Practicing to Master
This is an essay I’m writing out to help structure my practicing schedule. I am going to sit on it for a while—just a rough draft. Your feedback is welcome.
Postmodern writing lacks content, other than its obfuscating style, and this is consistent for Derrida, Lacan, Delueze, where the main message is in how it is side, not in important ideas, but in a sneering attitude. The tone is clear, though the ideas are not, a sort of mood music, an incantation or magical spell over the intellectuals, a style aiming to paralyze, bully, and ultimately seduce the weak to join the intellectual bully. Postmodernism, which could be called the rise of the mediocre, or slave morality gone intellectual, is best ended by the tyranny of a master morality and its discipline: great art requires great practice – and greatness is the only proper goal to a noble man.
Great prose takes much practice, and not only practice at writing, but the creation of a strong consciousness able to face the biting truth of reality, and sooth it into eloquence. Style is the setting of a piece, the tone and mood. More than anything else, a world is defined by the consciousness which creates it, the style of consciousness that structures it into an experience. Within one universe, there may be as many worlds as there are perspectives. The strongest minds will be able to reduce it to simplicity, to directly express its nature. In this, ornament is central, for just as syntax and grammar imitate the moves and attempts of a mind in time, so too does ornament and rhetoric evoke the heart that supports and feeds the mind in action.
A walk through the woods is richer if you know the names of trees: names allow a man to see individual things separate from their surroundings. The ability to name a thing requires eyes that see without words, a vision that knows how to paint an object into existence by naming it.
Language becomes a playing field, a recess of the mind from the work of life, with the joy of syntax, the idiosyncrasies of diction, the poetical densities, the genius of the perfect word, and the resonance of words with words, the long strong focus required to construct a period, balanced with antithesis, climax, and even teased out with rhymes, puns, and subtle games of self-reference, such as a sentence within a sentence, a play within a play, a god before the mirror, a child giving birth to herself.. What is deep speaks to what is deep; what is superficial speaks to what is superficial: we must be masters of both: the depth of truth, and the superficiality of beauty.
Read your work out loud several times, and read your favorite authors the same way. Combine all the senses, especially voice and vision. Style is joy, the joy of personality. A personality is nothing more than a conscious style. Mind is a willing, unified, changing, self-owned focus, but it is language insofar as it thinks in time, through images, and the handles it places on them, words, names, or images, so to skip from one to the next easily.
Master morality requires the antidemocratic morality, the morality of subordinating that which produces more subordinated, and ordinating that which produces more ordinated. This is de facto life, each man resolves into his place, like a marble down a hill, finding his nook to perch, as high as he can, but more importantly, as stable as he can.
Cut your works by 50%, read them aloud, construct your sentences in parallel construction, plan your essays as an architect plans a building, prefer the thing to the commentary of the thing, and show thing in such a way that the commentary silently shows itself, be specific, be likeable if you can, but authentic even if you cannot, write about people, use anecdotes, examples, quotes, and quotations. Over years of work, develop a theme.
It becomes apparent over an author’s career the undersense of a theme in his work. More and more his novels resolve to retelling the same story over and over again. Melville’s quest repeats through all his work, Whitman’s motherdeath romance never leaves him.
Aristotle wrote that “no great genius was ever without some mixture of madness, nor can anything grand or superior to the voice of common mortals be spoken except by the agitated soul.” You must take your whole life, subordinate the difficult, but do not cut it off nor cut off the best in deference to it. The allistic method is to use all, leave each part as much itself as possible, but relate all things to a larger schema. Your goals must be cemented together into one goal, hardened into a unified purpose.
Each man shines brightest in one narrow direction; his success is in aligning that light to the world, and working especially through that aspect. Every style is based on a trick, a sort of metatrope, by which, once mastered, you could predict him. In the same way, the skeleton of a situation is transparent enough to the piercing eye, but a full ambience requires a lifetime of study.
True practice is struggling at the edge of your ability, to continually test yourself, to plan on it, to stretch yourself further and further, to set yourself to make many honest mistakes, and to continually wrestle to overcome them. In this way, your skill circuits in your brain will be well-myelinated, and you can exact the best effect from a little bet of practice. Practice a new style, a new trick a new idea, slowly, perfect, and then build up moment. Set yourself for immediate critical feedback, a ruthless commentary on your work – get that coach and internalize him. Practice deeply and obsessively. Practice in the boiler room: make conditions as difficult as possible. Minimize the slack space, so your practice is much harder than the performance you must make.
See the gestalt, and break it into smaller bits, which you can repeat each till you have mastered them. Break a skill into small circuit – cut up your poems, memorize the small parts. Slow your sentence down – take a day on a single phrase. Observe, judge, and strategize your performance: coach yourself. Learn to feel what optimum practice is, and sink into it every time.
Your long term self image, how you imagine yourself in the end, determines your success more than anything: let this image become your eidolon, a symbol of your purpose.
The unconscious can compute 11 million pieces of information per second, the conscious only 40 pieces: so practice continually to make it all second nature. Acquire that one powerful idea that moves everything else in your life, and tie it into your primal drives for survival, importance, and love.
Even Whitman, a loafer who slept late, and was lax with his schedules, was “all urgency and strain when it came to his writings.” So you must economize your mental energy, herd it away even from duty, and let your slowly building reservoirs of stay energy by directed again to the same goals. Energy slowly builds until it is ready to burst, and we seldom get excited about what we expected to, but if we learn to reinterpret every novel excitement as a part of the same immortal goal, we will have maximized our effort towards it. The ability to interpret a book becomes again our greatest tool in structuring our own lives.
It takes 10, 000 hours of deliberate practice to master an art: monomania wins the day. Learn to practice as effectively as possible.