Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Attaining Wisdom

"By three methods, we may learn wisdom: first by reflection, which is noblest; by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the most bitter."

- Confucius, 551-479 BC

To a certain extent, the attainment of wisdom is life's overarching endeavor.  Wisdom in this sense entails understanding: of the world, of oneself, and of the relationships that lie between.  Such understanding can be obtained through pure cogitation, which, as Confucius intimates, is the most elemental approach, as abstraction gives rise to abstraction.  Thought paves the way for comprehension.  The flow from one to the other requires no conversion from one form to another - both are constructs of cognition, built of the same brick and mortar.

Imitation, which involves the close study of the means, or path, by which a result is obtained, focuses on modality - which, if mastered, will yield a functionally equivalent result, independent of whether the actor fully appreciates the means or the end.  Perfect imitation can, potentially, be achieved by sheer rote, and in this way, prove to be the easiest means of attainment.  It entails a transition from process to object, from movement to destination.  A transition occurs from the former to the latter, but it is a natural progression, fluid in its unfurling.

Experience is by far the most immediate method, for it depends on the filter of physicality.  If reflection is a top-down approach to wisdom, experience is bottom-up: it is a latticework of particulars that form a skein of understanding by virtue of their interrelationships.  But each point of the lattice is hard-won, paid for with wages of time, effort, pain, and conflict.  And many such points are required.

Fiction, both the reading and writing of it, shares with life the attainment of wisdom as its ultimate end.  But its function, and the means by which it allows us to attain it, is an interesting hybrid of the three paths considered by Confucius.  Fiction is by its very nature a kind of directed abstraction, of cogitation distilled by the lens of the narrative structure.  Yet the use of that structure is to a certain extent an inevitable pantomime of the processes and modes used by generations of storytellers.  There is room enough for innovation and novelty, but  certain core structures and dictates must be observed - or at least comprehended.  Only by comprehending them can the storyteller then subvert or break them to positive effect.

And yet what is fiction but a simulacrum of experience?  It allows the reader - and even the author - to live countless other lifetimes, sharing in both vicarious joys and sufferings, yet also reaping the points of wisdom plotted by those would-be experiences.  It begins with the forms of abstraction, utilizes the tools of imitation, yet yields the result of experience - which, in the end, is the shared goal of all three paths.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Currently Reading: R. Scott Bakker, The Prince of Nothing Trilogy

An interesting philosophical series of epic fantasy by a Canadian midlist author.  Define influences from Dune and Lord of the Rings (though what fantasy series doesn't borrow something from the latter?), but the milieu is unique and painstakingly detailed.  It lacks the clockwork metaphysical precision of Brandon Sanderson's worlds, but the depth of history, culture, and timeline evokes the kind of complexity and minutiae that marks Tolkien's Middle Earth.  A bit esoteric - and, perhaps, too scholarly - in tone at times, but definitely worth a read.

Presently 1/3 of the way through The Warrior-Prophet, the middle act of the trilogy.  Will delve into deeper analysis when the trilogy is complete.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

OSC on the Rules of Writing

"The only real rule is: You can break any rule, as long as you're willing to pay the price." - Orson Scott Card

Saturday, December 10, 2011


NaNoWriMo 2011 concluded over a week ago, and though I nominally met the word-count goal (even with the intervention of Skyrim), I fell short of my aspirations for a completed draft - or to catalog my progress here on the blog.  Perhaps Stephen King was right when he said that you should write your first draft with the door closed; few people, I think, would be interested in the messy ravings contained therein, and even if some are, I'm not sure I'd want to share them.  But if I tackle NaNo 2012, I'll try to make a go of cataloging my process again next year.

My goal now is to reestablish the biweekly posting schedule for my blogs, and to turn back to the half-penned doujinshi that I had to abandon midstream in November.  I've been studying and practicing to improve my illustration skills, so there may be an inevitable amount of clean up to be done on existing pages before new material starts to flow, but I'm hoping to have the doujin rolled out by the new year.

I'm also looking to complete final revisions on the short story I drafted a couple of days before NaNo 2009, hopefully in time to submit the story to the Writers of the Future contest before this quarter's deadline.  The last time I submitted to WotF was back in 2005, and someone had bothered to write "Send more soon!" on the form rejection letter.  Six years hardly counts as "soon," but I suppose "eventually" is closer to that mark than "never."

Finally, I'll be updating the Natty Words page with a Portfolio section that will offer some samples of my illustration efforts, as soon as I have some fit for display.