WORDS, WORDS, WORDS

Brief biographical note:

Scott Bailey is occasionally a writer of short stories and novels. He is pretty sure he was born in Beaufort, South Carolina. His youth was spent in various Southern cities in houses that no longer stand, in neighborhoods that have radically changed.

Bailey currently labors and sleeps in Seattle. He is certain that his best work is still ahead of him.

Brief statements of purpose:

"You have lost your reason and taken the wrong path. You have taken lies for truth, and hideousness for beauty. You would marvel if, owing to strange events of some sorts, frogs and lizards suddenly grew on apple and orange trees instead of fruit, or if roses began to smell like a sweating horse; so I marvel at you who exchange heaven for earth. I don't want to understand you."

--Anton Chekhov, Letters

"One would like, at such an hour as this, for critical licence, to go into the matter of the noted inevitable deviation (from too fond an original vision) that the exquisite treachery even of the straightest execution may ever be trusted to inflict even on the most mature plan."

--Henry James, preface to The Ambassadors

"The novelist doesn't write about people in a vacuum; he writes about people in a world where something is obviously lacking, where there is the general mystery of incompleteness and the particular tragedy of our own times to be demonstrated, and the novelist tries to give you, within the form of the book, the total experience of human nature at any time. For this reason, the greatest dramas naturally involve the salvation or loss of the soul. Where there is no belief in the soul, there is very little drama."

--Flannery O'Connor

"To divert interest from the poet to the poetry is a laudable aim: for it would conduce to a juster estimation of actual poetry, good and bad. There are many people who appreciate the expression of sincere emotion in verse, and there is a smaller number of people who can appreciate technical excellence. But very few know when there is an expression of significant emotion, emotion which has its life in the poem and not in the history of the poet. The emotion of art is impersonal. And the poet cannot reach this impersonality without surrendering himself wholly to the work to be done. And he is not likely to know what is to be done unless he lives in what is not merely the present, but the present moment of the past, unless he is conscious, not of what is dead, but of what is already living."

--T.S. Eliot, Tradition and the Individual Talent

"If you never look just wrong to your contemporaries, you will never look just right to posterity. Every writer has to try to be, to some extent, sometimes, a law unto himself."

--Randall Jarrell

The Prague Train Station, as viewed from the south:



One Thing Shakespeare Never Said:

"You've got to be kidding."

A note about craft:

The reader who thinks that the views here expressed amount to a deification of materials, an undue exaggeration of the importance of mere craft, should remember that […] if one gains both a wider outlook and a more complete mastery, it is worth it. Technical skill can never be great enough. No one is too able or too accomplished to learn more than he knows. Technique must be learned as a child learns to move his limbs: what was difficult at first must become easy; it must be at one’s instantaneous disposal; it must function so perfectly that its action is no longer noticed; it must sink to the level of subconscious activity.

Although the creative process in its highest stages may always remain hidden from human comprehension, as may the mysterious source of artistic work in general, yet the dividing point between conscious and unconscious work can be raised to an extraordinary degree. If this were not true, everyone in whom this point lies at a very low level could assert that he is creating the greatest works of art. There would be no difference between Beethoven and any other composer, who had with difficulty achieved a mere quarter, say, of the height of artistic achievement that men may attain, and knew nothing of the other three quarters that still lay above him. Such a little man would not care to speak of technical matters, but would instead refer to his impulse, his feeling, his heart, which had prescribed the way for him. But must not this impulse be tiny and this feeling negligible if they can express themselves with so little knowledge? Is not an immense mastery of the medium needed to translate into tones what the heart dictates? Can the inner vision of the music that the composer has glimpsed make itself at all clear to another if the resistance of the tones and the refractoriness of tonal progressions is continually coming between the impulse and its expression in sound?

The road from the head to the hand is a long one while one is still conscious of it. The man who does not so control his hand as to maintain it in unbroken contact with his thought does not know what composition is. (Nor does he whose well-routined hand runs along without any impulse or feeling behind it.) The goal must always be such mastery that technique does not obtrude itself, and a free path is prepared for thought and feeling.

--Paul Hindemith, The Craft of Musical Composition

A note about beauty:

The issue is a moral one, I think. If mere passing pleasure is all that matters, then certainly Ruskin has no argument at all, because pleasure is cheap and easily had; it's probably the primary commodity on the market. But I think--and I think Ruskin argues this as well--that pleasure is a selfish little thing that serves mostly to reinforce our prejudices about ourselves and a steady diet of cheap selfish little pleasures actually reduces our humanity and is therefore a bad thing. A steady diet of mere pleasure works to blind us to the possibility of real beauty (and here I at least don't mean any particular aesthetic or cultural measure of beauty), of the ability to experience the sublime, of what Seamus Heaney called having your heart blown wide open by the world. Beauty, the experience of the sublime, is foreign to most people. Beauty, the experience of the sublime, is what I think we get from "art" (a term I won't define), and it bursts us open and makes our view of the world larger, forcing our awareness to encompass individuals beyond ourselves, making us better humans. I know people whose primary reaction to moments of the sublime is confusion and embarrassment, because they lack the experiential grounding to understand the sublime, they lack an immediate culture in which they can discuss and share experiences of the sublime, and so instead they seek pleasure in order to feel something, even if all they feel is a punch up down at the pub or the weak excitement of a game show on TV. The high points of our lives become then just these mere moments of pleasure, all essentially the same, none of them transformative, all of them small and self-directed and diminishing of our humanity in the long run. So I would say that it does matter. And how. Not that we need to eliminate pleasure, but we can't substitute pleasure for the transfigurative bliss of beauty. Loads of cheap art and pop music, no matter the fuzzy pink glow they put around our hearts, are not the equivalent of sublime experience. I like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," but it only reinforces my baser instincts toward self importance, and that's not a good thing at all. The place of Holbein's portrait of Christ in the tomb can't be taken by a painting of a sad clown. Or, if it can, then we're all just sad clowns.