Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sample Individual Writing Presentation

I post the following revised version of the Individual Writing Presentation, with the author's permission, chosen as a representative sample which captures the spirit of the assignment, and has itself the absolutist and bellicose tone which exemplifies the polemical mode being treated of.

I will restrain myself from responding to the substance of the poelmic itself, but you are encouraged to do so, using the comments section here. You might look first at the comments to this post for the most immediate direction from which counter-polemic would come.
It is argued by aesthetic philosophers that polemic messages should not be incorporated into art. In this essay I will make two cases. My first task will be to dispose of the claim that polemic and literary art (in this case the novel) are in some way incompatible. I will then argue that not only is polemic perfectly compatible with all forms of art, literary or otherwise, but vital to them as well. In order to make the first case, I am forced first to deal with the idea that the purpose of art is to “create beauty” or to “delight”.
Art is often defined implicitly or explicitly as bearing a direct connection to beauty. This assertion is demonstrably false. Much of ancient art is clearly not intended merely to be pleasing to the eye, but to express and perhaps make sense of difficult aspects of life (the skull motif present in much indigenous art, for instance). More recently, the works of Marcel Duchamp (including Fountain, which consists only of an ordinary urinal) are some of the most well known in examples of art that is specifically intended to subvert ideas of beauty.
The argument that art is in any way defined by beauty, therefore, is reduced to making one of two fallacious arguments. The first is to redefine beauty to include any feeling that art produces in anyone. Obviously if this definition is accepted, then the argument is reduced to a trivial truth, and the word beauty robbed of its meaning. The other is to assert that anything not deemed beautiful (generally by the person making the case) is not art. If we accept this arbitrary premise, then there can be no dialogue about the subject at all.
Having established that art can have any number of intents behind it, and that the intentions of the artist are not always correlated to the way in which the work is received, it is now appropriate to direct our inquiry to the specific instance of polemic, as it is only now that the question becomes truly relevant. Because having set realistically broad parameters for what art intends to do, we open the particular technique of polemic for even more nuanced criticism. For now the question is not whether polemic is compatible with beauty (and we will see that it is) but whether or not polemic is compatible with artistic expression of any kind, and with any intent.
Given that the question is whether polemic and novels should ever mix, polemic need only be proven to be compatible with a single set of artistic goals in order to answer this rather ambiguous question of ought. And here the evidence is overwhelming: not only can polemic be successfully harmonized with art, it has been throughout history. And not only is polemic compatible with some artistic goals, but it is demonstrably so even with the narrowly defined goal of beauty. The Sistine Chapel, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, and (most relevant to our concern) the works of Orwell, Salinger, and Twain all contain powerful and often explicit polemical statements.
It is not, however, enough to simply state that polemic needn’t hinder a novel. A case can, and should, be made with greater force in defense of polemic as a vital and valuable technique in its own right. For if polemic and novel were never to be combined, some of the greatest works of literature would never have been. There would be no 1984, no Paradise Lost, no Candide.
In modern society, forceful rhetoric and the art of stating one’s views with the intent to convince has become stigmatized through association with politicians and lawyers. Anyone who adopts a polemical approach to self-expression in most public forums risks censure on the grounds of not being open-minded or fair. Given that polemic in its raw form is so frowned upon, and that beauty remains highly respected, the ironic truth of the matter may well be that the novel is in fact the best place for contemporary polemical speech.


Rachel said...

I won't lie and say that I read every word of that, but in the few times I skimmed it, I didn't see any direct references to a passage from The Amber Spyglass.

I thought we were basing our argument around a specific quotation from the book, or at least including one?

Or have we moved on from there and this is now solely an opinion piece?

Dr. Stephen Ogden said...

Dear Rachel:
Excellent response. This being a draught will be corrected in revision -- for content among other features. I'd like to read your draught as well, if I could.

Rachel said...

Fortunately, I am not working much this week making this possible, for once.