Frank Zappa (Photo credit: Lord_Henry)
As writers, it’s our job (within whatever else we might personally be trying to achieve) to give readers the impression that what we write has never been put into words before.
This is, of course, something that has become increasingly difficult due to the vast collective output of the writers of ages past and present that already anticipates the subjects and themes of our own literary efforts.
Which is perhaps why it only makes sense that I should have found what I believe to be a solution to this problem, by looking beyond the world of letters and writing to other disciplines for help.
The solution, then? What is it? you ask.
Well, it is this: Give your written work eyebrows.
Let me explain. Frank Zappa had lots to say about lots of things. Don’t eat yellow snow, being just one of those things. But, also, according to his son Dweezil, Frank also said he never felt like he had finished working on a song until it had eyebrows. Which was really just his short-hand way of saying, “is this particular song going to raise any eyebrows?”
Now, we tend to think of things raising eyebrows when they are slightly scandalous. But if you have a go at lifting your own eyebrows as you read this, you’ll realize it’s also something you do when you’re surprised or intrigued by something new. Am I right?
Anyway, poets can produce this effect in their poems by putting together words or concepts (and images etc) that don’t normally fit together. Sylvia Plath’s poem Cut, is such an example:
What a thrill—
My thumb instead of an onion.
The top quite gone
Except for a sort of hinge.
The concept of feeling a thrill doesn’t ordinarily sit comfortably with the idea of cutting off the top of one’s thumb. “Ouch, what the f&*#!” seems like a much more normal response. But then normally-speaking, “normal” doesn’t always cut it where making great art is concerned.
For writers of prose the task becomes more difficult, again, however. By its very nature, prose easily lends itself to becoming prosaic, or even worse pedestrian. And soon any likelihood of anybody’s eyebrows being raised becomes increasingly remote. Whereas a poet is allowed to jumble their syntax and mess with accepted word combinations and meanings, prose writers are obliged to stick to more socially-accepted parameters of what’s allowed within their writing.
The danger we writers of novels and longer forms of literature face, therefore, is a tendency to resort to overly-elaborate plot gymnastics, so as to keep our readers on the edge of their seats. I’m referring to the kind of books where the hero finishes wrestling a crocodile straight before being sent back in time to incubate the egg from which the crocodile he has just wrestled first hatches — and all this on the first page!
So how, then, should we non-“poetic-licence”-bearing writer-types go about raising our fair share of eyebrows?
Paradoxically, in my own case, it has been by appealing to the past that, I believe, I have found something new to say as a writer.
As I have already mentioned in previous posts, I describe myself as being a spiritual alchemist. And it is through the application of the principles of spiritual alchemy that I constantly seek to present my readers with something they have never read before. In a sense, I believe, it is therefore true to say I regard my own work as being visionary.
Whoa, I hear you cry. That’s a big call!
Regardless. I generate my work using lucid dreaming practices, re-birthing experiences, active imagination techniques and other visionary states. Because of this, whether you like what I produce or not, what I write can only be described as visionary fiction. In fact, I demand nothing less of my writing — that it be visionary — and neither should you of your own. However, it might help if I explain what I mean by visionary a bit further.
For a start, there are technical visionaries or innovators within all art forms. People like Frank Zappa within the world of rock music, for instance. Or Pablo Picasso, within painting, for another. These are the people who push the boundaries of the art form itself into new territories, seemingly just for the sake of doing so sometimes.
Whereas the kind of visionaries I’m talking about now (not that the two kinds are mutually exclusive) are those people who seek to enrich other people’s lives by delivering fresh meaning to them. Again, this is a very big call, sure. But for me there is no other purpose for art. Simply put, if you can’t supply this kind of fresh meaning then don’t bother at all. You’re just clogging the airwaves.
For me personally, my own inspiration (in respect to this idea of freshness) comes directly from the often surreal and otherworldly pictures that adorn many of the great alchemical texts of the Renaissance. Because while some of these illustrations and woodcuts are now well over 500 years old, I would argue they still exert an incredible hold over the imagination to this day. Without fail, each time I see one of these images, I can’t help but look at them with fresh eyes! They are as challenging, soul-stirring and “eyebrow-raising” as when they were first produced.
So the challenge I present to you is to create written works that will survive down through the ages, make them imperishable and like they’ve just been freshly-minted, forever. Or put in other words, mould them after the fashion of the fabled phoenix the alchemists were so enamoured with. For if you should succeed, the following lines from the Emerald Tablet reveal what rewards await you:
Thus you will have the Glory of the whole world.
Therefore will all obscurity flee from you.
Aurora consurgens (illustration) — a medieval alchemical treatise, in the past sometimes attributed to Thomas Aquinas, now to a writer called the “Pseudo-Aquinas”.