Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Not poetry but...

‘And He who now to sense, now nonsense, learning,
Means not, but blunders round about a meaning:
And He, whose fustian’s so sublimely bad,
It is not poetry, but prose run mad.’

Alexander Pope

I have come lately to observe a curious tendency of mine. It is the fact that I somewhat find it much easier to remember good, sophisticated prose than the same text in bullet points. It ought to be the other way around, but in my case, beautiful prose, with all its inherent lyricism is not mechanically embedded into my mind but rather flows gently, with great, efficacious fluidity into the realms of my consciousness. Bullet points severely lack in rhythm. Even though in school they prefer to spoon-feed you with them so that you can ‘digest’ the required information more easily, the mind, especially the aesthetic mind, is wonderfully stimulated by the act of reading prose which fittingly abides the rhythm of your consciousness. That is essentially the crux of it – your streaming consciousness adjusts beautifully to the rhythmical grace of appropriately connected words.

Good prose stays buoyant at the forefront of your perceptive mechanism even though often your sea of consciousness is subjected to violent fluctuations which may imperil its flow. Bullet points, the quanta from Hell’s darkest chambers, are merely raw lumps of parched, infertile soil. They precipitate further draught in the mind which is already bankrupt in terms of its aesthetic sensibility. The subjects that I do at school are all essay-based but often the way we approach them is initially by means of bullet points – an unrewarding method which leaves you cold and rusty, with an atmosphere hardly short of the inside sleeve of a Radiohead album. It is simply the fact that bullet points imply fragmentation, something which distorts the natural tempo of the mind’s inner flow. If ideas are indeed quanta of information, just like bullet points, why should the latter pose such a threat to the mind’s ability to remember? Perhaps the answer is that even if ideas are essentially units of information, they are also very much interconnected with each other within the rolling tape of our consciousness, something akin to the way individual neurones are linked together in the brain. Nevertheless, just because they are there does not mean that a signal is reaching them, thus perhaps illustrating the detrimental effect of bullet points upon the mind. If more quanta of information or bullet points penetrate our consciousness, they distract our attention from other, already registered bits of data, thus hardly making them conducive to our mind’s ability to connect the pieces of the jigsaw to form a whole, intelligible memory.

Prose, on the other hand, particularly when it is well composed, is poured slowly and tenderly, like honey into our conscious flow of associations from which a crystallized ‘byte’ of memory emerges, thus enabling us to acquire a sense of the natural melody that each words suggests. After all, what ensures a less painful process of memorisation – the gracefully lyrical, smooth textures and lines of Leonardo’s figures, or the ugly, disjointed webs of Picasso’s cubist ventures? Indeed, the aesthetic victor would inevitably be the former because of the eupeptic feel of its structure.

I will refrain from discussing poetry here since I consider its conventional rhythmical form to bear the same impact on our sense of remembrance as a well written piece of prose. Also, I am not referring to verbatim, word-to-word remembering but rather to one’s overall understanding of a given text, which I would argue is more durable and of greater quality than the minimalist, bullet-point approach which more or less distorts the coherence of the encoded information stored in the brain.

Our intuition is borne out of our tendency to absorb the linearity of several spontaneities and fuse them together into a theoretically infinite, Bergsonian ‘duration’, effectively forcing our mind to encrypt such information in a more associative manner. Indeed, our brain’s musicality reaches its apogee whereby the piece of eloquent prose which we have just read, is ‘swirled’ within our heads, therefore ‘mixing’ it with all types of other information, whether it be in the form of a visual image or a simple melody. If we are thus able to combine intuition, the cornerstone of the brain’s natural perceptiveness, with the mind’s inbred sense of rhythm, then remembering becomes a process of simply fine-tuning the continuity of the text before you to the current of consciousness which arises from this precise combination. After all, is not this at the root of our ability to remember a text which we have actually heard someone reading aloud in a particular way? Thus, the simple, auditory impression which continuous prose stresses upon our minds, is far more emphatic than if that same text is broken down into individual bits, hence our enhanced capacity to remember it.

Bullet points – the language of the teachers: it is not poetry, but prose run mad!


At 7 May 2008 at 01:50 , Blogger ¡Benjaminista! said...

Someone said, "All art aspires to be music" (short search indicates Walter Pater). Music is memorable, noise is not. The best prose takes on a rhythm of its own, seeking to match or exceed the ineffability of song, Nietzsche contra Wagner. I love works of non-fiction that seek poetry in prose as well as exposition of fact. The most effective and memorable works of history are like this, yet most professors assign textbooks.


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