Ray Bradbury's Philosophy
One of my favorite parts is when Professor Faber describes books and what's so special about them. It's not just the paper, but what's in them. They have quality information. They have ideas. They provoke thought. All these qualities dry out in the form of ink on paper, and since paper is more patient than man it gives us the gift of leisure. Leisure to digest our knowledge, leisure to analyze new ideas, leisure argue with the book, to beat down the book, or to stop the book halfway through and reread a favorite passage. Where's the humanity in just taking in data and storing it? We're not meant to be that passive. The author dedicated his or her time to making something that will provoke the reader, not just so that the story could exist as a meaningless jumble of words that describe a meaningless jumble of events. Therefore, the reader shouldn't get lost in the book but use the book to bolster their own sense of individuality. No good work can exist purely for entertainment value, because then we must ask "what is entertainment?" Is it merely passive observation, because when you get down to it a story is just a bundle of events, or is it something more? I'm inclined to believe in the latter, that there's a reason why we find stories entertaining, why we love it when the knight slays the dragon and the princess outsmarts the villain, because those ideas mean something to us. Somewhere in the back of our minds we apply that reading to ourselves, and even the simplest entertainment, such as the victories of the knight and the princess, trigger some sort of thought such as "I believe I could do that."
In a more recent edition of the book, there's also an interesting critique from the author Ray Bradbury in an interview, one that I have often thought back to when critiquing art:
Interviewer: There seems to have been a decline in standards of journalistic objectivity, to put it mildly.
Bradbury: It's not just substance; it's style. The whole problem of TV and movies today is summed up for me by the film Moulin Rouge. It came out a few years ago and won a lot of awards. It has 4,560 half second clips in it. The camera never stops and holds still. So it clicks off your thinking; you can't think when you have things bombarding you like that. The average TV commercial of sixty seconds has one hundred and twenty half second clips in it, or one third of a second. We bombard people with sensation. That substitutes for our thinking.
I remembered this answer while pondering how to describe the style Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance". Listening through it several times, I noticed the complexity of the background music. I couldn't pick out any instruments; it was a blanket of white noise, an overwhelming digital atmosphere. Of course, I think that makes the song popular, and I don't think it devalues the song. The more I listen to it, the more I actually like it. Atmospheric music, after all, doesn't necessarily negate thinking and it has its purposes. Some would say that the point of music is to satisfy the senses.
Yet Bradbury's ideas came back to me, and I remember the importance of this philosophy. It hit me again when I discovered Fun's acoustic version to "We Are Young". I loved the original and considered it a masterpiece of exciting quality music that bucks the trend of contemporary chart songs, but I fell in love again when I discovered their far humbler rendition. I like how the emotional quality is so different than the main version. The meaning comes out in a new way, especially when I can hear the imperfections in their voice. It's a paradox, but in this case an imperfect voice is the perfect voice, for it's truer, more human. It means that the song doesn't exist just to sound pretty, but has a purpose. Then I hear the slower tempo, the personality behind the voices, their understanding of their own art, and even though I was happy with the original with all its jubilation and positive energy, even though this version wasn't really needed, the world of chart hits is better off for it.
These thoughts I take with me as I pursue my various arts. It's a big world out there and I don't want to waste any moment of my life dedicating myself to smaller arts. From my drawings to my stories to my poetry, hopefully I build works that carry some small fire of relevance. Maybe I will never light a cauldron like great writers such as C.S. Lewis did, but maybe I can relay the torch to the runner who will.
Special thanks to my cousin for being a friend and fellow traveler.