On the Irrationality of Art

This piece on the Irrationality of Art was left as a comment on my post Why Did I Get a Master’s Degree in English? When I read it, I decided it was much too insightful and beautifully written to be buried in a comment thread, so I contacted its author, Mario Savioni, and suggested that we publish it as a guest post. Thankfully, he agreed. See if Mario’s poetic prose touches you as it did me.

As a kid in middle school, I used to listen to T. S. Eliot on a phonograph in a public library. On a bench as a very young child, I told my uncle, I wanted to be a writer. My mother said, I would spend long hours with books entertaining myself. My aunt said that I had the vocabulary of a doctor. My father was a doctor. I don’t know how many of you are like me–someone with professional parents and a disposition for beauty insulated from the real world. My father used to cut dolls as a youngster. He kept cats in the refrigerator. There were early signs, at least for him, that illustrated practical ambitions.

Irrational Art

I think in the beginning we all relished the sacrifices poets made: starving, losing lovers, losing children. We loved the small hovels poets lived in, traveled by trains, hobnobbed with the literati because of their families. After my father died, I knew such dreams were no longer a reality. He left us with enough money for me to finish a BA in Speech. I thought I wanted to be an attorney, but I hated what I saw of law: Stacks of files before friends, who are so much more articulate and debonair. When I got a certificate in Paralegal Studies, I got an “A” in everything, except that when I finished my coursework all I wanted to do was read novels or philosophy books, which I did and do even four years later.

At the university studying Speech, I took Latin American literature courses instead of a second year of Spanish and Professor Edgar C. Knowlton, the genius who he was, told me not to get an MA in Literature, but rather to write if that is what I wanted to do. I think what I relished as I did taking all the artistic photo classes at the University was the little group of labbies that formed and who spent nights and days in the photo lab having parties and printing and processing together.

Writers are less social. So, we met at writing groups and marveled at how good the writing was, and then went off to try to write what we read in The New Yorker or literary journals because they changed our lives, made us feel.

If I look at the early lives of writers such as Eliot, I see a similarity except none of the famous names like Harvard or Oxford, “Publisher, playwright, literary and social critic and ‘arguably the most important English-language poet of the twentieth century.'”

No, I don’t see any of that working for me and my ambitions.

I think as it is with art and artists, writers and writing, is that like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, only a few people can get to the top, where all their needs are met and the only thing left is self-actualization.

The cost is tremendous if we are not connected and financed. Even Virginia Woolf described A Room of One’s Own.

I’ve been working in a restaurant since I was 16, taken many a job, only to find that as a waiter, I was able to make enough money to buy a small condo and live out my life. I tried marriage; girlfriends come and go more often than not, and my financial advisor, a bus person with a million dollar house and many children said to me that my last phase should be to sell the current residence in two years and then buy a duplex. When I am 65, that second unit will finance my freedom coupled with social security, if we can keep social security away from the Republicans. Meanwhile, I grow tired, mentally and physically.

Let’s face it, English/American literature is for us the cherry on top of a life that has been insulated by the lives of those who worked in the 50’s. The cost of living will rise and so will the quality of work become more menial. We’ve passed through a phase of insulated preeminence and even then writers starved and artists lived alone. We are the only ones who buy Literary Journals and novels written by the tried and true. Is there any room for the breadth of us?

There is a certain biological aversion to the self-indulgent person, who hides behind the third person. Even you and I are a bit sensitive to the stuff that is being played. Imagine the scrutiny of the masses? Few of them have any sense of self and thus are followers. But, what can we tell them that hasn’t already been heard? I have this ominous sense that our lives travel in cycles. Where our country is on top of the world today, tomorrow, like the Chinese, we will be working in manufacturing plants, sleeping on cots and not knowing our neighbors. Kurt Vonnegut said it best in Player Piano that the world would be broken up into neighborhoods: “The wealthy upper class — the engineers and managers who keep society running—and the lower class, whose skills and purpose in society have been replaced by machines.”

It makes no sense to follow a line of thought that will only cost you in the end. Social Security will have been marketed. We’ll all be working for the rest of our lives succumbing to injuries we cannot reveal for fear of losing our jobs. Teaching literature in schools gutted by all the “inessentials” means that nothing will be left.

I have a friend from Columbia (the country) and he says that prosecutors and doctors are making less than anyone else. The world there is upside down. It all began with corruption. Poverty begets a lack of freedom and a lack of freedom makes for desperation. At least, in such a country great writers like Gabriel García Márquez make some of the best stories. We forget that as writers, just as photographers, the most decadent reality makes for the most interesting views. Gabriel García Márquez said, “Life has no limits.”

I suggest that as you choose your paths, you will not be able to escape your destinies. As a waiter, I know the hardships of reality. I know that my last days will be very painful. For I have chosen my “bliss” as Campbell said. But, he also said, as I have learned lately that, “During his later years, when some students took him to be encouraging hedonism, Campbell is reported to have grumbled, “I should have said, ‘Follow your blisters.'”