Sunday, 28 December 2008

Clever and stupid? Pinter and his intelligence

Minette Marrin's column on 'Pinter and the odd literary law of geniuses with crazy politics' in The Times today raises some interesting points.

Marrin asks why it is that, so frequently, our admired, adored creators – be they artists, musicians or (especially) writers – often espouse extreme, distasteful opinions and causes outside their work.

Pinter's a good example. A brilliant playwright. But his extreme, vitriolic anti-Americanism is rabid and slavering. It is one thing to criticise the invasion of Iraq; another to extrapolate that the governments that sanctioned such an invasion are therefore pseudo-Nazi, evil, as dangerous and malicious as the worst dictatorships.

How – the key question – does a man capable of intelligent, nuanced writing adopt so horrendously reductive and willfully blinkered a worldview?

Marrin puts it thus:
Wondering about Pinter’s dotty political positions, I began to understand an odd natural law of literature: creative writers are often silly political commentators. This is puzzling, because we tend to turn to creative writers for wisdom and understanding of the world. However, it is surprisingly often true that they have nothing sensible to say outside their fiction.
The line she takes in explaining this disparity is that creative intelligence is a very different thing from 'critical, logical analysis' – and that writing may indeed be 'an unintellectual knack that some people have naturally ... but which lots of clever people can't do.'

Agree? Sort of.

She's right about different varieties of intelligence. People may be clever in a great variety of ways. Clever with their hands, their quick witticisms, their numbers, their imaginings ...

But I think she overemphasises this line. It is not convincing to argue that writers such as Pinter simply possess 'the gift for [verbal articulacy]', simultaneously lacking 'critical, logical intelligence'. Yes, these are two different forms of intelligence. And, yes, we shouldn't expect brilliant political thought simply because a man has shown himself capable of brilliant drama and human observation.

But there is nevertheless a link between power of expression and power of analytical thought. Surely this is true. The construction of sentences is itself logical. To call something an 'unconscious knack' is a verbal sleight of the hand. The greatest mathematicians, it may be, are unable to explain how they instinctively see patterns in figures – but their mind does it automatically. A great sportsperson does not think through, calculate and rationalise each movement; his or her instincts simply guide unerringly.

The greatest creators – from craftswomen to poets to dancers to composers – are able to harness their instincts and channel this raw talent.

Indeed, logic and critical analysis are like shovel and trowel alongside the JCB of instinctive intelligence. When we reason something out or construct a logical argument, we find ourselves mired in slow, painstaking work. Intuition, by contrast, is chaotic, penetrating, immensely powerful.

There is no such thing, I submit, as 'logical, analytical intelligence'. Intelligence implies a spark of inspiration and of intuition. Logic and analysis imply deliberate pedestrianism. Which is in no sense to demean these fine tools. How many Egyptian tombs would've been excavated by JCBs?

But those who are gifted in the realm of logic and analysis possess an enviable degree of patience. Of restraint. Of measuredness and orderliness.

And this quality is in marked opposition to the ability to make conceptual leaps. To use the power of instinctive intelligence (the 90% of our brains that deals with unconscious thought) suddenly to surge above the gridlocked city streets of rational thought, into the realm of inspiration, insight, creativity, invention.

I do not seek to argue that rational analysers are incapable of intuitive leaps, or inspired creators incapable of reasoned argument. But there is a pattern discernable in human advances – be they literary, scientific, political – throughout history: inspiration forges ahead; analysis then consolidates. Those that make the leaps are seldom those that carry out the meticulous post-rationalisation. Who fill in the gaps. Thus our 'geniuses' tend either to be chaotic and farseeing or methodically neat and more modest in their scope.

There are, of course, exceptions. Einstein. Shakespeare. Joyce.

But Pinter – to get back to the original subject – is no member of that select party. He is of the chaotic, instinctive school.

We need to think about what it is that drives a person like Pinter to creative greatness.

It is not enough that a great writer should simply possess a brilliant, fluent, distinctive, original writing technique. He/she often also needs the ability singlemindedly, doggedly to pursue an idea or theme – often in spite of criticism, derision, indifference ...

One kind of person that tends to rise to the top in creative spheres is the kind that is very good at establishing an audacious new idea or methodology – often pretty extreme – and sticking to it. Someone with an extraordinary persistence alongside a new way of looking at things. And, frequently, iconoclastic tendencies.

These people burn with the force of their conviction, requiring no other fuel. They are sustained by their grand concept, casting aside objections and hindrances, pursuing always the shimmering ideal.

Is it, then, so remarkable that such people as this be seduced by extreme creeds and dogmas? The pattern of their creative craft is to cede the full force of their intellect to the unquestioning service of their inspiration.

In a realm such as politics, sadly, it is all too often the extreme, the divisive, the aggressive arguments that glimmer most seductively, with a conceptual purity that belies their smallmindedness.


Willshill said...

Hooligan wrote:
"How – the key question – does a man capable of intelligent, nuanced writing adopt so horrendously reductive and willfully blinkered a worldview?"
Perhaps because the majority would rather jump to an easy, spoon-fed definition of words such as anti-American, socialist, fascist, etc., rather than backward-extrapolate through the ugly tunnel the defined person traveled, stopping along the way to read the writing scrawled on the wall of that dark tunnel.

Mentioned nowhere in the Marrin article purporting to define him are any of the very real issues and occurrences Pinter addressed; those that make him "sound" a certain way, to someone who only wishes to hear with tuned ear, and spout definitions of character like so much regurgitated nomenclatural pablum.
But then, as is so often the case with political commentary, the "subject" becomes supplanted by the "object", leaving the components of the issue tossing aimlessly in the proverbial wind; separated, impotent, unreal. After all, they have little to do with what has now been "extrapolated" into a larger and more interesting subject: "The Wild and Wacky World Of The Crazy Artist".
--Smoke and mirrors.

But this problem of ours--listening with one ear, seeing with one eye, I believe to be at the root of Pinter's harangue, even though at times he might be accused of the very same maladies.

Definitions matter; some have many more than one meaning.
And if a rational being must do one thing other than breathe, eat, and void, that one thing is "categorize".
Just ask those who've changed so many categories and definitions for us so recently.
But then, they're clever enough to not admit their manipulation. So doing, are they simply "clever"--"intelligent'--or just plain devious; perhaps even "evil"?
One thing they CLAIM not to be is "anti-American".
My question is: Has the truth somehow become also "anti-American"? And is it somehow then, by definition, "pro-American" to gloss over it with such dexterous alacrity?

David said...

"There is no such thing, I submit, as 'logical, analytical intelligence'. Intelligence implies a spark of inspiration and of intuition."

I intuit that there's something wrong with the above.

"But there is a pattern discernable in human advances – be they literary, scientific, political – throughout history: inspiration forges ahead; analysis then consolidates."

Or perhaps inspiration is just sexier than perspiration? No wonder you had to include Einstein in your list of exceptions. What list of evidence do you have?

Willshill -- you're purple, take a breath.

Billicatons said...

Thanks, both, for the comments. I'll respond at more length anon. However, may I say, David (okay, let's assume that I may): thank you for that skewering 'I intuit'. Very dry, very dry.

But I reckon, if we trace back 'intelligence' to its roots, my interpretation of the word is justified. Isn't it (I presume) derived from 'inter' and 'legere'? To read between the lines, one might say? Certainly I believe the Latin 'intellegere' has the sense 'to understand, comprehend'.

I take 'comprehend' as my cue to define intelligence as a quality which seeks to simplify, to reduce. To identify patterns and to project these patterns forward. Its key emphasis seems to me to be upon the ability to take that which is present and to extrapolate therefrom.

Howsoever, I suppose this probably comes across as inept semantic writhing. But it's spirited writhing.

What do you mean about evidence? Evidence of what? Tell me what you want evidence of, and I'll do my humble best. The miracle of the blog format being that one needn't cover every angle in advance of publication, but may instead enter into dialogue.

Lucky us, eh?

Perspiration can be pretty sexy, though, can't it, David?

Willshill said...

"Willshill -- you're purple, take a breath."
David--you're dry...very dry; shaken, yet "un-stirred."
Cryptics: often amusing; rarely enlightening.

David said...

Hmm, I rather think unshaken, and unstirred. Possibly uninterested. But I appreciate the concision.

Willshill said...

In the interest of concision then: The possibly uninterested might better serve their cause by refraining from initial comment on what is, to them, possibly uninteresting. ..."Hmm"?

David said...

Oh, I dunno, you're being concise. That's worth the price of admission. Besides, 90% of my comment was not directed at you or your original comment, on which I had no further thoughts than what I said.

Related posts