Check out the first episode of Monarch Writers’ author Cypress Butane’s new literary theory video blog – revolving around the discussion of the Monarch Writers this month ‘MIMESIS’. Follow his new site for more videos and blog updates at http://www.thehauntedtypewriter.com/ and Follow Cypress Butane on Facebook
In June 2019, The Monarch Writers are discussing MIMESIS, or Re-Presentation of reality in Literature and Art. Using a perusal of Erich Auerbach’s classic book by that name as a jumping off point, we look at how MIMESIS as a largely mysterious thing, not only because it is such a broad topic- thinking of it encompassing all of artistic endeavor – the Re-Presentation of Reality in some way in Art.. but also because it flows through every key we tap to type a line, and so it flows through us.
The human mind is said to be not just a receiver of stimulus and reactor, but a co-creator of what we perceive, based on past experience and all they have in their consciousness…
And so let’s keep that in mind and move forward with it as we talk about what we take in, what we choose out, and what we put back into our writing. The novel ‘The Moviegoer’ by Walker Percy is a favorite of mine, about a character who spends his time going to the movies most nights in solitude, while having either an existential crisis, or a strange awakening, where he tries to raise his awareness, and note the light coming in through a window at a certain angle, the shadows that it casts and cascades as it moves through its path in the day, and how every place and experience has its own set of feelings and shades, colors and senses that wake when we travel with it.
Good article here summarizing the book we’re using as a jumping off point for our Discussion Theme in the group in June: MIMESIS – (And the book by that title by Erich Auerbach): Here’s an excerpt of the full article linked below!
“The subtitle of the book is The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, which gives you some idea of its scope and ambition. “Real,” of course, is an almost meaningless word in its standard broad use, but Auerbach has a something specific in mind; not the metaphysically real (as opposed to the fantastic) but the socially real—that is, the lives of more or less ordinary people engaged in more or less ordinary activities: the literary equivalent of genre painting.
To be honest, the overarching theme of the book may be its least interesting aspect. Realism of this sort is mostly a phantom concern, from a 21st century perspective anyway; daily life has been a part of our literature for so long that it seems quaint and forced to make a point of it. So, the grand structure of Mimesis is relatively uninspiring; but the readings, chapter by chapter, are magnificent. Time and again, Auerbach demonstrates how literature lives by its details. For example, the first chapter (which is also the mostly widely known and read) compares a fragment of The Odyssey with the tale of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac. Auerbach’s ultimate goal is an understanding of the contrast between the two cultures’ worldview, and he gets there by dissecting the passages down to their tendons and gristle, the connective tissue from which the body of metaphysics is assembled—the Bible’s use of the word “then,” for example, or Homer’s careful attention to the placement of his characters in space and time.
The book is full of such moments of understanding, such recognitions of what goes into a book, and what can be gotten out of it. A chapter on Dante focuses in part on a single phrase from Inferno, “Da me stesso non vegno”—”Of myself (i.e., of my own free will) I came not”—which Auerbach uses as an emblem of Dante’s reinvention of poetic diction. He goes through a short passage from Montaigne’s Essays almost word by word, showing how Montaigne achieved his air of intimate argument by piling up assertive clauses while leaving out the expected logical connectives (“but,” “therefore,” “because,” and so on), much as one does in a conversation.
What emerges from all this is the idea that prose should be as dense as verse and as welcoming of close reading; that not a paragraph of real writing escapes the context of history; and above all, that style is philosophy, that a decision to use commas where others might use a semicolon, or to elide the word “afterwards,” or to shift narrative perspective twice in a single paragraph, is as momentous as the decision to believe in the infinite, or to act in accord with the Categorical Imperative, or to endorse an inalienable right to privacy. They’re all part of the same will to represent the world: Kings may stand or fall on the point of a period.”– Jim Lewis, ‘Want to Be A Writer? Read Mimesis‘
I recently started a homepage for my own writing, (Cypress Butane speaking) at https://thehauntedtypewriter.com/ and will be hosting my literary theory videos there. So check that out the find out more and to watch some of the videos.
I chose the name ‘The Haunted Typewriter’ to encapsulate a number of meanings. First to say that as writers, when we sit down in front of our keyboard, there is a spirit at our shoulders, that of the whole history of literature and art that has come before. Whether it is there to spook us, intimidating us out of daring to attempt what we might attempt, or whether it might aid us as a steadying hand of fellowship, it also courses through us. There is no way to separate ourselves from it. And also, I think as a cyberpunk author, there is a hint of the ghost in the machine metaphor. That of the hardware and software mixture, where consciousness comes from a complexity and emergence. And the ghost is perhaps a poltergeist who shocks our fingers into action and energy. And finally, there is the curse of the mechanization of the human spirit, the player piano syndrome. Whereby machines may learn to do the things human beings hold as foundational to the meaning of their lives. IF artificial intelligence can write stories just as well, or better than any of us can… Well, do a predictive text with as the beginning of the sentence, and you let me know how it turns out. I’ll be here trying to make my life artful and mean something positive, to me.
This blog will explore issues of literary theory and writing, the mind of the writer, techne and spirit, and cyberpunk philosophy and art.
Here is the transcript of the video above:
THE HAUNTED TYPEWRITER: SOME THEORY, by CYPRESS BUTANE – MIMESIS
(This is the script to the video I have posted. Check the FB page to view)
MIMESIS IS an old literary literary and philosophical term meaning IMITATION. IT IS A POWERFUL MAGIC, akin to painting animals on a cave wall, before one goes to hunt. Its very success in controlling reality, led Plato to suggest banishment for the poets, from his ‘Republic’, putting poets on the defensive ever since. Whether it is a divine intoxication, a madness and possession, a will, or simple distortion of things that are, artists are liars, or demigods. Putting to page their own vision, an interpretation, rather than a true picture of truth.
In the haunted house story of ideology and artistic endeavor, those who seek to overthrow reality, to chase down the mystery of the locked room at the end of the hall, either end up destroying art, or committing what Milan Kundera in The book of laughter and Forgetting called ‘the lost deed’. Pinning a dead ideal on the changeless world, of verity. Telling a truth that in its telling, becomes a lie.
When I turn to look for a theologian of Mimesis,
I first fall in the direction of Jorge Luis Borges.
“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” He said “I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books.”
And two perhaps complementary and paradoxical quotes. “Don’t talk unless you can improve the silence.” and “To fall in love is to create a religion that has a fallible god.”
Borges characters are often written without details of birth or origin, but only of character and the thoughts of which they are capable. He creates bizarrely metaphysical plots and strangely reflexive narrative
We’ll look briefly now at two particular stories, that frame the opening shot of the Mimetic war, and, perhaps, its ultimate destiny.
‘The Garden of Forking Paths’ and ‘The Aleph’. (SPOILERS AHEAD)
In ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’ – It is the story of a spy, who is in a dangerous situation, behind enemy lines. He must make escape to a friend of an ancestor, an ancestor who fled public life, to, he said, construct a labyrinth. That labyrinth, in fact, turns out to be the mysterious novel he left behind. And in that labyrinthine work, a single word conspicuously absent, that word being ‘TIME’. Discussions of the friend, the ancestor, of the branching ways we have come to this place, the different people we might have been to make this connection, In the end, the spy, who has fled the enemy camp to try to get word to his network, of the name of a city where the enemy has operations, is about to be captured. And yet manages to KILL a man. A man, whose name is that of the city he needs to telegraph to his network. Suggesting, that when we move forward from the timeless labyrinth, to make a thought into a concretized, action, we also negate all other forking paths. We pin it down, like the taxidermist’s butterfly.
To Name Something… Is to Destroy it.
And then, ‘The Aleph’ a story about the project of completely mapping the territory, as Baudrillard would have it. Of describing every bit of reality so that the description might be stepped into, and the original, discarded. What some say Joyce achieves with Dublin in his novel ‘Ulysses’.
The Aleph is a story about a man, named Borges incidentally, who has just lost his beloved. He continues to visit with her family at her home and eventually is taken into the confidence of her cousin. Her cousin is writing a poem, attempting to write down EVERY PLACE and thing on earth. An exhaustive catalogue of reality.
As it turns out, the reason for this project, is not that the poet is simply inept and artless as the narrator suspected after being read some inept and artless bits of the whole. What is going on is, its author has peered into an ALEPH. The ALEPH, a kind of cosmic viewmaster that shows the peerant everything, absolutely everything that is, is lurking in the basement of the home, and when he is set to be forced to move house, the cousin reveals its existence to Borges.
An aleph, “The only place on earth where all places are — seen from every angle, each standing clear, without any confusion or blending.”
When the character Borges peers into this strange machine, he vows never to speak of it again, but only advises that the poet get more fresh air, and remains thankful when, days and days later, he is able to find sleep again.
Significant that this story takes place on the heels of the loss of life, and ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’ takes place in the moment of a life’s decision.
And what lies in between for the artist?
Between totalitarianism, and absolute freedom.
A struggle for light.
The allegory of the cave, another hidden pocket of Plato’s Republic.
The aleph, a hand pointing to heaven, and a hand pointing simultaneously to earth.
Raphael’s painting of The School of Athens, where Plato points up, to the realm of the ‘Ideal Forms’, and Aristotle gestures, remonstrating, back down to earth, to the immanent being and universality in the world all around us.
And this is why we are artists.
And why Plato, who wrote poems of philosophy,
Was but a hypocrite.
This is why we are all drunk on coffee.
This is why we are the insomniac breed.
“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
“Come, my friends, T’is not too late to seek a newer world.”
When speaking with his mother about art in the largely autobiographical ‘Stephen Hero’ James Joyce jibes gleefully at his pragmatic mother, who wants to read his favorite author Ibsen to get a vision of some different life, to sample an ideal of a great artist for how one should live this experiment… or to better know her son, and, as Joyce suggests, check up on whether he is reading ‘dangerous books.’
–But that is wrong: that is the great mistake everyone makes. Art is not an escape from life!
–You evidently weren’t listening to what I said or else you didn’t understand what I said. Art is not an escape from life. It’s just the opposite. Art, on the contrary, is the very central expression of life. An artist is not a fellow who dangles a mechanical heaven before the public. The priest does that. The artist affirms out of the fulness of his own life, he creates … Do you understand?”
Do you understand?
Do you understand?
Do you understand?