I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind…If Nature be thus cautious to preserve in a state of enjoyment a being so employed, the Poet ought to profit by the lesson held forth to him, and ought especially to take care, that, whatever passions he communicates to his Reader, those passions, if his Reader’s mind be sound and vigorous, should always be accompanied with an overbalance of pleasure.
–William Wordsworth “Preface to Lyrical Ballads”
I like to simplify the above…passage as “Poetry is passion recalled in tranquility” and generally extend that to all art.
Art (a shortening of artifice I remind you goblins) to me represents an effort at communication. Generally communicating something that would not be as easily conveyed through simple speech. Even efforts to simply entertain offer a communication of a particular stimulating situation which can offer lessons, warnings, or ideas. The “taming” of emotions in tranquility enable the Poet *cough* artist to more effectively understand how to communicate those emotions. Thereby to stimulate the reader from tranquility or boredom to the same emotions. This can convey all sorts of stuff, from experiences of highest loss to sheer erotic arousal.
Wordsworth is spending his time there expressing the motivations and reasonings behind his collection of poems in that good old self-effacing bluster that academic poets love. Using a lot of words to either reduce expectations to a point where any critical consideration of the poems can be brushed off or to baffle the reader with a flurry of ideas and thoughts and scare them from criticism. Simply put, keep talking and maybe no one will hate these poems that he knows are subpar. Whether they are subpar or not does not enter into the consideration.
Hey, how ya doing? I’m trying to explain here that the reason that I don’t post often is…uh hold on…
The part of that quote after the ellipses, which you noticed I did not touch, is expressing that any artist should be careful to preserve their object that they wish to be communicated in something enjoyable. He goes into a series of examples after that (beauty, enjoyment, pleasure, thrills) but primarily means beauty. This is mostly a reminder that no one has ever been an effective communicator by being only frank. If the thing is to be understood, then you must first gain attention, and this can be done by presenting the reader with a piece of pleasure. I would think then that the best thing to do would be to employ narcotics in your messaging.
So that all sounds a lot like marketing doesn’t it? Well marketing is simply communication (Buy my product) through video/art/sound/pamphlet/billboard.
What makes it interesting is when you examine the “overbalance of pleasure” that the marketing or art employs to smuggle their communicae through to our subconsciouses.
Here’s a topical diversion: That Pepsi ad everyone is getting bent about.
It’s a stupid long ad. Probably only shown in full to theater goers already sipping on Coke.
So if you’ve been living under the Internet rock. There’s been a huge outcry about this.
Short version: People see this ad as Pepsi and Kendall Jenner using the established visual language of modern protests and a moment captured during the Ferguson protests (that picture of a black child handing riot police a water bottle) to promote their base, commercial goals. They object to the implication that all we need to do is recruit some hot, young, white models to hand out soft drinks and all issues will be solved. That the commercialization of these visual elements represents the intentional watering down of reasons that these protests are happening.
Yes, of course, this is how marketing works. Some executive wants to sell soft drinks, the marketing teams summons what youth they have to examine their target demographic’s culture and find that “overbalance of pleasure” to wrap their “buy my product” in it. The demographic calls bullshit on the obvious marketing and moves on, leaving the marketing team to wave their tragically uncool products in the air until the next time they catch up.
See also The Entirety of the 1960’s Counterculture Movement. The doom of all youth culture is to eventually be weaponized to sell life insurance to its own participants when they are old.
Listen to me: The issues that the current protests are being held on are valid and very concerning. They deserve real consideration and response. They represent an unprecedented response to an unprecedented situation (in the US). Whatever media bubble you hide in, you cannot deny these notions, whether the response you favor is legislative redirection or police crackdowns or one of the endless shades of response between there.
What is interesting to me is that the Twitter-sphere is missing one of the most interesting perspectives on this. Pepsi is pandering specifically to the people who are most outraged by the ad itself. The ad is misaimed of course. Jenner is not, and never will be without some major adjustments, any sort of icon of rebellion or subversion. She represents (at least to people unfamiliar with her beyond her name and reputation) the stale “young celebrity” archetype at its most boring. This is not helped by Pepsi being yet another “mega brand” that, while its branding is more youth oriented than staunchly tradionalist Coca-Cola, peddles its aluminum-wrapped corn syrup to everyone everywhere and therefore is almost incapable of any sort of specificity that would lend it even a hint of credibility beyond its size. To a culture that sees itself as promoting diversity and multiplicity of viewpoints, the implication that they can be represented as a homogenous mass of “youth” is insulting. Really insulting.
Yet that is what the ad represents. A commodification of culture. “How much can we sand off the edges before it stops looking like itself?” asks the marketer. Make the pill easier to swallow. Add chocolate.
The perspective is this: the Culture of America accepts the protests as a semi-permanent aspect of young life in this, the year 2017. Therefore, it will use the same “overbalance of pleasure” that they use (protest culture, diversity, youth), but replace the core (police violence, economic concerns, racial oppression, etc.) with “Buy our thing!”
Pepsi is probably my favorite “cola” soda. But even I got a little trepiditious at picking one up after this ad came out. The outrage had replaced my affection for the drink with a concern that my craving for sweet fizziness would be at odds with my generational identity. The Grand Arbiter of the world, or the bored cashier, would judge me “unconcerned” “out of touch” “apathetic” and therefore not a “good guy.”
Yuck, welcome to modern American culture. Where every issue only has two sides, the Right one (no relation) and the Wrong one.
The ad itself illustrates that the culture of marketing sees the protests as another icon of 2017 life that can be exploited. The target demographic takes offense to this. Imagine if, in the 1960’s someone used a protest against the Vietnam War as an opportunity to sell…I don’t know McDonald’s or something. It takes the same vehicle that others have been using and repurposes it as a hollow sales pitch.
What is a concerned, young, Asian Cellist to do? Who will take him and his beanie seriously now?
I kid of course, but it’s not like this is the first time this has happened. Just because Johnny Cash prevented “Ring of Fire” from being used to market hemorrhoid cream (seriously look it up) doesn’t mean the emotional core of his music isn’t being quickly hollowed out to make room for clothes commercials and political speeches as I type. The cycle that moves everything from Outrageous to Stale will always prevail.
I remember when Green Day was weird, outrageous and “punk” and now I can’t so much as check the directions to the nearest milkshake dealer without seeing ads for the nostalgic look back that Spotify is doing of them. Of course, “punk” people have been trying to distance themselves from them since their first single broke, while shamefully kicking their copies of Kerplunk! under the bed. Somehow, in thirtyish years, they are not fresh anymore. The only thing that distinguishes this process from what is just starting to happen to Protests is the content. The actual Passion at the core of the movement. Where Green Day was expressing the emotional realities of suburban teenage white boys in the late 20th century, the Protests are expressing real concern and suffering over political realities in a variety of areas. It’s fundamentally insulting to those affected by reality to see the methods they are using to address reality used to market soft drinks. Yet, it is inevitable in the sad way that death is in this commercial world we have.
So this brief (ha) aside into modern culture is used to illustrate my anxiety about content. At the end of the day, the wrapping is mostly fluff, destined for decade radio stations and historical records. Care must be taken to identify the “overbalance of pleasure” and seperate it from the passion, the actual message, within the thing. This will not only aid us, the people, in identifying con artists and bloviating hypocrites, but allows us, the artificiers of our lives or artists, to keep the goal in mind. The “Passion” we are “recalling in tranquility.” The Almighty Point.
So you know what I was saying before about Wordsworth? And his rambling that preludes his actual work? That’s essentially what just happened. I started this blog post assuming I would talk about why I haven’t posted. At the end of the day it’s essentially that I don’t always have a “passion” to convey. At least beyond “Look at this cartoon!” This is my last post from Idaho for a while, I’m leaving soon, and so I should have some more to convey later, but for now I just have my observations about winter life in a sleepy tourist town.
Well that and this excellent cat named Jack Jack.
I must say that the road is not coming a moment too soon. I love the family I’ve been staying with, but I’m anxious to keep moving for now.
How did you like the flash fiction? I’ve got notebooks full of the stuff if you’re interested. Not so many are illustrated, but I might throw something together for future posts.
In the meantime, cinch your trench coats and keep your magnifying glass clean, Detective-Cadets, the truth is stranger than you think.