Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Fables & Parables

I've been reading a lot of short fiction - flash fiction, short shorts, comics, webisodes, fables, and parables. Today's world is so busy; so many things to see/hear/do that I just don't have as much time for getting information as I used to. Economy of conveyance is my new modus operandi. Thus, all the quotes... and now I'm really getting into parables (fables too, and other stuff). Here's one of my recently discovered favorites:

"There was a man who could think only in bronze. And one day this man had an idea, the idea of joy, of the joy which dwells in the moment. And he felt that he had to tell it. But in all the world, not a single piece of bronze was left; for men had used it all. And this man felt that he would go mad if he did not tell his idea. And he thought about a piece of bronze on the grave of his wife, of a statue he had made to ornament the tomb of his wife, the only woman he had loved; it was the statue of sadness, of the sadness which dwells in life. And the man felt he would go mad if he did not tell his idea. So he took the statue of sadness, of the sadness which dwells in life; he smashed it, he melted it down, and he made of it the statue of joy, the joy which dwells only in the moment."

-- Oscar Wilde 1889

Wowzer! Can you see the precision, the conciseness? Such are the hallmarks of what I call "good art".

So let me explain it for you now. The man is so engrossed in this moment of creative inspiration, that he virtually destroys the memory of his wife, and the sadness of losing her, so that he might satisfy this momentary desire to express his idea. The man gives in to need no matter the cost, but in doing so he creates a way to escape the sadness that the statue of sadness for his wife gives. basically, by continually remaking our emotions and yielding to temptation, we create our own way to escape them.

However, I disagree with what the man did. I think that by preserving the memory of our sadness - though it cost us present discomfort and possibly happy works of art - we honor the pain it has caused us, and acknowledge to ourself, and to others, the importance it has had on our lives. Scars are the imprint of pain which lasts a lifetime, and tearing those apart for momentary indulgence is just wrong. It feels to me like self-destruction of the kind till even you wouldn't recognize yourself.

Instead, use that pain as fuel, fire, inspiration for your job/craft/art/whatever. But leave it's presence intact. It does not do to tamper with your wounds like that.

10 footnotes:

Lex said...

I see it as a different thing. Why have the world share in his sadness? Why have others know the scars of his loss? Instead of giving the world another thing the mourn, the fact that he lost his wife, why not give them something to take joy in? Why burden men more with pain and sadness?

What was wrong with him leaving something to celebrate? Everyone can know suffering easily, but it takes something special and someone filled with light to share joy.

Zek J Evets said...

but he didn't leave it for his wife! he just made the thing - that's all we get before the parable ends.

yes, he does burden himself and the world with more sadness - and thru that more pain - but it's so we might remember the ones we care(d) about. giving joy is noble, but he destroyed something made in memorial to his wife! that's pretty messed-up to me.

and i disagree that everyone can easily know suffering. knowledge is the largest contributor to suffering; knowing what's really going on in the world, the wars, the hunger, the disease, the hate. most people are too ignorant/stupid/shallow/distracted/broken to feel or experience real suffering anymore. (indeed, if ever.)

joy on the other hand, can be easily gotten. people buy happiness all the time. though you might not call it "real" happiness, it's still a form of joy. we revel in easily gotten enjoyments: movies, drugs, sex, food, etc.(note: i'm not saying that these things in and of themselves aren't necessarily bad.)

only wise men complain about finding true happiness... because they can see the true state of the world! and thus must reach a higher intellectual/emotional place to escape it.

my point is: better to accept the pain and sadness in your heart, instead of trying to destroy it/remake it into something else. you won't succeed, except in hiding, which will ultimately destroy/remake yourself. and the greatest tragedy (i think) is when you do irrepairable damage to yourself that you, as you are, ceases to exist.

Lex said...

His wife wasn't even alive to know what he was leaving for her. Instead of giving them a memory of that person (his wife) associated with sadness, that memory was converted into something of joy.

Who said that anyone has to feel a great amount of pain to suffer? Suffering can be attributed to any amount of anything. And who said there should be a criteria for that suffering? That people should be weighed and measured according to their worth and then deemed worthy of being able to suffer?

You live in San Francisco, there's so many immigrants around you. Believe me, at least one person in one of your classes has gone through each of those things. Through talking with people, at school at least, there's quite a few war refugees, from latin and asian countries.

Joy can be gotten temporarily through any of those things yes. But what he created was lasting joy. Not one or a few people could share in that, but many. And wise men know where to find their happiness Those that claim that a higher state of mind is needed are right, but to think that it's so unattainable is wrong. You don't need to be a pseudo intellectual to be able to have it.

You of all people shouldn't be talking about accepting pain and sadness, and not make it into something else. Look at the things you've written, however achingly beautiful they may've taken your pain and made it into something else.

I also think that it's not someone doing damage to themselves that is the greatest tragedy. Lots of people are self destructive, but what I think is the greatest tragedy is when a person that has striven for self preservation and forged their character through whatever they've gone through, being destroyed by something or someone they took a chance on. There's a lot more damage done to people like that.

Zek J Evets said...

but the something joyous wasn't for his wife. the parable never says whether he leaves it in place of the old statue or not. all it says is that he tears down the statue of the sadness in life that he left over he grave so that he could make a new statue of joy. i mean, if i was the wife, i'd take that as a serious emotional bitch-slap.

and i think that to suffer, there must be pain. they're synonyms for crying out loud! you can suffer from a hang-nail true, but in comparison to the death of a loved one or some other tragedy, the hang-nail is reduced to a mere annoyance.

and i think you're missing my point when i say that most people are unable to feel true suffering. take a look at most of the country: white, redneck, lower middle class. they're so absorbed in reality television and walmart, that actual suffering escapes them. what wars have they had to deal with? hunger? disease? as far as the united states is concerned, the general populace is basically living in a state of state-sponsered, corporate-provided bliss. sure, there are exceptions (there are ALWAYS exceptions) but when you examine them, they only prove my social theory further.

yes, i live in san francisco, but i did not grow up here. you need to see that this city is one huge uniqueness. the people here are very different from the people i've met everywhere else.

as for the man, he did not creating lasting joy. his actions prove that this statue will not last. one day, a new idea will occur to him and he'll smash it, melt it down, and recast it as that something else. meanwhile, the statue cannot possibly represent lasting joy! it was conceived of the joy that comes from the MOMENT. moments, obviously, do not last. (though we sometimes wish they would.)

and yes, true joy for the wise man is unattainable! because he can always open his eyes and see new suffering that continues - will continue - to affect the world. the joy of a wise man is always fleeting because he will always be able to see what is truly happening. his joy is tempered by wisdom, and so can never be truly happy. (as to your comment about "pseudo intellectuals" they can be truly happy, because they are just as ignorant as everyone else.)

now me, i have definitely used my pain to create. however, i have NOT then taken the things i made and recreated them into something that is completely different from what they were originally. my depressing pieces of writing do not suddenly get filed under "comedy". my disagreement with the man was that he destroyed the very nature of his own work (which, to an artist, is as personal and sacred as your own body) simply to make a newer one. this is an overthrowing of art that offends my sensibilities immensely.

and your last point, we'll just have to agree to disagree, haha. can't change opinion on what's "the worst that can happen".

nonetheless, this is a fun discussion!

Lex said...

It doesn't say that, I agree, but it also doesn't mean that he didn't put it back. He took something of sadness and made something that had joy in it. He remembered her, that's all that should really matter to be remembered by the ones that love you.

I don't agree on the suffering. I'm not counting the word play either. There are too many things to suffer from to have a measure of what is right or wrong and what should or shouldn't be counted. Also there doesn't need to be pain caused by something that should hurt. Isn't it true that people can suffer from love-sickness?

You write off so many people, who seem to fit this stereotype. Isn't it true that those rednecks can love? Can't they suffer from losing someone they love? What is your social theory? That most people shouldn't matter because of their education level, lifestyle? At which point should a person not matter so that their suffering doesn't count?

I know that about San Francisco, I spent most of my life in other places. There is no place like it in the world. No place full of people so generally accepting.

A single moment can define a lifetime. So it shouldn't matter that the joy happened in a moment. For example, a first kiss happens in a moment and it's something that a person remembers forever, it's not always associated with joy, but a first kiss with a great love is almost always associated with joy.

For a wise man to see what is truly going on, he can find happiness. I don't see why wisdom dilutes it. I don't understand why a wise person can't have happiness. If he can truly see what is, can't he better see true love, better see good intentions, can't he see what will bring him true happiness, to look past suffering and not wallow in it?

No one said the man was an artist, those same rules that may apply to artists don't apply to him. It's not about making something new or destroying something old, it's about creating joy from sadness.

Zek J Evets said...

ahh, but love-sickness does cause pain! it's a form of emotional suffering so intense that it causes actual, physical symptoms.

what is or isn't pain; what is or isn't true suffering, that's just me relating the experience of others and my own. when someone says, "omg my life is sooo crazy right now. i don't know if i can deal with it." in my head, i'm thinking, "yeah? is that 'cus your mother/father/sister/brother just died, or 'cus you were at a party and someone spilled beer on your jeans?"

it's all relative - what's painful, what's not, etc... but i'm comparing it - right now - to what everyone else in THE WORLD has to go through. i think that for someone who's never had to go through a whole lot in their entire life, things that me or people in africa/china/burma would consider small potatos, can be pretty overwhelming. but they're not really. getting your phone taken away, or having a fight with some stupid person, or losing something and not being able to find it.

can you honestly say that you'd compare those trivial things with death, hunger, disease, and war?

see, i'm not writing off everyone, just most people. "a person is smart. people are stupid." and this has pretty much been true from what i've seen and read.

yes, i am writing off A LOT of people that i don't know, and will probably never know. is it judgmental? yeah. can some of those rednecks love, feel pain? definitely. but i'm not trying to be misanthropic here and say that humanity is inherently ignorant and unfeeling... but i'm also not trying to be naive and think that everyone's a beautiful snowflake or something. how did fight club put it? "You are not special... You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else."

i think you have a different intrepretation on "the joy of the moment" described in the parable. when i think of joy in the moment, i think fleeting, shallow, momentary; it won't last. joy comes in types, and i place more value on the type that stays with a person. an orgasm lasts a moment, but love lasts a lifetime.

the reason why wisdom dilutes happiness is a pretty complex process. first let me state that (in my opinion) that wisdom is knowledge + experience. my favorite example comes from the bible: after adam & eve eat from the tree of knowledge, they see their nakedness and suffer shame for the first time. the line "ignorance is bliss" has been used a thousand times.

you look at the world, and see good things - bad too, i'm sure, but more good than bad - except that's not the world. the world is dark, dirty place, and most people eat shit then die. this doesn't mean the wise man "wallows" in unhappiness. it just means he can't be truly happy, because even at the height of appreciating the true beauty of a sunset, or the love between two people, s/he remembers what can happen/has happened. that sunset is being polluted. that love will one day die, whether thru lies or the slow, inevitable passage of time.

and you're right, the parable does not say whether or not the man is an artist. i take it for granted, because who else could create something in bronze? but yeah, he's not an artist. nonetheless, i don't think it's about creating joy from sadness. it's about yielding to temptation through the overthrow of the old with new.

i'm starting to think we're not gonna agree on what's what in this parable. good discussion, but i'm thinking we've got two COMPLETELY incompatible ideas.

Lex said...

Okay, I agree that we're not going to agree. My glass is half full and it looks like someone peed in yours a long time ago. I say that it the nicest way possible.


Zek J Evets said...

wait, what!? nobody peed in my glass...

maybe someone drank it.


varmintspath said...

wow that was like watching a tennis match, i've got a lot to say to both of you too bad i missed the moment...

Zek J Evets said...

maybe next time varmint. next time.