Information Sheet # 91

May 17, 1995

THE END OF ALL METHOD

[In this, the final Information Sheet of the academic year, I have culled from my library some quotations that aren't talking about writing--and yet maybe they are. I know in my own teaching I'm constantly looking for analogies or stories to illuminate the composing process, how we use words to make new meanings. My small anthology simply reproduces a few passages that over the years have triggered for me some new possibilities for thinking about this complex, mysterious business of writing.--Bob Marrs]

Slowly, slowly, over the years, I have arrived at a technique for collaborating with my actors. I sit quietly at home, make all my preparations in detail, plan the sets and draw them in detail, until I have it all in my head. But as soon as I get into the studio with the camera and the actors, it can happen in the course of the first run-through that a tone of voice, a gesture, or some independent expression on the part of the actors makes me change the whole thing. Even though nothing's been said explicitly between us, I feel it will be better that way. Such an awful lot of things go on between me and the actors, on a level which defies analysis.

I never edit while shooting. I'd find it too depressing. Besides, editing, for me, is a sort of erotic pleasure. I'd like to save it up.

--From an interview with Ingmar Bergman

*****

When a community loses its memory, its members no longer know one another. How can they know one another if they have forgotten or have never learned one another's stories? If they do not know one another's stories, how can they know whether or not to trust one another? People who do not trust one another do not help one another, and moreover they fear one another. And this is our predicament now.

--Wendell Berry, "The Work of Local Culture"

*****

Eat when you eat, sleep when you sleep.

--A Buddhist saying

*****

Lu Ch'ai says:

Among those who study painting, some strive for an elaborate effect and others prefer the simple. Neither complexity in itself nor simplicity is enough.

Some aim to be deft, other to be laboriously careful. Neither dexterity not conscientiousness is enough.

Some set great value on method, while others pride themselves on dispensing with method. To be without method is deplorable, but to depend entirely on method is worse.

You must learn first to observe the rules faithfully; afterwards modify them according to you intelligence and capacity. The end of all method is to seem to have no method....

First, however, you must work hard. Bury the brush again and again in the ink and grind the inkstone to dust. Take ten days to paint a stream and five to paint a rock. Then, later, you may try to paint the landscape in Chialing. Li Ssŭ-hsun took months to paint it; Wu Tao-tzŭ did it in one evening. Thus, at a later stage, one may proceed slowly and carefully or one may rely on dexterity....

If you aim to dispense with method, learn method. If you aim at facility, work hard. If you aim for simplicity, master complexity.

The Six Canons

In the Southern Ch'I period (479-501), Hsieh Ho said:

Circulation of the Ch'I (Breath, Spirit) produces movement of life.

Brush creates structure.

According to the object draw its form.

According to the nature of the object apply color.

Organization composition with the elements in their proper places.

In copying, seek to pass on essence of the master's brush and methods.

--The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting

*****

For twenty-five years, walking through these streets, I have felt through my feet the geological shape of the place. The aerial view proved to me my point; it is through our senses that form, colour and meaning are given to everything we make and do. I wrote about St Ives many years ago: "The sea, a flat diminishing plane, held within itself the capacity to radiate an infinitude of blues, greys, greens and even pinks of strange hues, the lighthouse and its strange rocky island was the eye: the Island of St Ives an arm, a hand, a face. The rock formation of the great bay had a withinness of form that led by imagination straight to the country of West Penwith behind me--although the visual thrust was straight to the sea. The incoming and receding tides made strange and wonderful calligraphy on the pale granite sand that sparkled with felspar and mica. The rich mineral deposits of Cornwall were apparent on the very surface of things; geology and prehistory--a thousand facts induced a thousand fantasies of form and purpose, structure and life which had gone into the making of what I saw and what I was."

It is very difficult in cities to be aware of these marvelous happenings, which become very potent if one really begins living and putting down roots, and I am so fortunate here to have a garden and space and buildings where I can make such a mess or be tolerated. And so one isn't an oddity, but just another chap rushing out in overalls to buy some more files at the nearest shop. St Ives has absolutely enraptured me, no merely for its beauty, but the naturalness of life--I love the way people will just stand in the way talking and laughing, they won't move. The sense of community is, I think, a very important factor in an artist's life.

--Barbara Hepworth, A Pictorial Autobiography

*****

You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.

--William Blake

*****

I think of an island as a singular speck or a monument to human isolation is missing the point. Islands beget islands: a terrestrial island is surrounded by an island of water, which is surrounded by an island of air, all of which makes up out island universe. That's how the mind works too: one idea unspools into a mission concentric thoughts. To sit on an island, then, is not a way of disconnecting ourselves but, rather, a way we can understand relatedness....

Another definition of the word "island" is "the small isolated space between the lines in a fingerprint," between the lines that mark each of us as being unique. An island, then, can stand for all that occurs between thoughts, feathers, fingerprints, and lives, although, like the space between tree branches and leaves, for example, it is part of how a thing is shaped. Without that space, trees, rooms, ducks, and imaginations would collapse....

Later in the month, snow on the lake melts off, and the dendritic cracks in the ice appear. The lake is a gray basin I pose questions to. Somewhere in my reading I come on a reference to the island of Reil. It is the name given to the central lobe of the cerebral hemisphere deep in the lateral tissue, the place where the division between left and right brain occurs, between what the neurobiologist Francisco Varela calls "the net and the tree."

To separate out thoughts into islands is the peculiar way we humans have of knowing something, of locating ourselves on the planet and in society. We string events into temporal arrangements like pearls or archipelagos. While waiting out winter, I listen to my mind switch from logic to intuition, from tree to net, the one unbalancing the other so no dictatorships can stay.

--Gretel Ehrlich, "Islands"

*****

What we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning.

--Werner Heisenberg

*****

Our merest sense-experience is a process of formulation. The world that actually meets our senses is not a world of "things," about which we are invited to discover facts as soon as we have codified the necessary logical language to do so; the world of pure sensation is so complex, so fluid and full, that sheer sensitivity to stimuli would one encounter what William James has called (in characteristic phrase) "a blooming, buzzing confusion." Out of this bedlam our sense organs must select certain predominant forms, if they are to make report of things and not of mere dissolving sense. The eye and ear must have their logic--their "categories of understanding," if you like the Kantian idiom, or their "primary imagination," in Coleridge's version of the same concept. An object is not a datum, but a form constructed by the sensitive and intelligent organ, a form which is at once an experienced individual thing and a symbol for the concept for it, for this sort of thing....

Mental life begins with our physiological constitution. A little reflection shows us that, since no experience occurs more than once, so-called "repeated" experiences are really analogous occurrences, all fitting a form of abstracted on the first occasion. Familiarity is nothing but the equality of fitting neatly into the form of a previous experience. I believe out ingrained habit of hypostatizing impressions, of seeing things and not sense-data, rests on the fact that we promptly and unconsciously abstract a form from each sensory experience, and use this form to conceive the experience as a whole, as a "thing."--Suzanne K. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key

*****

A weasel is wild. Who knows what he things? He sleeps in his underground den, his tail draped over his nose. Sometimes he lives in his den for two days without leaving. Outside, he stalks rabbits, mice, muskrats, and birds, killing more bodies than he can eat warm, and often dragging the carcasses home. Obedient to instinct, he bites his prey at the neck, either splitting the jugular vein at the throat or crunching the brain at the base of the skull, and he does not let go. One naturalist refused to kill a weasel who was socketed into his hand deeply as a rattlesnake. The man could in no way pry the tiny weasel off, and he had to walk half a mile to water, the weasel dangling from his palm, and soak him off like a stubborn label.

--Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk


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