On Taste

paradox

In logic, antinomy is the term used to describe a “real or mutual incompatibility of two terms”.[1] It could be regarded as a synonym of paradox. The statement “there is no absolute truth,” is antinomic because the statement declares a truth that it also claims to be impossible. Likewise, the concept of Fake news is an antinomic entity, if we consider news to be reports of what has actually happened, and, therefore, inherently true.

Antinomy is not only resolved when its conflicting propositions are found to be not in in fact contradictory, it is also seen to be one of the more profound insights into the apparently contradictory structures of truth. These conflicting propositions are capable of existing together, although in a way that, as Kant says: “transcends our faculties of cognition”.[2] Likewise, we have discovered how often conflict can be resolved by finding the middle way between them, and this middle way also possesses a certain transcendental quality that, when applied to the conflict, can take hold of these two antagonistic forces and, through its own possession of qualities in both of them, resolve their otherwise internecine obliteration of each other.[3]

Between the objective opinion and the objective judgement comes cultural taste, which is an opinion formed from a combination of objective study and personal feelings towards things. As such, we have taste standing between opinion and judgement, transcending the negative qualities of both.

For Kant, the judgement of taste has its determining ground: “in the concept of what may be regarded as the supersensible substance of humanity.”[4] In Jungian terms, we could say that taste is powered by archetypes which, if they are nurtured, will pull the subjective into the realm of the human, allowing for humane judgements that equally transcend the cold calculations of purely objective meaning.

As Kant said: “it is the supersensible, through taste, that brings reason into harmony with itself.”[5]

And yet, in terms of the human and universal, there is hardly anything more untrustworthy than taste. But: how can a thing that is so untrustworthy be the harmonising agent of reason? And, what are the consequences of this untrustworthiness of taste?

TASTE AND IDEOLOGY

To answer these questions, we need to examine how ideology uses taste to perpetuate itself. Here, perhaps, a viral analogy can be used: The viruses of ideologies insert themselves into the cells of taste in order to propagate themselves throughout the System. And as ideology is a divisor and anti-human force, the harmonising and humanising potential of taste is constantly mitigated.

Yet, it remains our only hope – and for this reason taste must be cared for and cultured towards the human, away from the ideological. It is ideological taste which perpetuates the social and environmental antagonisms we are faced with today. Refinement of tastes is, therefore, a humanising process concerned with universals and archetypes; with what connects us to each other and to the world, rather than what separates us.

TASTE

Taste is a mixture of both the aesthetic and the rational. The aesthetic is intuitive by nature, the rational is analytic, and taste is intuitive and analytic at the same time. It is in this combination of intuition and analysis that makes taste so important. But in order to be effective as humanising agent, it needs to be carefully refined. Perhaps there can be no more important labour for humanity than this refinement of our personal tastes.[6]

REFINED (UNIVERSAL) TASTE

A universal taste, for example, is one that still believes in good and beauty, but good and beauty themselves are universal and ideal concepts. For this reason, and in order to anchor the ideal in a coherent world-view, it is necessary to see the Universe as a purposive thing. It is only through this anti-nihilistic world-view that human progress is possible. Within our economy-obsessed System, progress is taken away from the domain of the human and invested completely in the realm of the economy under the guise of growth. But growth is not progress, because growth in the economy is always quantitative and never qualitative, whilst human progress must always be seen as an improvement in the quality of life for all human beings.

Aesthetic and moral concepts are purposive things. Things we are striving to make; discover; be: and all of them carry a sense of improvement in them.

The purposiveness of taste is both realist and idealist: the real is a process we are necessarily moving through before the ideal can ever be realised or attained, or, perhaps, even discovered. Accident is part of the real, but it is the real that makes the accidental possible.

In order for taste to become something of worth again, we need to anchor it to the ideals of universal purposiveness in order for real to move at last in a purposeful direction.

[1] Antinomy, Encyclopædia Britannica Online

[2] Immanuel Kant, CRITIQUE OF JUDGEMENT, p. 168

[3] See https://pauladkin.wordpress.com/2012/08/24/the-middle-way/

[4] Kant, CRITIQUE OF JUDGEMENT, p. 168

[5] Ibid. p. 169

[6] We are not advocating snobbism here, but a humanising process. Snobberies divide and are anti-human because of that. Refining our tastes towards appreciating what we all have is common and the archetypal forces that direct our collective subconscious has nothing to do with snobbery at all. What we are talking about lies closer to religion, but religion without ideology – and religion is now infested with ideology.

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On the Beauty of Humanity

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Kant says that there are two kinds of beauty: that which is free and that which is dependent.[1] Human imagination can develop beauty, seemingly freely through imagination, but the essence of human beauty itself is always coming from a condition of dependency, for it depends on the Universe that it depends on for its existence and in which it is contained.

In fact, human beauty resides in two absurd drives: a) the desire to be free in a Universe that it is ultimately completely dependent on; and b) the desire to find permanence in that same Universe which is destined to die.

To indagate in our beauty then, we cannot escape our absurdity. And yet, all great art is based on these two paradoxical longings: how can that be? How can something be great and absurd at the same time?

The answer to this dilemma lies in the same paradox, the paradox of freedom and its impossible relationship with its dependence on reality.

The key to the human soul is embedded in our impossible dreams: we know that we cannot be truly free or permanent, but that does not stop us from trying or stop us from believing in such things. And it is this ability, this sapiens skill of pursuing the impossible, that pushes us beyond all paradoxes. The fact that we can understand the impossible and yet at the same time believe in the idea that the impossible will become possible and real, is a liberation.

Or, knowing that we are not free and yet still believing that we could be, makes us free.

This paradox has been the driving force of all deep art and deep technology. In it lies the immense beauty of what we are; the awesome beauty that can believe it will one day conquer even its own most absolute limitations … as long as we keep focussed and trying.

[1] Immanuel Kant, CRITIQUE OF JUDGEMENT, Oxford World Classics edition, OUP, p.60

Pleasure and Preservation – the need for an Aesthetics of Humanity

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Pleasure gives us a purposiveness to preserve that which we like.

This idea is Kantian[1]. In linking pleasure with preservation, it also ties it to the will for permanence and removes it from pleasure as a hedonistic love of the ephemeral.

In this way, we find that there are two kinds of pleasure: the superficial (ephemeral) one and the deeper one that is tied up with this will for permanence.

Kant was investigating aesthetics when he brought this up, and in fact it is this double pronged idea of pleasure which explains the need for aesthetics as a need for understanding the pleasure that things can give us in order to understand the need to preserve them.

It there is a necessary purposiveness in preserving humanity, then perhaps this can be inculcated via the development of an aesthetics of humanity, a way of looking at ourselves that will foster the deeper pleasure instincts of the will for permanence.

By dwelling on the beauty that is humanity we encourage ourselves to strengthen the human and mould ourselves into good human-beings: a concept which can only be properly understood once we have learned to see the beautiful within what humanity is.

An aesthetics of the human would need to be disinterested in anything other than the authentically human. Any study of this aesthetic would therefore have to distance itself from the ugly humanity that we are, in order to find the beautiful humanity that we should be.

This concept should not be seen as Idealist, but rather as a kind of positivistic deconstructionism. The only way to know what we should be as authentic human beings, is to dismantle the errors that have shaped us into the monstrous form that humanity is today. Only by unveiling the ugliness of what we are now, can we see the beauty of what we should have become (and can become in the future). This unveiling demands a dismantling of all interests that divide humanity: all nationalisms; racial or religious divisions; as well as all economic interests and ideologies of class.

An aesthetics of humanity might not only be a way to ensure the permanence of the human race, it could also create an authentic design and composition for humanity or for human progress.

Technology, seen from the perspective of the aesthetics of humanity, is either an ornamentation that takes away from the genuine beauty of humanity, or it is an extension of the beautiful picture itself.

Objective purposiveness is either external, i.e. the utility; or internal, i.e. the perfection of the object,”[2] said Kant. But our line of thinking sees perfection coming through utility. Once we understand the utility of humanity in the cosmos, then we can begin to conceive where the road to perfection starts.

[1] See Immanuel Kant, CRITIQUE OF JUDGEMENT, Oxford Classics, OUP, p. 51

[2] Ibid, p.57

THE EXISTENTIAL NEED FOR NEW KINDS OF CRITICS

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How is an objective judgement of something so personal as art possible? Or, in other words, how is aesthetics possible? Or perhaps the question is irrelevant, for even if a truly objective judgement is impossible, the critic must try and make one. If not, without criticism what would art achieve? How would the artist know how to proceed in a critical vacuum?

Once again we find that something we take for granted rests on a very shaky paradox: criticism is impossible but we need it. In a sense, the whole basis of art is absurd and unsustainable, and yet we need it. In fact, we could not really conceive of being human without it.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is that we, or our artists, ignore the absurdity and the paradox and just get on with the job, and the critics keep on with theirs. Surprisingly, yes, until we start to consider that all activity in the whole of society and civilisation is based on this same paradox: How can any individual make an objective judgement of any human activity at all?

Of course, to most people the surprising thing would be that we are even trying to formulate such questions. Another paradox is that absurdity is so ingrained in our lives that we take it completely for granted and it doesn’t surprise us at all. We can’t even see the pointless nature of our lives. As Camus said, we are a kind of Sisyphus, condemned to push a huge rock up a hill, but a happy Sisyphus, unaware of the real absurdity of our condition. We just get on with the job; revealing or talking about the non-purposefulness of our lives does little to help. Or not at least until we realise that we can change things and that the most absurd thing about the absurdity is its repetitiveness which is completely unnecessary.

With an absurdity we have three choices: believe in it; not believe in it; or, ignore its existence and believe in something else. The fact that the objective system is impossible as a pure objective truth means that there are as many other impossible objective systems as we can subjectively imagine. The system as it is now, has most of us picking grass in a huge green lawn. This is not the best of all possible systems and neither is it the least worst, it is just one possibility that maintains itself purely and simply because it is geared toward convincing us that it is the only feasible possibility.

To find another possibility we need good new critics. Ones who are capable of inventing a purposeful aesthetic for the rest of us to follow. The grass on the lawn we are picking has already created too many bare and ugly patches of desolate, impotent land. A better system would be one that plants and grows much and picks little. In order to enjoy existence, we have to let it be.   

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The War Around Us

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There is a war raging in our midst. A war between the Reproducibles and the Unreproducibles, and there is a near certianty that the former is about to annihilate the latter once and for all. We sit in almost utter ignorance whilst this terrible conflict rages around us. Most of us don’t even see the effect it has on our own lives, but a victory of the Reproducibles would be tragic for humanity as well. We must wake up. It is time for us now to ally ourselves to the beleaguered Unreproducibles and turn the tide on this insidious genocide. We have been seduced by their Darwinian, “survival of the fittest” contentions, but the Reproducibles are now so ubiquitous that there is no room for the Unreproducibles to grow in at all.

What is at stake is the existence or annihilation of the originality and creativity that the Unreproducibles represent. The Culture of Reproduction no longer has to create new things. Now it can perpetuate its dominion of the market place by simply reworking old fashions, slightly modified to seem contemporary or even futuristic. And the market place is spreading so widely that the Unreproducibles are left with nowhere to stand. Authenticity is a withered concept now. Originality has been left limbless or lame. To find creativity, one must dig in the cemeteries.

Of course our own health has also been damaged by this one-sided war, especially our souls. We stand cold before the beautiful and glance nonchalantly at the awesome. We shake our heads slightly at the tragic and turn peevishly away from the difficult to comprehend. We gravitate unto anything easy to understand and digest. The Reproducibles have made us insipid, nihilistic, and, like the war itself, our Unreproducible individualities are on the brink of extinction.

Descartes’ Perfect Being

Descartes

Descartes argued that a perfect being cannot be created out of something less perfect. Common sense immediately refutes this: we merely have to imagine any great artist and consider his or her development. Let’s take Beethoven as an example, and imagine his first lesson before the piano. A first lesson that was the first spark of a process that eventually produced the 9th Symphony.

What we take for God can also be created out of something much baser, even something as flawed as humanity.

Certain it is that Beethoven could never have arrived at our Beethoven without being prepared to work at it. Perfection doesn’t come about by accident. Likewise, for humanity to achieve its great destiny and become the God it alone can imagine, then it must get to work.

The Sublime

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The sublime experience is one which is elevated and inspires awe. Some would say, an experience that touches us or moves us deeply. Many would say that the experience of the sublime is a feeling that behind the phenomena lies some substantial but inaccessible thing – like God, for instance. Because of this the sublime is often put forward as an example to demonstrate the presence of God in our lives. But, we think this is a total misreading of the sublime.

In fact, the experience of the sublime is not that which points toward the inaccessible at all. The experience of the sublime is really a discovery of the real substantiality of things. What the sublime experience tells us is that there is a substantiality in all things, but habit and closeness have robbed us of the magic of it. A magic which is really based in the simple fact that we are perceiving it.

The first great miracle of the Universe is that it exists. The second great miracle – almost more miraculous still – is that we can perceive it. And the greatest miracle of all is that we know we perceive it. The sublime is the experience of knowing that we perceive existence, and that that is a miracle. It has nothing to do with God.

When we see the light behind the grotesque or the beauty in the monster’s interior, we are making a leap from our subjective prejudice to the universal perception. All sublime feeling is an immersion in the universal, whether that be the universality of our species or the universality of the Universe itself. The sublime is a perceiving that suddenly blasts out of a state of not-perceiving. A great work of art can move us in a sublime way on repeated occasions because it is always opening up different doors for us to perceive things from. However, the sublime sensation of the work will not be generated if we have it hanging on our living room wall or if it is a recording that we listen to every day. The sublime has to be a surprise, a way of snapping us out of our subjectivity. Sometimes it can be an absolute shock, as if we were suddenly pushed under water at a moment of complete lethargy when we had practically forgotten we were even floating.

THE GALIMATIAS INTERVIEW (PART FOUR) – Art and Mathematics

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GALIMATIAS: But if art is to save humanity, mustn’t it be a bit more pragmatic?

ADKIN: There is plenty of pragmatic art around now. But it’s not saving anyone … No … Definitely not. The less pragmatic art is, the better.

GALIMATIAS: But surely, one of the prime causes of art is communication …

ADKIN: Perhaps the prime cause. Communication might be the very essence of art, but wrapped up in art’s communication is the question –what must be communicated by art? – or – when is communication art and when is it not? Communicating an interesting story is not a priori art. The communication has to be given another cause, which is bigger than the mere need to communicate itself, in order to make it art.

GALIMATIAS: The Big Question, for example.

ADKIN: Yes, the Big Question … or the final cause … something that will create a resonance and lift veils that reveal landscapes that open out into realms that take us beyond the story itself …

But I’m starting to feel the direction of this conversation is seeping into dangerous areas – as if I were actually suggesting some kind of methodology for artists.

All I’m really saying is that art needs to have questioning artists if it is to remain a meaningful phenomenon.

GALIMATIAS: And implying that you think art should remain a meaningful thing.

ADKIN: Ah yes, of course … but each artist to his or her own method. And there are many different methodologies to choose from. But the important thing is not to let the methodology limit the scope of creation. Use as many different methodologies as you like. If the methodology is any could it will not be a closed circle. That means that you can colour your work with different approaches.

GALIMATIAS: Like a collage?

ADKIN: It doesn’t have to be so extreme. If we look at theatre, for example, it is undoubtedly, since Stanislavsky, the most methodologically based of all art forms.

GALIMATIAS: Especially if we consider that students in art schools these days are encouraged to abandon aesthetic principles and shun drawing.

ADKIN: But while the plastic arts abandoned methodology in the 20th century, the theatre world suddenly embraced it and preached the importance of the laboratory. Stanislavsky created a Husslerian transcendental phenomenology for theatre based on the power of the interrogative …

GALIMATIAS: Which you use yourself in your writing …

ADKIN: … in a different way, but, yes … However, I firmly believe that taking Stanislavsky’s approach to acting or directing is not enough … as did Meyerhold and Brecht, and Grotowski … and none of them are completely satisfying either. When an actor gets too much Method it becomes impossible to act and we have to teach them how to act without thinking … This is not to say that learning the methodologies is bad … or that a painter should not learn how to draw … Knowledge – like the Big Question in novel writing – has to be confronted. But also, like the Big Questions, it has to be wrestled with then left alone.

All musicians know that there is an excruciating process of mechanical repetition needed in order for your body to learn how and where to place one’s fingers on the instrument. And that this torturous process has to be endured before one can ever play anything well. Yet the actual playing should only happen when you’re able to play without thinking where your fingers need to be at all.

GALIMATIAS: I’ve heard you say several times that the essence of art is music.

ADKIN: Yes, and the essence of music is mathematics. Theatre is all about rhythm and harmony, and so is novel writing and painting. And good art will always have its geometry. Art is linked inextricably to mathematics because mathematics is our first abstraction of the universe and art is the same thing. Language also is music, is mathematics. Best not to forget that.

THE GALIMATIAS INTERVIEW (PART THREE) – Can art save the world? Paradoxes and causes.

This is part three of an interview with Paul David Adkin carried out by the Spanish literary magazine “Galimatias” in March, 2015. We have translated it here into English.

GALIMATIAS: In your philosophical writings you point over and over again to the existence of paradoxes in the fabric of reality, and you say that truth can only be found by analysing these contradictions. Is that where the truth of the novel resides?

ADKIN: I don’t think that I’ve ever said that the truth can only be found by analysing paradoxes – but yes, it helps if we do … and novels are a great place to analyse truth in. It’s the ability of novels to rummage in logically impossible realms of juxtapositions and contradictions, or paradoxes, that can make them so important. But the uncovering and resolving of paradoxical contradictions is not unique to the form and identity of the novel: it can be a vital ingredient in short stories and plays; you see it used in good films and even in some good TV series now. However, it is probably true that this kind of narrative investigation and use of the impossible emerged because of, and was perhaps was even made possible by, the historical development of the novel, which is the king of all narratives.

GALIMATIAS: Is the novel an endangered species?

ADKIN: Humanity is an endangered species – so the novel must be as well.

GALIMATIAS: Can the novel save humanity?

ADKIN: Only if we take it seriously. That means that the novelists have to write well and choose their big questions intelligently. But, it also means that readers must read intelligently as well.

GALIMATIAS: And yet the novel has been around for some four hundred years … what has the novel achieved for humanity so far? Has it made the world a better place?

ADKIN: I think it’s helped civilisation not be a worse experience than it presently is. Art is the antithesis of ideology. It is a humanising force, interested in universals. Ideologies … and religions are ideologies too … separate humanity and retard real human progress for all of humanity. To some extent, art offers a balance against all the damage that ideologies do … But, at the moment at least, ideologies are more powerful than art.

GALIMATIAS: And ideologies use art for their own destructive purposes.

ADKIN: Yes, and I would include technology with the positive, progressive, humanising forces of art … it is obvious, when we think of technology, how easily it can be used for destructive rather than creative ends.

GALIMATIAS: Can Art save humanity?

ADKIN: No, only humanity can save humanity. But, yes, art could be a positive vehicle for a universalising process of humanity to move forward with. However, it is very hard to imagine an army of artistic crusaders conquering humanity with art … except in the most absurd kind of comedy.

GALIMATIAS: Nevertheless, we could try harder, couldn’t we?

ADKIN: We should try harder, but simply trying harder is not the place to start. Trying harder implies a simple continuation – a “keep doing whatever you’re doing but with a bit more effort.” The first thing we need to do is think more about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. The what and the why needs to come before the how can be possible in an enriching way.

GALIMATIAS: Finding the big question?

ADKIN: Yes, in phenomenological terms the big question is the eidos of the work, or what Aristotle called the formal cause. Applying Aristotle’s causes toward finding our reasons for things would be a good place to start.

Aristotle physics book cover

GALIMATIAS: Aristotle’s causes?

ADKIN: Yes … well, first we have to learn what those causes are. Reading Aristotle’s Physics would help.

GALIMATIAS: Can you really expect budding artists to read Aristotle?

ADKIN: I’m just suggesting good ideas.  Aristotle pointed out that there’s not just a singular cause for something, but everything has its different causes. Aristotle, I think, thought of five possibilities. Firstly, the material cause which is that which constitutes what a thing is. For example, the material cause of this table is wood and nails. The material cause of a novel is, in the first instance, paper and ink unless it’s a digital edition that makes it all binary numbers on a plasma screen. At a second level, it’s all words that flow into grammar and syntax.

GALIMATIAS: How does that knowledge help?

ADKIN: Hardly at all. Material causes are involved with common sense, but the important thing is to think beyond the material causes. A lot of thinking stays there. If we think about the causes of society, for example, someone might say – for the people – because society is constituted of people. But that’s just like saying that the reason for this table is that there was some wood and nails around somewhere that needed to be put together. Sometimes you read a book and you think – the only thing that this author seems to want to show us is how clever he uses words and grammar. That of course is bad writing. And we see it in small talk, when we hear people talking because, we say, they like the sound of their own voice.

GALIMATIAS: Yes, although small talk has its social functions as well.

ADKIN: True, but at first that social function is not obvious. We have to look for it. We have to think a little harder to find it.

GALIMATIAS: Ok, so you are saying we have to question the most obvious.

ADKIN: Yes.

GALIMATIAS: And what are Aristotle’s other causes?

ADKIN: The efficient cause.

GALIMATIAS: The builders.

ADKIN: Right. The artists themselves. Here we can start asking for the reasons why the builders decided to make tables, and why novelists bother writing novels. It helps if we can give quality answers to the question why do it? In our nihilist society the answers can very easily be: because I couldn’t think of anything better to do – or – because I was bored. If we are going to do something as important as write a novel, there have to be more qualitatively good reasons than because I want to, or because it might be fun and make me some money.

GALIMATIAS: Or someone might just have a good story to tell, or an interesting experience to relate.

ADKIN: Yes, but even those people will benefit as artists if they slide a big question under the framework of the story or the picture, or music, or whatever they’re creating. Involved in the causes of things are the eidos, which is the real essence of the thing, and the telos, the cause that is the finality. The final cause of a table is to have something that we can put things on, but … what is the telos of civilisation?

GALIMATIAS: Isn’t the final cause of a book to be read by someone?

ADKIN: Sure, but let’s give the answer a bit more quality.

GALIMATIAS: Ok, what is the telos of When Sirens Call?

ADKIN: It is in a Being which is always becoming.

GALIMATIAS: How is that a final cause?

ADKIN: It’s my final cause – the final cause of the artist. Like the big question, I don’t want it to be explicit. But if you look for it, you’ll find it.

GALIMATIAS: I’m not sure I understand what I’m looking for.

ADKIN: Then don’t look for it. Let it find you. I think there has to be an art in reading as well as in composition. For me the art of reading is knowing how to let the causes of a novel find you.

GALIMATIAS: Is there a methodology for that?

ADKIN: Not that I know of. I think I can do it, but I don’t know how. Not that I think that knowing how would be helpful at all.

GALIMATIAS: You’re starting to make this sound mystical.

ADKIN: Whenever we run into paradoxes things start to sound mystical. But that’s because the mystical can only be appreciated through paradox. The mystical is always paradoxical, but the paradoxical is not always mystical.

THE GALIMATIAS INTERVIEW (PART TWO) – CATHARSIS, THE SUBLIMINAL, AND THE MORAL IMPERATIVE OF THE NOVEL

This is the second part of the interview with Paul David Adkin that was carried out by the Spanish literary magazine “Galimatias” in March, 2015. We have translated it here into English. (Part one is also published here, see the link below)

GALIMATIAS: You’re implying that there is a large aesthetic difference between the novella and novel?

ADKIN: Yes, I think there is. A difference embedded in the need to hide the central question of the novel. In the novella that question can be tackled more openly and directly, like a play can. But Art Wars, remember, was also written as an anti-novel. Just as The Clown and Hamlet Rex were anti-theatre.

GALIMATIAS: It almost seems as if you like to throw stones at your own house.

ADKIN: It’s my personal catharsis.

GALIMATIAS: When Sirens Call is also a tragedy, as is, in a sense, Purgatory. Are these works also cathartic?

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ADKIN: No, not really. For the same reason that they are novels. The novel forgets the big question, whilst catharsis is a tackling, head-on, of the big question. Let me reiterate it: when one decides to adopt the form of a novel to one’s expression, one needs to sublimate the central theme. That is where the resonance of the novel comes from. By pushing the theme into the subliminal, it attacks the readers on a subconscious level as well.

GALIMATIAS: When Sirens Call has references to the Odyssey, sometimes I the form of direct quotes. There is also your big question of the Home that has its resonances with Homer. How conscious of the big question were you in this regard?

ADKIN: Like many of my works – like Hamlet Rex and The Clown – When Sirens Calls began as a kind of academic experiment or a joke. Hamlet Rex was a re-writing of Oedipus Rex through the conduit of Hamlet, but a Hamlet as a young actor in the 21st century. When Sirens Call began as an experiment to rewrite the Odyssey via Joyce’s Ulysses, but a Ulysses taken out of Dublin and brought back to Greece. I was always conscious of this original idea although the experiment itself dwindled away and became lost in the greater demands of the novel. Nevertheless, this original experimental impetus did help the process of sublimation, for the idea of sifting the Odyssey through Ulysses was itself an alienating method. In a sense, the form itself of When Sirens Call provided the distancing required from the narrative and its theme to allow the novel to freely unfold.

In Purgatory there is a different kind of filtering, but the purpose was basically the same. Purgatory, of course, had an original source – the log books of the explorer Mendaña and his crew – but I needed to distance myself from them in order to make their accounts realistic. And to create that distance I invented the character of Valentín. This also facilitated the possibility of achieving another effect with Purgatory that was “the epic”. For me that meant the creation of a profound sense of journeying through a timeless landscape. I think of the epic as something essentially un-historical, existing in a timeless space. That is what Greek theatre and Shakespeare have in common. One can use any wardrobe one pleases or set the stories in any historical moment one wants. In the epic and its timelessness, there are no anachronisms.

The Terra Australis Incognita Volume 1

GALIMATIAS: And yet Purgatory is a deeply historical work, with tremendous attention to historical detail.

ADKIN: Yes. It is and it isn’t. It could be classified as an historical novel, and yet it’s not, just as you wouldn’t classify the Iliad as an historical work, and yet it is.

GALIMATIAS: According to Hermann Broch – and I’m paraphrasing him through Milan Kundera – the only moral imperative that the novel has is the transmission of knowledge. Do you agree with this?

ADKIN: A novel is obviously never a science book, and any would-be novelist would always fail if all he or she wanted to do was impart knowledge. I don’t know the quote from Broch in its proper context, but I imagine he is really saying that a novel is a description of life that pulls off certain veils and opens certain closed doors in order to reveal a vision of life that we don’t get by simply watching life go by around us. So, I’d say that the novel is a transmission of a certain type of knowledge that is not normally obvious. The imagination of the novelist opens up into life, and this provides a different insight and therefore a different kind of knowledge. And yes, perhaps we could say that there is a moral imperative for this opening and unveiling to take place, and …. as I’ve already said … there is the imperative of the big question. However, as I also said, I think it’s a mistake for the novelist to consciously try and answer the big question in the novel. It’s enough that the question is raised. Finding an answer may even ruin the book. I made that mistake when I was writing the first drafts of Art Wars. They were awful attempts to resolve the questions brought up by the plot. I’ve written more drafts of Art Wars than anything else, mainly in an attempt to rid the book of its resolutions. That was, perhaps, where I learned my most important lessons in novel writing.

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GALIMATIAS: Although you said that Art Wars was an anti-novel.

ADKIN: Which it is. Perhaps the best way to understand what a novel is is to write an anti-novel.

SEE ALSO: https://pauladkin.wordpress.com/2015/04/20/the-galimatias-interview-part-one/