After some wait, I got Carmine Rocco Linsalata’s Smollett’s Hoax. It it an academic treatise from the 1950s by a professor at Stanford. And it is about — What else?! — something that most people would think incredibly minor: an 18th century translation of Don Quixote, which was actually just a rewrite of an earlier translation. But I’m not here to discuss the book. (That will come later!) I’m here to talk about creation for its own sake.
As I was reading through the book, I was taken by a sidetrack that Linsalata made into The Works of Alexander Pope. It was related to what he was writing about, but a minor point. And in that capacity, he had read a 600 page book. He must have read many other such books that he never found a use for. And I find that so inspiring. Why am I reading all that Pope? Oh, it’s just part of my work. Now go away!
I’ve always seen myself as the human equivalent of a terrier: smart and hyper. But as I’ve gotten older, how I long for the leisure of working slowly — just letting the thoughts accumulate — taking whatever course is necessary for the creation process. What a glorious luxury that is in this time where we always know what we are going to produce: a commodity.
If Linsalata were working today, his book would likely have been quite different. The story he has to tell is quite sensational. But he would have written it rather differently. He would not have assumed, as he did in 1956, that his readers would be fluent in English, French, and Spanish. And I haven’t finished the book; he’ll probably get to Latin and Greek soon enough. Clearly, he was writing only for intimates — and total freaks like me who will take the time to work out the other languages. (Thank Google!) But mostly, he was just writing for himself — for the pure pleasure of the creation itself.
A Forgotten Act of Creation
It’s interesting because a couple of days ago, I moved my office/living-quarters/life. And I came upon a play I had written, “MP3.” I had no memory of writing it. I remember thinking about doing it. The basic idea is that a dog is angry at his owner for using MP3s. You see, a big part of MP3 compression is the removal of stuff humans can’t hear. But dogs hear well. So MP3s would sound terrible to them. I had thought of it as a 5 minute play to be part of a collection of plays. But no, there it was, all neatly typed — about a half hour running time.
As I read through it, I was struck by how idiosyncratic it was. It made me laugh, of course. (I find myself hilarious. Really!) It is clearly something I wrote just for myself, however. Creation for creation’s sake.
In it, the dog recites a poem he wrote. The owner doesn’t understand it. The dog replies:
My Bizarre Mind
So let’s see: a puppet ranting about getting turned down from an old poetry magazine, with reference to two little-known poets and a dick joke thrown in. But if that isn’t bad enough, it gets more and more crazy throughout. There’s a sequence on the wooing of women with a Shakespeare parody. Then, there is a mini rock concert. Then, the chorus begins a technical interview with Dr Knowitall — son of Mr Knowitall. (“My first name is ‘Doctor,’ just as my father’s first name was ‘Mister’.”) But the actors are informed that he is actually doing the wrong character — it should be Dr Whoopee (son of Mr Whoopee). A long discussion of cartoons follows, but eventually, Dr Knowitall (who turns out only to have read a Wikipedia page on MP3s that he didn’t understand) interviews the chorus who explains MP3s.
I can’t imagine that an audience would know what to make of it. It is utter chaos. The material jumps from high culture to science to low culture and back. The only thing that would be clear is the Abbott and Costello style word play throughout it. But why shouldn’t I write something just for me — creation for the pure pleasure of it? It is ultimately a spiritual question. After we pay the rent and buy the groceries, what are we to do? It is creation or spiritual death. And that may explain why I find such a religious country as the US to be so lacking in spirituality.