“Plots are for dead people.”

 

I.

I stumbled across David Shield’s Reality Hunger a few days ago at the Tucson Festival of Books. The first thing that caught my attention was the cover, it’s red, its awesome, and then I noticed the quotations on the front.

“A literary battle cry for the creation of a new genre,” — Cathy Alter, The Atlantic

And then I flipped it over:

“Who owns ideas? How clear is the distinction between fiction and nonfiction? Has the velocity of digital culture rendered traditional modes obsolete?”

Okay, totally intrigued, but then the quotations prefacing the text:

“All great works of literature either dissolve a genre or invent one.” — Walter Benjamin

I was sold I needed to buy it I bought it.

I took a fantastic class my freshman year here at the University called Thinking Critically About New Media, taught by Professor Charles Bertsch, and it’s my second favorite class I’ve taken thus far (Ornithology reigns supreme). Topics of discussion included Blade Runner, Capek’s R.U.R, Gibson’s Neuromancer, Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Cory Doctorow, and Lawrence Lessig. Basically, it was a class that eerily matched all of my more literary and more existential interests.

Turns out, the book is very similar to the course in themes, just a more literature-based focus.
Which means it’s awesome, and I definitely recommend it.

 

II.

I write, I draw. I’ve been thinking about digital art and theft and copying for years and years now, trying to get a better handle on my thoughts and form some sort of intelligent perspective about it because I love opensource content, I love collaboration, I love innovative crowd-sourced and crowd-funded capitalism-by-the-people kind of thing (the creative economy?). But nothing makes me want to wring out people’s necks more than the justification of stealing intellectual content.

“To be fair,” this person in my upper level evolution course says when our TA has to address the mass amounts of plagiarism copy-pasting the article for assignments where we summarize the article, “these journal articles are way above our level, and we just don’t want to get the wrong answers.”
(I almost stood up and crawled over the table and strangled this person, but I did not. I was disproportionately offended they insinuated the intellectual capacity of the entire class was not above plagirism.)

(There is the book Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon, which I have yet to read, but a close friend has told me some about. I assume it is sort of relevant, but I cannot say for sure, but I do intend to read it in the future. So there’s that for anyone who is curious.)

Reality Hunger, addresses some of these issues with intellectual property and ownership. Interestingly, Shields makes the case for the dismissal of citations, synthesizing his own words together with other quotations you may not necessarily realize are not his own.

I’m all for remixes and the freedom of information, but it gets touchy once it comes to profiting, because this happens in the digital art community frequently — where a person will steal the work of an artist and draw over it or recolor it or in some cases not manipulate it at all, then sell it on shirts or as prints or etc.
This, I will strangle necks for, but it’s not the same thing as the freedom of information. We’re all talking about people who are interested in transforming and building off of ideas, not looking for shortcuts and quick ways to make money. This is a distinction that doesn’t seem like it can be put into practice — I don’t know how you stop people from being lazy, dumb asses and protect the integrity of content without restraining its freedom.

 

III.

“Good poets borrow; great poets steal.” — Eliot
“Art is theft.” — Picasso

The work that I create is shaped by many things which I had no control over, things I’ve happened to experience, things other people have said, things that I saw, blah blah blah. But what I do with that jumble of information is something that only I can produce, and that seems to be what creativity is. Just using all the scraps you’ve gathered to make something you kinda sorta wanna say, synthesize your own context for the world that already exists using the fragments that aren’t really yours because they are the world’s.

It’s no secret artists influence one another.
But I don’t understand why it has to be theft.

When someone points to something in my work and says, “that’s a neat idea”, I don’t feel like I need to keep quiet anymore, thought I used to. I can say — yeah, I decided to make this story about sentient plant people because of the Wii game Mushroom Men that happened to have some fantastic music by Les Claypool and it was totally fucking awesome, I’d recommend it but the Wii seems to have died out so alas.

I’m not ashamed that I’ve been inspired by someone else because I know my product is not a copy — it’s a remix, it’s unique, it’s in its own context, and only I could have made it.

I’m constantly impressed by the words and arts and thoughts of people around me. They influence me, make me think new things, make me question things, and I feel a sort of pride to say — yes! I would never have written cyberpunk without playing Deus Ex or watching Blade Runner, they said something to me that I clearly think is worth thinking about and haven’t stopped thinking about since and I’m really fucking glad they did.

“Genius borrows nobly.” — Emerson

 

IV.

(Of course it would be silly to cite the origin of every single possible thing that might come up in a work, there would be a footnote on each page, literary analysis within itself, essay after academic essay, footnotes about footnotes. Horrible.
As genius borrows nobly, genius must cite reasonably.)

 

V.

(I’m glad Shields’s publishers forced him to add a list of citations at the end. This allowed me to trace interesting lines and concepts back to someone who could tell me more.
Reality Hunger is not a collection, it is a synthesis. So I shamelessly used that bibliography and I have no apologies. I applaud Shields for his book.)

 

VI.

I’ve been struggling with art.

I’ve been trying to create an actual fucking product from the story in my head, conveying it in a way that actually conveys what I want, looking and feeling the way I want — but webcomic didn’t seem to work, novel attempt #1 didn’t seem to work, now I’m on to novel attempt #2, but this time its working.

A few days ago I wrote that essay/ramble, Stop Thinking About Smelling the Roses because I was so stuck on the idea of authenticity:

And then the acknowledgement of okay, I want to make something worthwhile and quality, knowing I enjoy trying to smush in some literary merit and I have fun making that kind of stuff. And then. . . . it starts feeling fake.

I think not long after writing that I stumbled across this article that had some fantastic quotations:

Picasso was once asked if he knew what a painting was going to look like when he started it. He answered, “No, of course not. If I knew, I wouldn’t bother doing it.

Hungarian photographer Brassaï once asked Picasso whether his ideas come to him “by chance or by design,” and Picasso responded:

“I don’t have a clue. Ideas are simply starting points. I can rarely set them down as they come to my mind. As soon as I start to work, others well up in my pen. To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing… When I find myself facing a blank page, that’s always going through my head. What I capture in spite of myself interests me more than my own ideas.

“With relatively few exceptions, the novel sacrifices too much for me, on the altar of plot.” — David Sheilds.

Nothing has ever so greatly calmed my angsty, confused, self-proclaimed artist self.

 

VII.

A while ago I decided I could concisely summarize that I was interested in the exploration of concept, context, and syntax and the grotesque and uncomfortable.

I’m not interested in standalone pieces anymore. I don’t want to make disembodied works of art, I want to make zines, art books, something all tied up together and cohesive. I don’t know why. That’s just what I want to do.

I want to keep all the pages of this novel-in-progress together with a binding because it is meant to be a whole. Deconstruct it to build upon it, sure, but I don’t want cropped versions of my art floating around the internet for no damn good reason.
There’s something about stripping the fur off a carcass and using it for clothing that is different than stripping the fur off a carcass and leaving it a few feet off in the dirt.

 

VIII.

I’m more excited to write than I have ever been in a very long time because I’m not worried anymore.

Last night a friend wrote to me after reading the first 15k of my novel, kids in high school will read about and analyze this in the future.
I said, if this novel isn’t banned in high schools, I’m not doing it right.

Is it a novel? Is it fiction? (Those words don’t feel right anymore, so I have taken to “monstrosity”.) I don’t know. I don’t care. I don’t give a fuck.

I’m not here to tell a good story.

I’m here to say something no one else can, that no one else has ever said before.

 

Cut and Paste Philosophy

I’ve tabbed many pages of David Shield’s Reality Hunger, and I have been rereading these sections in the past few days. They’re particularly helpful in reminding me of my own philosophy on art and writing. Sometimes other people put it in words way better than you can.

I decided it would be nice to create a little archive of the quotations I’ve found most influential for my personal philosophy. (And I will continue to update it as I come across more.)
Without further ado, and in no particular order:

“Picasso was once asked if he knew what a painting was going to look like when he started it. He answered, “No, of course not. If I knew, I wouldn’t bother doing it.”
Hungarian photographer Brassaï once asked Picasso whether his ideas come to him “by chance or by design,” and Picasso responded:
“I don’t have a clue. Ideas are simply starting points. I can rarely set them down as they come to my mind. As soon as I start to work, others well up in my pen. To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing… When I find myself facing a blank page, that’s always going through my head. What I capture in spite of myself interests me more than my own ideas.”
original article

 

“This is a work of fiction. No person in it bears any resemblance to any actual person living or dead, etc., etc. London does not exist.”
Graham Greene

 

“The film is the talking.”
— David Lynch

 

“Rothko is great because he forced artists who came after him to change how they thought about painting.”
— Unknown Tour Guide via David Shields

 

“One view is “There’s something in charge and I wanna get straight with it.” Another view is “There’s something in charge and it means me no good and I wanna get the fuck out of here.” And the third is, “There’s nothing and everything going on.” The third, because it contains the other two, is most appealing to me.”
— Robert Hass

 

“Authenticity comes from a single faithfulness: that to the ambiguity of experience.”
— John Berger

 

“When we are not sure, we are alive.”
— Greene

 

“Serious writing actually tries to get somewhere–to make intellectual, emotional, psychic, and philosophical “progress” . . . in the work of my favorite writers, the armature of overt drama is dispensed with, and we’re left with a deeper drama, the real drama: an active human consciousness trying to figure out how he or she has solved or not solved being alive.”
— David Shields

 

“Kill your band.”
— Lou Reed

 

“Let us hope a time will come when language is most efficiently used where it is being most efficiently misused.”
— Beckett

 

“I’ve never heard of a crime I could not imagine committing myself.”
— Goethe

 

“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”
— Gore Vidal

 

“The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.”
— Pablo Picasso

 

“If it can be destroyed by the truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth.”
— Carl Sagan

 

“Or in other words: shy from the sky. No answer lies there. It cannot care, especially for what it no longer knows. Treat that place as a thing unto itself, independent of all else, and confront it on those terms. You alone must find the way. No one else can help you. Every way is different. And if you do lose yourself at least take solace in the absolute certainty that you will perish.”
— Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves

 

“I’ve never tried to be shocking. The only thing you can do is confuse people, because it makes them think. And the art of confusion and chaos is the way to make people think, the way to create a catalyst of change.”
— Marilyn Manson

 

“Any A.I. smart enough to pass a Turing test is smart enough to know to fail it.”
— Ian McDonald

 

“Sometimes I worry that not enough people hate me.”
— Amy Poehler

 

“Have no fear of perfection–you’ll never reach it.”
— Salvador Dali

 

“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”
— Cesar A. Cruz

 

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled is convincing the world he doesn’t exist.”
— The Usual Suspects

 

“I am more than a devil; I am a man. I can do the one thing which Satan himself cannot do— I can die.”
— G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who was Thursday

 

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all of its contents.”
— H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

 

“Only a real artist knows the actual anatomy of the terrible or the physiology of fear.”
— H. P. Lovecraft, Pickman’s Model

 

“It is homage to the majesty of the absurd which bespeaks the presence of human beings.”
— Paul Celan, The Meridian

 

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
— Fitzgerald

 

“Great art is clear thinking about mixed feelings.”
— W. H. Auden

 

I am god and I need to be destroyed.

 

“To see what everyone else has seen but to think what nobody else has thought.”
— Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

 

“For now in every exuberant joy there is heard an undertone of terror”
— Friedrich Nietzsche

 

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex . . . It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”

— Albert Einstein

 

I’m not sorry.

You’re wrong and you know nothing.

No.

Why aren’t you dead.

Stop Thinking about Smelling the Roses

If I want to be honest and authentic and uniquely myself, I should probably stop thinking about it.

I want to be happy. And I sure as hell know better than to tear that down into making sure I look happy, making sure people interpret what I do as happy. If I want to be happy I have to do it and not give a damn if people think about it otherwise, because I know what makes me happy. Simple.

I guess that’s where it gets finicky when it comes to writing. Making stuff is hard work. It takes a lot of work to even think about making something, so by that time it’s already daunting to find a place to start, at least to some extents, even with simple things.
And then the acknowledgement of okay, I want to make something worthwhile and quality, knowing I enjoy trying to smush in some literary merit and I have fun making that kind of stuff. And then.

I’m so fucking goddamn busy, if I want to make something quality that requires thought and time and effort I better make sure this is worth it. So I better not waste my time and I better make an outline and know what I’m writing about. And make sure I hit these literary points that I am interested in putting in because I genuinely want to.

Then it starts feeling fake.

(Which, again, is a sort of pervasive feeling that tries to tell me I shouldn’t be writing these essays and that I should pretend to be clueless to my interest in literary musings. Yes, again I’ve reached this topic. Shocking.)

I still don’t get it.

There is the thought that I should not strive to be thought-provoking and deep and artistic because that would be grandiose and pretentious and fake.

And yet I love thought-provoking things.

This circle makes absolutely no sense to me.

(So of course I am writing a stream of consciousness about it.)

My main principle on the active practice of being happy is to stop thinking about stopping to smell the roses and actually smelling the goddamn roses.

Stop telling yourself to do things and start remembering why you do them. Stop remembering why you do things and start feeling why you do them.

Maybe it’s a matter of cutting out the over-analyst. Maybe it’s a voice from pressures I’ve picked up from society around me.

It must work for some people, to sit down and outline these things, and I don’t think it even negates the authenticity. Art takes thought, it’s silly to deny that.

But I hope that I can throw this out the window and just start hacking away at the keyboard without worrying about how am I going to make this express x, y, and z in a clever way and trust myself that my interest in these things is innate enough to build itself. Think about it a bit, instead of obsessively worry about is this sex scene demonstrating important character interaction or is this just porn?

On my death bed I’m sure I’d be glad if I chose to write the smut even if I had no literary justification whatsoever.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written fiction, and picking it back up has made it feel like such an inorganic process (and as we can conclude from maybe three essays and counting, I have no idea why it feels that way now).

I ought to stop worrying about how artistically my prose captures themes that interest me and start trusting myself that writing is inherently my medium of choice to explore these ideas. So I really just ought write more porn.

Thinking is Scarier than I Thought

Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. It requires profound purpose larger than the self kind of understanding.
Bill Bullard

Opinion has always been my dirty word. I don’t like it. Instead, I like this quotation — even though I have no real context for it. I don’t know who Bill Bullard is, I don’t know why he said this. And I’m not here writing about empathy either.

In the past year, especially as the environment around me becomes more political and more willing to talk political, I’ve declined having an opinion on some particular topics and I explain myself with the simple: “I just don’t know enough to have an informed opinion”.
My current approach to life is mindfulness. To be mindful about all sorts of things, which has led me to this “I don’t know enough”, which I’ve been told is fine, and even good.

I work in a lab on campus here in the Ecology & Evolutionary Biology department, and for the first time in my life I’m starting to progress into actual, self-driven research. It’s been a semester and a half since I’ve started. And I have nothing to show for.
Just a swirling culmination of papers I’ve read, and a base understanding about this topic that I’ve been researching.

So, today I met with my mentor of sorts, a post doc, and we discussed a starting point for my compiling somewhat of a mini review, because I had no idea where to start.

And as I sat there, slowly beginning to understand how I was going to frame this paper, totally excited to start on it, she told me something that I’ve been thinking about since. That once I hit grad school, the biggest struggle is the feeling of “I don’t know enough”, and that this feeling doesn’t go away — you just get used to it.

To be comfortable being uncomfortable.

Her words sounded eerily similar to my justifications for not having an opinion, and she was squashing that idea. (Which sort of made me uncomfortable.)

But I already am comfortable with being uncomfortable, right? I thought I enjoyed writing about things that were uncomfortable — I’m here, writing this, because I’m enjoying thinking over these few statements that made me uncomfortable — was that not already one of my central artistic, thematic interests?

And I’ve been writing these sort of essays a bit in the spirit of E. B. White for a few months now, and contemplated the thought of ever sharing them. And I did not want to do it.

Would I slander the name of writers who write essays if I dare say I’m writing an essay? Who the hell am I to put my opinion on the internet, acting as if I know something. I don’t fucking know anything. I’ve evolved my own view of life so much that sometimes I wish I could slap my younger self for thinking such ignorant things — so to avoid my future self slapping my present self I can’t be as definitive as something published on the internet parading as an essay—

A few months later, I published my first essay just yesterday (I refer to them to my friends as “pretentious blogs”, because let’s be real) after some deliberation, so it seems oddly suiting to have had this discussion with my post doc mentor today.

I pushed that publish button yesterday with much gusto and reveled in the masochistic adrenaline thrill of this is totally making me uncomfortable I don’t want to slander the name of E. B. White even though I know no one will read this because LET’S BE REAL.*

So, back to today, I sat there, listening to her talk about poster presentations: how people will approach you and ask if you’ve read a specific paper, and how often times you will not have, and how it’s not an act of condescension, it’s just the exchange of thought. And how the addition of new knowledge will continually alter and affect your studies for as long as you continue to work in that field.

And that was strangely comforting.

That seems counter-intuitive to how the world works, especially in regards to certain online communities, where the lack of knowledge of a particular is criminalized and met with hostility. (Which is largely a reason that I’ve been vocal about knowing how I don’t know whenever anything political comes up.)

And yet, I will get nowhere in my field unless I can synthesize and process the information that I have researched, knowing that I will continue to evolve my understanding.

And that is incredibly comforting.

A hypothesis is not an opinion.

This freedom, which I understood as the basic foundation of how science is conducted, is actually the same exact freedom that made me fall in love with art.

Before Darwin and those that influenced him, theories that attempted to explain the phenomenons of evolution and species diversity, were not correct. They even seem sort of silly today because of all the science done between then and now.

But there is something intensely admirable about daring to put together observations and facts into a greater understanding, knowing that you may be entirely, outlandishly wrong.
And yet you do, fueled not by ignorance or egotism or naivety, but by sheer curiosity and fascination for this bizarre and equally, if not more, outlandish world.


* I originally published this on Medium a day after I’d published another short essay, but now I feel that it’s no longer worth bothering with, so I haven’t and won’t be uploaded it.

 

Site Launch

EDIT: I realize I should probably introduce myself to the wordpress community. I’m Koel and I write and draw cyberpunk stuff and it’s been years since I’ve used wordpress, but I’m super happy to get back to it. I write hard sci-fi, psychological horror, and literary, experimental things. I also write poems once in a while.
I’m also an undergrad studying Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Microbiology, so I love applying stuff I learn in class to my work. Thus naturally, everything I write is cyberpunky and biopunky because those things are awesome.


Even though I don’t have much content, so I am probably a bit ahead of myself here. But either way it feels good to have a new corner of the internet all to myself. Hopefully, in the next few days I will be populating categories with some art and writing.

In other news, I have the first 18k of Burn-In written, I’m super duper excited, but I still need to format that and yadda yadda.