Inspired by Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift, J. Bernstein asks as series of profound, some might say cosmic questions.
To which R. Rosenfelt + M. Borkowski provide answers. Ah, the moxie of comment threads.
A constellation of questions I am perpetually asking:
What, if any, are the limits of reason and intellect?
R: D.H. Lawrence wrote that consciousness was “the glitter of the sun on the surface of the waters.” This I believe ardently. The limits are drastic.
M: Insanity. And your retreat or progression from/into it.
Can we reconcile the merits of a rigorous intellectual life with those of great imagination and spirit?
R: Imagination: yes. Spirit: no.
M: No. No ‘we’ can do that, only the “I” …
Is it better to have a great mind or a great soul? Do great artists have both? How is this related to the role of the artist and what art does?
R: It is better to have a great soul. Yes, artists have both. Artists cross a bridge from one to the other– or try to. The endeavor alone is noble and justified.
M: A great both. Great artists have both, yes. And they usually die from it.
Related to the soul of the artist or … role
What does it mean to have a great soul? Is it something we can cultivate, or a matter of innate disposition?
R: Can’t help you.
M: Innate, and by that I mean how you’re programmed/fucked up by the first five years of your life, as tolstoy says, roughly: The man of 5 – 50 years of age is but a leap, but the child of infancy and the person forming at five, that is a vast difference.
Are the profoundest reaches of the imagination beyond language?
R: Yes. See: music.
M: yes. see music. see — diving into a senuti on your 30th birthday.
see: experience and the desperate attempt to explain it.
Why can the greatest criticism never be as good as great art? Are critics like Lionel Trilling and Susan Sontag failures because they were not great artists?
R: “Failures” in what sense? They would probably say so– broadly speaking. Like Paglia says: the best criticism of poetry is poetry; of art is art.
M: they are not ‘failures’ — a word i still think is noxious, vague, and debilitating —
but the greatest criticism is always a passive, defensive recreation, a post-facto exploration. it takes courage to venture into some vastness with the weight of only believing what you think has some relevancy. critics are always saying what they think through refutation of what others before have expressed. and in that they lack courage, which is what characterizes some of the greatest artists and also destroys them.
What is the difference between an idea and a feeling?
R: The former is inferior to the latter.
M: See your question on imagination and language.
And, I know all these answers will be revised.
“it is only in the trying” (you know who)