Monday, February 18, 2013

Inkblots: Argument or Conversation? Which is Better?

'Blots gets philosophy
Inkblots--February 18, 2013

Five of us tonight, lazy, hissing fire, and another French wine (thanks John--a good one). Dave's Winepress book in hand--congratulations. 

Patrick, who is writing an interesting-sounding philosophy book on Kant and Rorty, said he liked Dougie Mac's spare straight forward description is good but could be more evocative if he used more metaphor and simile. Imaginative comparisons awaken the reader's imagination, or ought to. Dougie Mac read us a sample and we talked about how to make it more round, show more by comparison that puts flesh and sinew on the character. We're in Korea, mortar attack. What stinks? Can you give us some imaginative comparison to evoke our sense of smell. This is a good example of what Patrick is talking about, I think. Kimchi, what does it actually smell like, and what does it make his glands do. Show him craving it, and which kind specifically (there are a number of different kinds). Reader will not necessarily know what it is. I think we need to feel the fear of the attack, the thrill of killing, mixed with an overwhelming sense of the reality of taking more human life, at least it wasn't their lives. John felt like we needed to feel more of his fear at the attack. Then after, "Cease fire!" he's flooded with waring inner tension (as Dave termed it well) at killing people, real human beings, more smells, eery stillness, but some were not killed, but wounded and what would the sounds be on a battle field after the shooting stops. The deafening sound during the shooting. Then the shooting stops and the haunting sounds of the dying, what does agony mixed with terror at the inevitably of dying sound like.

285,000 words from Patrick's philosophy book (we've got to help him come up with something else to call this book). A philosopher's dual. Three men talking, Kant, Rorty, and Patrick. I suggested he read from the second portion, the actual dual between the two, and how to have argument (Rorty says no argument confrontation, just conversation). Rorty knew that there needed to be common ground to argue and as a postmodern he didn't think there was common ground, universals necessary for argument. For Rorty conversation is safe because there is no ... He only saw the slide into cruelty not the drive toward truth. Conversation leads to another kind of cruelty, friends with no closeness, no free market exchange of ideas. But is it safe, better than pitched battle? Conversation is less honest. This is rich, good, material, and demonstrates that Patrick not only knows philosophy but he loves philosophy. This is abundantly clear. Maybe you do this further into the book, but I would like to hear the material you gave us in narrative, the difference between conversation and argument, into actual dialog between these two dudes. Wouldn't it be fun to hear Rorty argue for conversation only. Rorty, who is absolutely certain about this, thinks that going from argument to conversation is a significant part of what defines civilization (is he arguing for the superiority of conversation?). We talked about ways Patrick could make this remarkably perceptive material into more accessible material, I suggested the two sit down (okay they only lived nearly 200 years apart), but could be two university students going at it from their chosen philosophical heroes. We asked him to read us some more. So often we don't actually argue; we just talk past each other. Therapeutic deism prevails in the church, so we try to avoid argument, reverting to story telling about my personal experience of what benefit I get from being a Christian. This, Patrick says, is not arguing. Here, he critiques the way the church teaches propositions that lead to faith, salvation connected to a set of propositions. But not the metaphor Christians prefer because we want to avoid the hard and firm in favor of the experiential motivations changing. But what if the conversion does not produce the altruism in the preferred model: heart knowledge versus head knowledge. Christians explaining away cognitive dissonance, depending on my own strength but not experiencing the personal transformation. If people are going to read this, it needs to be in a human setting, with distinctly human characters, mannerisms, settings, sensory material. Sophie's World is an imaginative method of communicating philosophy imbedded in story. And the Huxley, Kennedy, and Lewis post-humus conversation (or is it argument?).

Dave's up. Reading chapter two and three where he says he really needs help. Dave is struggling with recent onset Bell's palsy so it's a challenge to read. Sequel to the Winepress book. He wonders if these chapters need to be longer. Secretary of Defense, cease fire, but separated. This picks up on some back story from the first volume. John thought the shooting was a bit abrupt. How would the cook have a gun, asked Patrick. Need to read the first book. Need to develop the doctor with more nuance. He's too flat. Maybe develop his dislike of having to work for Robert, wanting to be his own boss, god delusion, but needs more subtlety.

Patrick tells about the comic book Sandman, appreciated by both comic book fans and literary types alike. Madness. Either everything is madness or Christianity is true.

John reads his Russian novel (in English, which was considerate of him, I thought). It was a chapter we had heard part of before, account of the death of a child struck by car, and then hand grenade death. "Do you believe there's a God. He no help me with my parents." Felt the pain with the sister hit by the car, but didn't feel anything for the friend killed by the grenade. Too convenient for him to have someone near them die in tragic ways, though it happens, it seems a bit coincidental. "Difference between truth and fiction is that fiction has to make sense." Hence, we feel like fiction can't be too coincidental, though real life can be. Fiction is contrivance, but good fiction doesn't feel like it is contrived. Dougie Mac feels like John preconditions us to not like it, because of his disclaimers before he reads. Too much, too fast. But not to stretch out word count. We need to get away from thinking we are trying to get more word count. "Be brief," was Horace's writing axiom, yet the story does have to be complete in action, but more so in character.

I read from chapter 27 on confessional unity. Here's a sound byte from the chapter: "This is nothing short of a reinvention of justification in the bland image of works righteousness, Rome without all the bells and smells. If the banks of the confessional stream were this wide, we’d be looking at another world-wide flood, a confession with no boundaries at all." 

We concluded praying for Dave and his Bell's palsy, deliver him, Lord.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

How Writing is Like Shooting a Gun

Writing and Being a Gunner

INKBLOTS  February 4, 2013

We’re the number of perfection tonight, seven men, sitting around the fire in my living room, talking writing (with a bottle of Swiss Pinot Noir, thanks John). I led off by reading from Strunk & White, chapter V:

Writing is, for most, laborious and slow. The mind travels faster than the pen; consequently, writing becomes a question of learning to make occasional wing shots, bringing down the bird of thought as it flashes by. A writer is a gunner, sometimes waiting in the blind for something to come in, sometimes roaming the countryside hoping to scare something up. Like other gunners, the writer must cultivate patience, working many covers to bring down one partridge.

Carl gave us a brief update on his message back east at a pastors conference: The Gospel: Fruit. His father, a non-believer, agreed to come with his believing mother; they drove 9 hours. His mom indicated that his dad had more comments and questions, more interest than ever before.

John gave us a recap of his critique from Writers’ Edge, wherein they rejected his manuscript: more showing, less telling; get more into the head and reality of who your character really is; description too wooden.

Shane read a non-fiction piece reflecting on the on-going fallout of Hurricane Sandy. It sounds to me like an opinion/editorial piece. Shane is clearly well-read and thinks about what’s going on in his world. Patrick commented on advice he got from a professor in college: don’t write to be impressive; avoid self-conscious complex syntax. Some examples were obscure, fancy-smancy vocabulary rather than the most appropriate word, like “intra-cultural.” Shane is studying for the GRE so he may be working on his vocabulary to do well on the exam. Implication is that the content is weak and needs bolstering from higher falutin language. I read Reminder 14, Stunk and White, Avoid Fancy Words.

Adam read the beginning of historical fiction. First person description, a bit flowery, my initial thought, unless the point of view is a flowery character, with issues to deal with. Now we shift to Jacob. Who is Jacob? I’m confused. He’s the blacksmith. My bad-listening issues, though there is a problem shifting from first person to third person, and it happening in the first chapter, abruptly is problematic. Adam didn’t want to read the dialog that followed. We pressed him to read some. John thought it was pretty good, liked his descriptions, interesting. For the opening chapter maybe bogged down. The descriptions are good but we don’t know what is coming, needs more hint of the point, where we’re going. I think it needs to create mystery, intrigue, a sense of what the problem is going to be. Shane reminded Adam that attributions should primarily be unobtrusive, said, asked. Used word hammer too often. The shift in point of view is problematic, not forbidden, but requires a good deal from the reader that they may not be quite ready to render at this point in the story. Description all of it has to have meaningful work to do in the story. Map out where you’re going so you know just what needs describing and what doesn’t. This will help where you are right now, in my opinion.

Dougie Mac gives us a brief synopsis of his Korean War fiction, then read. July 1950, month into the war. North Korea had taken Seoul and protagonist is a Marine, landing with the first brigade. His parents are missionaries in Korean. Disembarking, you told us of sights and smells but you didn’t show them to us. Thomas reassured his fellow soldiers based on his previous knowledge of Korea having grown up there. I missed the meaning of the priest chaplain’s reactions to Thomas’s inquiry about his parents. Show more of his anxiety. I think you need to go deeper inside his emotions about what might have happened to his parents. Bring up unresolved conflicts, maybe their last interchange that was less than warm, his remorse about how he hurt them when he was in rebellion. His mother’s face, her touch; something more human about his fears for them. More of this would make Thomas real. He seemed so earlier when you read, so maybe you can go back and find previous 3-D characterization to help revise here. Will I ever see my parents again? Work this with some nuance; this is single dimension; work toward multiple layered inner conflict and anxiety. Finding the boy…. Patrick commented on layered description of character’s thoughts. Shane thought the dialogue was stronger than the description. Where is his anger toward the North Korean’s for what they might have done to his parents, too passive a receptor of what has happened.

Carl brought something he wrote and a piece from a member of his church. He feels like he lives in a fictitious world. This is about their dog, older and soon to die, he fears, and so a second dog, the latter who can be trained by the elder. New insight into discipleship (Patrick thought this should come in earlier). Names of animals from Narnia, Fledge the new dog. Hoping to train it well so that it will be smart and they will look smart for doing such a great job of training the animal. But Fledge is wild. It is not going so well, a puppy, undisciplined. A dog who is in an entirely new world, like the new Christian, 8-month old puppy Christian. Surrounded by everything new, and need discipleship to mature, grow out of puppyhood. This is a pastoral piece, written with inconspicuous imagination, like a shepherd wanting to communicate with the sheep; the tail, in my opinion, doesn’t wag the dog (ahem, snicker).  

John now reading from his Russian novel manuscript. A chapter back story, 1919, Stalin comes into Bulgaria and kills most everybody. Show the girl’s overwhelming reaction to the ball. It looks so exciting, what do those finest clothes look like, how does the light play on them, give the count and duchess actual names. When you shift to her violin playing you just tell it. Integrate it into her reaction to the music being played by the orchestra. It gets better as she dances in her imagination. The loud pops, lifeless bodies, show what they look like from a 9 year old perspective, broken doll, with blood the color of rose blossoms in June in my grandmother’s garden. She watches all this from behind what? She seems to be able to see a great deal from the hidden room. Did she think this was all part of the ball, a masquerade, and then when she sees a relative shot in the chest, her blouse turning from white to deep red, like the colors of the Soviet flag. Written in first person. As with Twain’s use of dramatic irony, so valuable to this episode. The reader should know things that the young girl does not.

Next I read Introduction to GRACE WORKS And Ways We Think It Doesn’t. Thanks, gentlemen, for some helpful critique. Based on Inkblots' advice, I've shortened it by 150 words (always a good place to begin revision and editing), and I think it reads much more clean and precise.