off like it used to, they just label things so we can find them easily, well there might be other reasons but now i like the store the way it is. As long as i can still feel art in it's truest expression, can it be music or books or movies or whatever, i'm ok.

    1. I think I get your point Steve. But still, don't you find that true Art is underground, and therefore very difficult to find. You were talking about music so, for example, how much time can it take to find a true genuine uncorrutped artist for example? Someone who has ideas to express and that you can relate to. I've been a hip hop fan for a long time, and I sometimes enjoy commercial stuff. But really, it took me maybe 10 years to listen and understand a decent artist like Jin or Lupe Fiasco. Also, Shi Zu made me realize a lot with "the music industry exposed" videos. As far as files are concerned, I now have a "lyrical hip hop" file. But I can tell you it doesn't take much space compared to the rest.
      Quality and therefore genuine Art remains difficult to find. At the same time that's what makes it enjoyable.
      Todai Ling

    2. I agree with you, true, honest music is hard to find. It's easy to find rap artists with nice beats and good flow but the lyrical content actually sucks. Sometimes i listen to Drum n'Bass or just anything that's instrumental to clear my mind of all that bs that comes out of artists mouths. But just like you said, quality and genuine Art is hard to find, but it makes it enjoyable at the same time. When people roll down the street listenning to that same music they be playing at the radio for months and years, it really makes your underground artist more unique.

  4. Todai Ling! I loved the post, thank you very much for sharing!

  5. That is one of the best post ever Todai Ling! By the way, I love Rousseau. He is as real as he can get. I like what you say the critics in literature. These people have too much ego to understand the soul of the author: that is why they are not artists. An artist is whole. A critic is partial; that is why the artist deserve more respect. Looking forward to see another post from you again.

  6. First of all i agree with you fully and comprehend it in many so
    I add to it my things made from letters!

    The Written Word 'TRASH' can be Artistically Calligraphied by the post popular and famous artist and auctioned for the highest priced artwork because it represents “things made from letters” and the unseen realm of the MindScape: the Highest Crowning Achievement on a unique biological creature, and the encapsulated meaning-full and unmeaning-full significances of Art form in a from where it arises to begin with: the emerging imagination, without which no art would be possible because it lays innate [like a seed in soil awaiting rain]in those things arises from it....waiting to be released, emerge and spread its tendrils to repeat the Art Process...
    I repeat I agree fully with your written thoughts.


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