"Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art."~Konstantin Stanislavsky
Last week we discussed agenda, and though Mr. Pond happily agreed so completely with my post that he was able to rest in it, Jenna, and a commenter, Eric brought up some interesting thoughts for further discussion. I am glad to continue alone their lines. I hope it will still provide something new to consider.
"Agenda happens when the would-be artist has focused on an idea to the exclusion of everything that might be the least bit contradictory."
This can be a serious problem to the artist. In a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway once accused his friend of not listening "except to the answers to you own questions." Listening is what makes an artist able to portray the world with the "charitable complexity" that Jenna reminds us we need. When the writer makes a world where the only questions are his own and the only answers are the one he gives, the world is flat. It becomes merely an advertisement for an idea, an image with no soul.
Many good writers fall into the trap of agendas, G.K. Chesterton, who defines the "prison of one idea" so well in Orthodoxy, fell into it himself in writing The Flying Inn. Bertolt Brecht falls into it in many of his poems, Philip Pullman lives in the trap, and seems happy to produce little else. Is it because they forget to hear the world around them? Among Jenna's comments, Eric points us to Dorothy Sayers who instructs the writer to rid " himself of all edificatory and theological intentions..not to instruct, but to show forth; not to point a moral, but to tell a story." Good advice, but how do we keep to it? Most of us are passionate believers in something, hoping to share the good news that lifts us up with the world. To write without agenda, I suppose the vision must be to share the goodness first and foremost, leaving the news to be discovered by those willing to dig for it, to open our ears to the whisperings of God, of winter nights, of bitter old women and laughing girls, and then to write them all without fear they might upset our little world.
"God and other artists are always a little obscure."
They are always a little obscure because they focus on the goodness, on loving without needing or showing a reason for the love. Those who can write, as Sayers' says "not to point a moral, but to tell a story" write - I assume - for the love of story, not the love of self, or the love of an idea. It seems easy to tell at times, but not always, and as Jenna reminds us "give the benefit of the doubt in uncertain cases.