Elements Of Writing Essay, Research Paper
1. A good book is the offspring of many fathers and the father of many offspring.
2. Writer’s Goal By art to attain simplicity.
3. A good style is simple and powerful, like a wave breaking on a beach.
4. Simplicity La Bruy?re, knowing that many writers make the mistake of expressing simple things in a complex way, gave this advice to writers: “if you want to say that it is raining, say: ‘It is raining’.” Simplicity is the mark of good prose, and it’s also a virtue in other branches of culture, such as architecture. The chief virtue of Greek architecture is simplicity.
The Greeks regarded simplicity as both a cultural virtue and a moral virtue. “Beauty of style,” wrote Plato, “and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity—I mean the true simplicity of a rightly and nobly ordered mind and character.”(1) If there is one quality that is lacking in modern art, in modern architecture, and in the modern soul, it is simplicity.
5. Clarity Serious writers strive to be understood, strive for clarity. Bad writers, on the other hand, aren’t afraid of being obscure as long as they can make the reader think, “What an extensive vocabulary! What learning! What talent!” The surest sign of bad prose is the use of uncommon words where common words would suffice.
Clarity can be achieved by the repetition of certain words. Repetition is more comprehensible for the reader than variety. As Anatole France said, “You will find in my paragraphs a word that comes over and over again. That is the leit-motiv of the symphony. Be careful not to delete and replace it by a synonym.”(2) One of the most common stylistic mistakes is avoiding repetition, and replacing a previously-used word with a synonym.
But clarity alone doesn’t make good prose; clarity must be combined with brevity. Good prose is so concise that every word has the importance of an italicized word.
6. Five Techniques A good writer makes skillful use of five techniques: he addresses someone, gives orders, asks questions, makes exclamations, and repeats certain words. Addressing someone is sometimes described as the vocative case, while ordering someone, telling someone what to do, is sometimes described as the imperative case.
Shakespeare uses the vocative case, followed by the imperative case, when he makes Juliet say, “Romeo, doff thy name.” Melville gives us an example of exclamation when he writes, “Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it.” This passage also uses the imperative case. Thoreau gives us an example of the repetition of certain words when he writes, “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.” This passage also uses exclamation. In one line of poetry, Virgil uses three techniques: he repeats a word, he addresses someone, and he asks a question: “Ah, Corydon, Corydon, what madness seized you?”(3) In a passage in his novel, The Castle, Kafka uses four techniques: he addresses someone, asks a question, makes an exclamation, and repeats certain words: “Do you hear that, Frieda? It’s about you that he, he, wants to speak to Klamm, to Klamm!”
7. Best Style Though it’s possible to lay down rules for style, though it’s possible to describe the ideal style, it’s impossible to teach someone to write great prose. Style is an expression of personality. Great prose writers don’t follow rules, they follow their taste. Great prose writers are born, not made.
Style and content are of equal importance; literature is a combination of style and content. Only a philistine would overlook style, and only a pedant would overlook content. If style is pursued for its own sake, it becomes artificial; style should be the vehicle of thought. In order to write well, one must have something to say. If one has something to say, if one has profound ideas and strong convictions, style comes naturally. Great thinkers are great stylists, and great stylists are great thinkers. Plato, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche are considered models of Greek style, Danish style and German style respectively, and they’re also the deepest thinkers that those three nations have produced. Emerson is the deepest thinker that America has produced, and also America’s best prose writer.
8. Nicknames, store names, and advertising are the poetry of everyday life, and one finds in them many of the techniques that one finds in poetry.
9. Reader and Writer Reading is often a kind of friendship. The reader gets to know the author, and if he likes him, if he feels akin to him, a kind of friendship develops. (The saying “opposites attract” may apply to love, but it doesn’t apply to friendship; friendship is based on kinship, on similarity of character.) Sometimes reading leads to actual friendship, friendship between living people; Emerson and Carlyle, for example, became friends after Emerson read Carlyle’s writings. More often, however, reading leads to friendship at a distance—a distance in space or a distance in time.
The writer is sometimes a father figure rather than a friend. Shakespeare was a father figure to Goethe, and Schopenhauer was a father figure to Nietzsche. When a young reader idolizes a writer, he often wants to imitate the writer, to model his whole life after the writer. The young Victor Hugo, for example, said that he wanted to be “Chateaubriand or nothing.” The young reader envies the accomplishments of the writer he admires, he wants to accomplish as much himself, and he’s discouraged when he thinks of the great distance that separates him from the writer he admires. Like a hiker setting out to climb Mt. Everest, he feels that he must work hard, and strain himself to the breaking point, in order to reach his goal.
The sons of today are the fathers of tomorrow, and the youth who reveres a writer may someday become a revered writer himself. Nietzsche realized that he would someday be an idolized and envied father figure, just as Schopenhauer had been a father figure to him. Thus, Nietzsche makes the young man say to Zarathustra, “it is envy of you which has destroyed me.”(4) While self-satisfaction makes life easy and pleasant, envy makes life difficult and painful. Greatness is forged in suffering. Dissatisfaction with oneself, coupled with reverence for someone else, spurs one to great accomplishments. Envy has positive effects when it aims not to lower someone else to your level, but rather to raise yourself to someone else’s level. Every great man was once a youth who envied someone else, was dissatisfied with himself, and was spurred to great accomplishments by his envy and dissatisfaction. Every great man was once a youth who revered greatness.
10. What is the purpose of literature? The purpose of literature, like the purpose of art in general, is to make life more palatable to people, more interesting, richer. Art provides pleasure, stimulation, inspiration. Art doesn’t have to teach, it doesn’t have to be moral or religious or political or philosophical. There are great imaginative writers who don’t teach us anything, just as a composer of music doesn’t teach us anything.
11. Is Beauty Universal? Beauty is neither universal nor timeless, it fades with distance and time. An imaginative writer from ancient Greece has little appeal for most modern readers; ancient Greek writers appeal only to scholars. Likewise, Shakespeare will someday appeal only to scholars. Westerners find little enjoyment in Eastern culture; the poets of China and Japan are enjoyed only by a few Western scholars.
Eastern painting is more enjoyable to Westerners than Eastern literature. The beauty of fine art reaches further, and lasts longer, than the beauty of literature. And the beauty of music lasts longer than the beauty of fine art. Music is the most universal, the most timeless, of the arts.
12. Educated Laymen A culture of scholars isn’t a healthy culture. A culture that is preoccupied with recapturing the faded beauty of old classics isn’t a healthy culture. But a popular culture that appeals chiefly to uneducated people is also unhealthy. The best culture is a culture that appeals to educated laymen. The best culture respects the old classics, but it also respects the pleasure that contemporary artists provide. The best culture avoids the sterility of scholar culture, and also avoids the barbarism of popular culture. Modern culture isn’t healthy, it isn’t a culture of educated laymen. Modern culture is divided between sterile scholar culture and barbaric popular culture.
13. Goethe Goethe’s novels have little interest for modern readers. Gide described one of Goethe’s novels as “unbelievably silly”; Gide said that Goethe “could not have written it at present.”(5) Like Goethe’s novels, Scott’s novels strike modern readers as dull, though they were once considered immortal classics. There is a certain progression in the history of the novel, a progression that has relegated many early novelists, including Scott and Goethe, to obscurity. The history of the novel casts doubt on the old theory that art, unlike science, is timeless and never progresses.
Goethe’s poetry, like most poetry, holds little attraction for those who read it in translation. (As Robert Frost said, “poetry is what gets lost in translation.”) Goethe’s best works, for those who read him in translation, are his autobiography and his conversations, as recorded by Eckermann. His autobiography is as pleasurable to read as Rousseau’s autobiography, and his conversations with Eckermann are more interesting than Boswell’s Life of Johnson.
14. Letters During the early 1500’s, collections of Erasmus’ letters were in greater demand than any other book. Voltaire’s letters from Ferney were so lively and witty that they were handed around Paris. It is said that Voltaire’s writing is at its best in his letters. Letter-writing affords writers a freedom that they aren’t afforded by any other type of writing.
15. The most interesting literature is the most personal literature: biographies, autobiographies, diaries, letters and conversations.
16. One of the most valuable services that a writer can perform for a reader is to call his attention to good writers.
17. Maturing Taste Psychologists often say that the individual repeats, in his own development, the development of the human race as a whole. The individual repeats the religious history of mankind by beginning life with the earliest forms of religion, animism and totemism; that is, he begins life by believing that inanimate objects and animals have feelings and thoughts similar to his own. The individual repeats the literary history of mankind by beginning life with the earliest forms of literature, fairy tales and animal fables. By age ten, we’ve graduated from fairy tales to myths, just as mankind once graduated from fairy tales to myths. At fifteen, we’re able to read early novelists like Defoe and Dumas. At twenty, we’re able to read later novelists like Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. Not until twenty-five are we able to read twentieth-century novelists like Proust and Joyce.
18. Chekhov depicts people whose romantic visions are shattered by day-to-day living. No matter what they’re doing, they always wish that they were doing something else, and no matter where they are, they always wish that they were somewhere else. They remind one of Socrates’ comment about marriage: if you get married you’ll regret it, and if you don’t get married you’ll regret that, too. Chekhov’s characters also remind one of Flaubert’s character, Madame Bovary, who found that reality never lived up to her expectations; Chekhov must have been influenced by Flaubert. Layevsky, a character in Chekhov’s story, “The Duel,” is typical of Chekhov’s characters. “Two years ago,” Chekhov writes, “when [Layevsky] fell in love with Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, it seemed to him that he had only to join his life to hers, go to the Caucasus, and he would be saved from the vulgarity and emptiness of his life; now he was just as certain that he had only to forsake Nadyezhda Fyodorovna and go to Petersburg to have everything he wanted.”
Like many modern writers and painters, Chekhov doesn’t depict reality as it is, but reality as it is perceived. Instead of describing a woman’s personality, Chekhov describes the impression that she made on people; he says of one of his characters that since she was always seen with her dog, people thought of her as “the lady with the dog.”
Chekhov believed that art should be realistic and true to life; in this respect, he’s similar to other late-nineteenth-century writers, such as Ibsen, Flaubert and Zola. Chekhov’s specialty is detail; in Chekhov’s stories, the parts are more important than the whole.
Chekhov depicts the absurdity of life, as Kafka does. But Chekhov is more realistic and less imaginative than Kafka. Chekhov composed his works from notes that he jotted down during the course of his daily life, while Kafka composed his works during inspired periods, periods in which he surrendered himself to his unconscious.
19. Kafka Philosophers often have one central idea around which their entire philosophy revolves. Likewise, imaginative writers often have one central theme that is expressed in all their work.
In the case of Kafka, this central theme is the overwhelming of the individual by huge institutions, by huge inanimate objects, by huge crowds, and by the absurdity of the world. This theme is especially evident in The Trialand The Castle. In Kafka’s Amerika, and in some of Kafka’s short stories, this theme, although it isn’t as pervasive as it is in The Trial and The Castle, recurs again and again. Examples of huge institutions in Amerika are the Hotel Occidental and the Theatre of Oklahoma, which has “almost no limits.” An example of a huge inanimate object is the ocean liner, with its “endlessly recurring stairs” and its “corridors with countless turnings.”
While Joyce’s prose is innovative and eccentric, and Proust’s is precious, Kafka’s prose is simple, pure and classical. Hence Kafka is more readable and popular than Joyce or Proust.
While most modern writers stay close to reality, and draw on their own lives, Kafka created worlds that were far removed from the real world; Kafka’s work has rare imaginative power. A book of aphorisms could be compiled from Shakespeare’s philosophical comments, from Tolstoy’s psychological observations, and from Proust’s remarks on art. Kafka’s work, however, doesn’t contain any such comments or observations; Kafka is impossible to quote. Kafka doesn’t try to understand reality, he creates fantasies that contain psychological truth.
One factor that shaped Kafka’s work was the development, in recent times, of large institutions and bureaucracies; Kafka himself was a government bureaucrat. Another factor that shaped Kafka’s work was Gogol’s stories, which often begin with the protagonist finding himself in a strange and absurd situation, just as some of Kafka’s stories—“The Metamorphosis,” for example, and The Trial—begin with the protagonist finding himself in a strange and absurd situation. A third factor that shaped Kafka’s work was that his father was an aggressive, dominating personality who instilled in him a feeling of guilt, inferiority and powerlessness. A fourth factor was that Kafka was Jewish; being Jewish increased Kafka’s feeling of powerlessness.
Kafka found relief for his sufferings, his guilt and his powerlessness in humor. Kafka is an extraordinary writer because he had an extraordinary sense of humor. As Freud said, “It is not everyone who is capable of the humorous attitude: it is a rare and precious gift.”(6)
20. Flaubert While the dominant note in Kafka’s personality was humor, the dominant note in Flaubert’s personality was pride. Flaubert was proud of his devotion to art, regardless of whether his books were acclaimed or not: “As for the outcome, or for success, who cares? The main thing in this world is to keep one’s soul on the heights, out of the bourgeois noise and the democratic mire. The pursuit of Art makes one proud, and one can never have too much pride. That is my philosophy.”(7)
Flaubert despised the materialistic values of the middle class; he satirized the middle class in his Dictionary of Platitudes, and also in the character of M. Homais. Like Ibsen, Flaubert rebelled against the democratic trend of his time. Flaubert had little regard for universal suffrage or for equality: “I am grateful,” he told Renan, “for your protest against ‘democratic equality’; which is, to my mind, a seed of death in the world.”(8)
Like other great writers, Flaubert studied the classics and scorned journalism. His scorn for journalism prompted him to wish that printing were banned: “If the Emperor were to abolish printing tomorrow, I’d crawl to Paris on my hands and knees and kiss his behind in gratitude.”(9) Flaubert anticipated that democracy and the mass media would put the future of culture in doubt.
For Flaubert, as for Proust, literature was a religion, and was treated with the seriousness of a religion. Literature made Flaubert’s life meaningful and challenging. Literature gave Flaubert something to respect, and something to be proud of. It elevated him above the trivial, the material and the mundane. It helped him to cope with life, and it helped him to face death. The example of Flaubert shows that modern man can use literature to help in developing a new religion, a religion that will fill the void created by the decline of Christianity, a religion based on philosophy, psychology and art, not based on God, sacred texts, and divine commandments.
21. Objective or Subjective? Flaubert believed that literature should be impersonal, that literature shouldn’t be a vehicle for the author’s feelings and experiences. This was a widespread view in the late nineteenth century; it was a reaction against Romanticism, against the Romantic tendency to write in a personal, subjective way. Since Flaubert’s time, the view that literature should be objective has been embraced by many writers and critics.
In support of the objective theory of literature, one could argue that some of the best literary works are objective; Homer’s works, for example, don’t express their author’s feelings, or describe their author’s experiences. In opposition to the objective theory of literature, one could argue that some of the best literary works are personal and subjective. Most of the outstanding Western writers since the Middle Ages have been subjective. Ibsen, for example, was subjective; Ibsen said, “If you want objectivity, then go to the objects. Read me so as to get to know me!”(10) Great literature can be objective or subjective, just as great literature can be realistic or unrealistic.
22. Dostoyevsky wrote in a subjective way; many of his characters are based on facets of his own personality. The main characters in The Brothers Karamazov, for example, are based on facets of Dostoyevsky’s own personality: Dmitri is a losing gambler (like Dostoyevsky), Ivan a journalist tormented by religious doubts (like Dostoyevsky), Smerdyakov an epileptic (like Dostoyevsky), etc.(11) Many of Dostoyevsky’s characters possess the sadistic and masochistic tendencies that Dostoyevsky himself possessed. The protagonist of “A Gentle Creature,” for example, says, “I tormented myself and everybody else.”
Masochism leads many of Dostoyevsky’s male characters to love crippled women. The severe super-ego of these characters prevents them from loving normal women. Masochism also leads many of Dostoyevsky’s characters to be buffoons, to make fools of themselves; such characters derive a certain pleasure from publicly humiliating themselves. One can compare Dostoyevsky with Johnson’s biographer, Boswell: both had tyrannical fathers, both developed defective super-ego’s, both experienced bouts of masochistic severity toward themselves, and both had tendencies to make fools of themselves.(12)
Dostoyevsky’s greatest fault is that he carries his psychological analysis to an excessive and morbid point. This fault is particularly evident when Dostoyevsky is compared with Tolstoy. Tolstoy has Dostoyevsky’s profundity and keen insight and, in addition, Tolstoy has a simplicity and serenity that Dostoyevsky lacks.
23. Tolstoy While Dostoyevsky is famous for his psychological insights, Tolstoy’s greatness as a psychologist is sometimes overlooked. Dostoyevsky could understand others because he probed his own complex, neurotic personality. Tolstoy was less neurotic than Dostoyevsky, but he lived with exceptional intensity, energy and animal vitality. Tolstoy experienced many things, and was familiar with his own rich personality, hence Tolstoy understood others as few people ever have. Understanding of others comes from understanding of oneself; psychological insight comes from self-consciousness.
If one compares Tolstoy’s observations on human nature with Freud’s, one finds a striking agreement between them. Tolstoy said, “[Levin’s] conception of [his mother] was for him a sacred memory, and his future wife was bound to be in his imagination a repetition of that exquisite, holy ideal of a woman that his mother had been.” Likewise, Freud said, “A man…looks for someone who can represent his picture of his mother, as it has dominated his mind from his earliest childhood.”(13)
Tolstoy spoke of “the vindictive fury which can only exist where a man loves,” and Tolstoy said, “where love ends, hate begins.” Likewise, Freud said, “Love is with unexpected regularity accompanied by hate [and] in a number of circumstances hate changes into love and love into hate.”(14)
In his case history of Dora, Freud said, “the usual sexual attraction had drawn together the father and daughter on the one side and the mother and son on the other.” Tolstoy discusses this “usual sexual attraction” in the following passage: “The little girl, her father’s favorite, ran up boldly [and] embraced him….’Good morning’, he said, smiling to the boy….He was conscious that he loved the boy less, and always tried to be fair; but the boy felt it, and did not respond with a smile to his father’s chilly smile.”(15)
Great thinkers often reach the same conclusions independently of each other. A thinker’s ideas usually come from his own experiences, or from his observations of other people. Since human nature remains much the same in different times and places, the experiences and observations of different thinkers are often similar. Truth agrees with itself and confirms itself.
Just as great thinkers often agree with each other, so too one’s own experience often agrees with the observations of great thinkers. Here again, truth agrees with itself and confirms itself. An idea drawn from experience is confirmed when one finds the same idea in a book. Likewise, the ideas in a book are confirmed when one finds that they agree with one’s own experience.
24. Joyce While the novels of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky express ideas and reflect their authors’ struggles for spiritual peace, the novels of Joyce have a different purpose. Joyce said, “Ulysses is fundamentally a humorous work,” and Joyce said that Finnegans Wake was “meant to make you laugh.”(16) Ulysses andFinnegans Wake belong in the comic tradition of Petronius, Rabelais and Sterne. Joyce’s short stories, on the other hand, remind one, by their simplicity and by their realism, of Chekhov’s short stories.
Joyce had no interest in politics and little interest in philosophy. He disliked Shaw’s plays, which set forth ideas. When World War II was breaking out, and his brother asked him what he thought about the political situation, Joyce said, “I’m not interested in politics. The only thing that interests me is style.”(17)
Like many imaginative writers, including Ibsen, Tolstoy and Proust, Joyce observed and wrote about parapsychological phenomena. In A Portrait of the Artist, for example, Stephen Dedalus is lying in bed, thinking of his girlfriend, and he wonders what his girlfriend is doing: “Might it be, in the mysterious ways of spiritual life, that her soul at those same moments had been conscious of his homage?….Conscious of his desire she was waking from odorous sleep.” Joyce’s interest in parapsychology sets him apart from Kafka; Kafka never discusses parapsychology or aesthetics or religion. Kafka stays in the world of fantasy, and never leaves it for a moment.
Sound is as important in Joyce’s prose as it is in the work of modern poets. It isn’t surprising that Joyce himself wrote poetry. Joyce erased, or at least blurred, the distinction between poetry and prose. Just as poetry is impossible to translate, so too Joyce’s prose is impossible to translate. Just as poetry can be read over and over, so too Joyce’s prose can be read over and over.
While Proust reminds one of a painter (he called one of his chapters, “a seascape”), Joyce reminds one of a musician. Joyce often alludes to other writers and to his own work, just as musical compositions often allude to earlier motifs. Joyce is like ancient poets, who often alluded to earlier poets, and to earlier lines in their own work.
25. Proust One might describe Kafka as humorous, Joyce as comic, and Proust as nostalgic. Kafka’s humor conceals suffering and seriousness; one cannot imagine Kafka telling the bawdy jokes that Joyce tells. Joyce’s comic sense expresses not suffering but joy; Joyce said that literature “should express the ‘holy spirit of joy’.”(18)
Proust’s nostalgia has two sources: his detachment from the present, and his attachment to his mother. Proust wrote his magnum opus while he was entombed in his cork-lined Paris apartment, isolated from the world. Such a detachment from the present has the effect of awakening memories of the past. Proust had an unusually strong attachment to his mother. After his mother had died, Proust told his maid that, “if I were sure to meet my mother again, in the Valley of Jehosaphat or anywhere else, I would want to die at once.”(19) Proust’s attachment to his mother, and his detachment from the present, combined to form the nostalgic tone of his work.
One prominent theme in Proust’s work is idealism, that is, the notion that the world is one’s idea of the world. Proust isn’t as concerned with depicting Balbec and the Duchesse de Guermantes as he is with depicting how the narrator perceives Balbec and the Duchesse de Guermantes. Proust’s main subject is the narrator’s mind, the narrator’s thoughts and feelings. Thus, he’s akin to Cervantes, whose main subject was not the world as it is, but the world as it is perceived by Don Quixote.
But while Don Quixote is always the same, Proust’s narrator changes over time. The narrator’s attitude toward Albertine, for example, changes over time; though the narrator is obsessed with Albertine, and is crushed by Albertine’s flight, he eventually puts Albertine out of his mind and becomes indifferent to her. Proust depicts how time changes one’s idea of the world, and also how time changes the world itself.
Proust’s work contains much character analysis and little plot. His narrative ambles along at a leisurely pace, and often stands still; it reminds one of two people who go for a walk, and then become so involved in their conversation that they come to a stop.
Proust’s peculiar style is related to his peculiar personality; the style marks the man. Proust’s prose is precious, convoluted and obscure.
Of all imaginative writers, Proust is one of the most religious. Proust created his own personal religion, a religion based on literature and art. Like all religions, Proust’s religion justifies life, makes it possible to accept death, and holds out the hope of life after death, of immortality.
Proust is a profound thinker, and can teach one much about life, about the passage of time, and about death. Proust’s work contains more philosophical wisdom than the work of any twentieth-century philosopher. But Proust isn’t the sort of thinker that Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky were, and his work doesn’t contain discussions about the existence of God. Proust’s thinking isn’t speculative, like a philosopher’s thinking; Proust’s thinking is based on sensation and feeling.
26. The Desire to Die Tragedy depicts suffering, suffering that drives the tragic hero to desire death. Why do we derive pleasure from tragedy? Why do we derive pleasure from the depiction of suffering?
Suffering is a universal human experience; it is impossible to live without suffering. When suffering reaches a certain degree, one wants to die, one wants to commit suicide. Almost everyone, at one time or another, has thought of committing suicide. Suffering, and longing for death, deepen and strengthen one’s character. “No man is educated,” said William James, “who has never dallied with the thought of suicide.” If one never suffered, and never longed for death, one would never attain maturity or strength of character, and one couldn’t accomplish anything. As the result of suffering and of longing for death, one resolves to act decisively. Suffering and the desire to die make one fearless, and this fearlessness translates into decisive action. As Johnson said, “after a man has taken the resolution to kill himself…he has nothing to fear.”
One decisive action that is often preceded by suffering and by the desire to die is a religious conversion. Tolstoy’s religious conversion, for example, was preceded by suffering and by the desire to die; Tolstoy described his pre-conversion state thus: “Behold me…hiding the rope in order not to hang myself.”(20)
Crime is another decisive action that is often preceded by suffering and by the desire to die. The criminal often resolves to commit a crime after suffering has driven him to ask, ‘what have I got to lose? Since I no longer want to live, why don’t I fulfill my criminal desire at the same time as I end my life?’ Mass murderers often end their killing sprees by killing themselves. When Stendhal was contemplating suicide, he thought of assassinating Louis XVIII, in order to “make something of your misery,” instead of dying to no purpose.
Sex is a third decisive action that is preceded by suffering and by the desire to die. Sex is closely related to death; people often fear sex, just as people often fear death. Lower animals, such as insects, often die during the sexual act. Orgasm is sometimes called, “a little death.” Rank said, “the compulsive neurotic…abstains from sexual intercourse in order not to die.”(21) According to the Book of Genesis, sex brought death into the world. If one never suffered, and never longed for death, one wouldn’t have the courage and the strength of character that are needed for sex. In addition to religious conversion, crime and sex, many other decisive actions are preceded by suffering and by the desire to die. Suffering makes one fearless, and thus prompts one to act decisively.
Tragedy depicts suffering, suffering that drives the tragic hero to desire death. The tragic hero’s suffering and his desire to die instill in him courage for decisive action. The spectator, empathizing with the tragic hero, vicariously suffers and desires to die. The spectator’s suffering and desire to die, though they are vicarious, instill in him courage for decisive action, and an appetite for living.
27. Flabby Just as suffering strengthens the moral fiber of an individual, so too suffering, war and poverty strengthen the moral fiber of a nation. The moral fiber of modern man has become flabby through comfort, peace and prosperity.
28. Heroes There is a close kinship between tragic drama and epic poetry. Tragic drama and epic poetry both depict characters who are superior to real people. The author of an epic poem or a tragic drama must have an ideal man, a hero, in his imagination. Modern imaginative writers don’t have a high conception of man, hence they don’t write in a tragic or epic vein. They tend to write in a morbid or comic vein, and to depict people in a disparaging way. While modern literature shuns the heroic for the morbid and the comic, modern visual art shuns the heroic for the nihilistic, and modern music shuns the heroic for the hedonistic.