Under the terms of our analogy, failure in the [Holy Spirit aspect of the creative’s Trinity] is the characteristic failure of the unliterary writer and the inartistic artist. […] I mean the men who use words without inspiration and without sympathy. They may be compared to the man who “has no feeling for” machinery…. It is, by the way, singularly unfortunate that much of our social machinery, including the material machines themselves, has in these days been given over into the hands of the unghosted.
—Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, p176… copyright 1941-!, emphasis mine
I have some time compression kicking in these next few days, though it remains to be seen in which direction it’ll nudge me. Today’s get-to-work influence seems as much a surfeit-reaction as a wise deployment of time—I’ve eaten enough of the Peeps that are Solitaire that instead of picking up another mystery I returned to The Mind of the Maker, which I’ve been reading since last August.
Reading in an extremely desultory fashion, as you’ve gathered. The most I can say for myself is that I’ve not cracked open Daring Greatly or Theo-Poetics in the meantime… on the off-chance that reading those works would push out finishing this one that much more. It’s not that I don’t like Sayers’ ideas—in that case, I’d’ve ditched the book long ago. It’s more that her style tires me out. Like listening to one of the oldest professors on campus, the one who Knows All The Things and is deeply respected for it, but whose students nonetheless bring carafes of coffee to class. Not her fault. It’s the rare soul whose prose manages to transcend the particularities of their time and place, and the rarer soul still who transcends across all genres. Sayers’ mysteries endure in part because they evoke their time in a pitch-perfect but accessible way—so much so that I forget they were written contemporarily. This scholarly work? Sounds like scholars who finished their degrees in the nineteen-teens to -thirties.
So I’m startled to bump into a line so perfectly foreshadowing our current moment. To re-ground you in her book, Sayers sees our holy Trinity humanly echoed in the small-c creator’s creative Trinity of Idea-Energy-Power, or Thought-Action-Wisdom. “The unghosted writer,” she notes, “is thus not only uninspired, but also uncritical.”
I’m wondering whether what she saw is the natural outcome of the seemingly frictionless creative life that now exists. Anyone now who has a thought and takes action to toss it out on the Internet is instantly part of the Pacific Trash Gyre of creatives’ efforts. Unlike prior media, where the challenges of access and distribution added a few critical checks to the sharing process, there’s little to slow anyone’s headlong race off the work-sharing cliff.
And this is not only true for art-type creations, like my poetry or blogging or someone else’s YouTube series, but for desultory thoughts and witticisms. “Words without inspiration and without sympathy” feel as if they now swamp more considered words… which, from a physics-style assessment weighting the volume of words with the time spent choosing them, could easily be an accurate evaluation.
Mind you, I don’t have a solution. Or a recommendation. Just a vague nostalgic longing for times when limited access meant one could only hear these sorts of unconsidered, unfiltered mutterings from persons in one’s physical community.
And an equally inchoate wish that everyone would speak the way my dad does, by gathering words together, polishing them in a tumbler, then setting them out on the table. Where we all lean over our plates and say, Oh, yes! I didn’t notice the veining in that one until you set it next to the quartzite. Nice touch.