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OT: art and language and THE DAVINCI CODE

From:Sally Caves <scaves@...>
Date:Monday, June 2, 2003, 17:31
----- Original Message -----
From: "Mark J. Reed" <markjreed@...>

> On Mon, Jun 02, 2003 at 02:23:29AM -0400, Sally Caves wrote: > > Can we get along without fine art? Sure. But it wouldn't (at least > > to me) be a life worth living. Can we live a life without craft? > > Not and remain essentially human. Maybe that's one aspect of the > > difference between the crafts and the arts. > > Okay, I'll buy that. > > > Language is an art. > > I would say, rather, that skillful use of language is artistic - and > largely at the craftish end of your spectrum, with exceptions > such as poetry, which I would lump with the fine arts. > > Everyone who is not physically impaired in some way speaks or > signs their dialect perfectly according to its basic grammatical > rules (as opposed to the prescriptive ones grafted on after the > fact by grammarians); it's natural and automatic. That is the > sense in which language is fundamental and hard-wired.
Okay, that I'll buy, too.
> Once you > move beyond that basic ability into skillful use of language, with > finely-honed rehtorical skills, you're no longer in the realm > of universal instinct. To be sure, effective communication must > have conferred a survival advantage, and facility with language does > seem to be a heritable trait, so there is a sense in which the potential > for such is hardwired. But it (obviously!) hasn't taken over the species > and become a universal trait the way the ability to language at all has.
Alas, true.
> > I still maintain that language and craft developed together, tongue and > > hand. What other animal on this planet vocalizes or builds with as much > > complexity as the human animal? > > Almost certainly they developed together. It is probably no coincidence > that the language centers of the brain are in the left hemisphere, which > also controls the dominant hand in most humans. My objection > was to the characterization that language originated as a form > of purely artistic expression - a fine art. I may have misconstrued the > original statement, but that is what I've been arguing against.
Perhaps I misconstrued it, too, and your objection to it. Yry eftoihs! (me all apologetic).
> > Perhaps it's because I've devoted my life to teaching young adults > > how to make their writing and their speaking more artfully efficient and > > inventive, and to open their minds to the antiquity and complexity of
> > written arts. I'm not about to hear that this is a "luxury," or that it
> > "the ultimate in free expression, refusing to obey set channels or
> > Excuse me while I wipe my words off of my face . . . there, that's better.
HA! (thanks!) :)
> > Skill in rhetoric follows some definite rules, and one's mastery of it
> > more doors. > > Every artistic medium - certainly including linguistic ones - has > its rules. All I meant by that last quotation was that art in > general seems to be in the eye of the beholder. In particular, > it gets beheld by many people in many cases where I simply don't > see it. I'm unwilling to assume that I'm right and they're just > wrong, thus my necessarily loose definition of "art".
Well, it seems that that's especially true today with the myriad schools and styles and audiences. To take an example from the literary world: what makes a good novel, or a good narrative style, seems to differ vastly depending on readership and genre. I'm reading The DaVinci Code. I was told that this was an intellectual novel, beautifully written, so of course I had expectations for it that put it in a league with Eco's The Name of the Rose, a novel that conbines elegance of writing with elegance of story and pacing and suspense. It surprised me to see that DaVinci Code reads like a Grade B thriller, with stereotypical bad guys (Opus Dei and the Catholic Church a stereotypical target), and the most IRRITATING pedantry. It is indeed chock full of fascinating and unusual historical information, but in order to get his message across to the "plebes" who are reading the book, Dan Brown has to set up a ridiculous "As you know, Bob" situation with his handsome Harvard hero of the day and his side-kick, the cryptographer. The cryptographer is supposedly the grand-daughter of an immensely intellectual man, and has been educated. And yet she asks the stupidest of questions. She's supposed to be an expert cryptographer. "You mean like an anagram?" she asks credulously. "Like the Jumble in the newspaper?" Then later, Brown has to do damage control in the typical apologia of bad writers: Sophie was embarrassed; she should have known that blah blah blah... " Clearly, Brown has had to violate the nature of her character and her upbringing in order to make her the "straight man," the person to whom the expert explains things for the benefit of the uneducated readership. This is so baldly and badly done! Eco takes care of this skillfully and subtly with his character Adzo, who is a boy in the service of Brother William. He already has a built-in method for learned discussion, but this book unabashedly and openly caters to the ignorance of its popular readership (Eco said he made the first 100 pages especially difficult to test his readership), and in so doing Brown consequently distorts the credibility of one of his most intelligent (female) characters. There are indulgent and irritating little digressions (the paragraph in the middle of an action scene where Brown describes Langdon's sentimental attachment to his Mickey Mouse watch), and there is the abhominable, and unforgiveable lie/lay mistake committed in the first eighth of the book. "He laid down on the bed." "It had lay in the street." Are competent writers being counseled by editors to commit this error so that their diction will be "understandable" to the populace? Or is this Brown's mistake that his editors didn't or wouldn't correct? I couldn't believe it! It's a great story, I can't put it down, but it is so marred by bad writing and bones thrown to a less educated readership that it distracts me terribly. I'm groaning about something in almost every chapter. "The Sangreal; doesn't that have to do with sangre, 'blood' in French?" asks the supposedly educated Sophie. So the Harvard Expert has to explain. Ach du! Well, this has started a new topic. I haven't finished it, yet--I'm up to the part about the Mickey Mouse watch--so time will tell whether the ending is worth the read. The Mickey Mouse watch had better resurface, otherwise it's what the Turkey City Lexicon calls 'The Squid on the Mantlepiece." It is good at suspense, it's full of information that fascinates; but it demonstrates--to go back to this original thread--what many people find mystifying about art. My scientist friend can't tell the difference between the quality in writing between this book and Eco's. I teach creative writing, and yet I can't explain to him over dinner what feels like literary writing and what feels like genre writing, and what the cues are that make for "hack" writing. Okay, on to the tasks of the day. Sally Caves Eskkoat ol ai sendran, rohsan nuehra celyil takrem bomai nakuo. "My shadow follows me, putting strange, new roses into the world."


John Cowan <jcowan@...>
Mark J. Reed <markjreed@...>
Christophe Grandsire <christophe.grandsire@...>
BP Jonsson <bpj@...>