Saturday, November 10, 2012

Creating Order, or Working in Order?

Poets and other writers of literature fancy themselves the creators of order, imposing their own order on the chaos of language (a  belief which perhaps goes a long way toward explaining why so many writers support leaders who promise they can impose order on the chaos of society).

However, writers are wrong to think this. First, language is not chaos. The language they use evolved in a spontaneous order. That language follows the rules of grammar and syntax -- a deep grammar which is instinctual and, thus, genetically inherited; an evolving surface grammar and syntax which evolves more quickly in the linguistic order.

Further, the cultural context the writer is working in is also a spontaneous order. They were born into this evolving order, which they can affect through their actions, but cannot design. This cultural context affects the content of their works.

And of course, literary artists are all working within the literary order. They have to participate in the literary order first as readers, then as writers. They write in dialogue with the other writers of that order. Here, too, there is no utter chaos, but a complex, evolving order.

Does this mean there is no heroic literary genius? That Goethe is merely a social contruct? Or at best a marionette suspended between the strings of his genes/instincts and social order into which he was born? Hardly. Yes, our genes and instincts influence our actions. The actions of our neurons, through, create our minds, which in turn affect our neural activity. Yes, our various social orders influence our actions, and with our neurons, co-creates our minds. But this mind is, in this suspension, nevertheless free. It plays in the rules provided it, which it provides to itself from its genes and neural architecture and which it co-creates in its actions in the social environment, but the presence of rules hardly eliminates freedom or the emergence of individual differences. Good rules create more degrees of freedom. However, bad rules have the opposite effect.

What is a good rule? What is a bad rule? Consider the rules of sonnet writing. They are good rules because they can and do result in innumerable truly new poems, truly new expressions. But suppose that I created rules for poetry that stated that what specific word had to be used at the end of each line, what the topic necessarily had to be, what each noun had to be, what each verb had to be, etc. How many different kinds of poems could be written? Very few. Such would constitute bad rules.

The same applies to society. General rules generate freedom; specific rules are oppressive. The same is true in poetry as in society.

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