Saturday, 19 March 2011

Raymond Carver, creativity and the modular mind

I am reading Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love in the "amputated" (Carver's word) ultra-short versions edited by Gordon Lish. Writing doesn't come much tighter.

It made me remember a problem and a solution to it that I used to think about.

Many creative individuals live disorganised and even disastrous lives. This is commonplace. Sometimes things get so bad that work actually stops: too drunk or too depressed, there are no stories or no paintings.

But a lot of the time, personal chaos and beautifully crafted work seem capable of co-existing. Carver was a drunk and an exquisite craftsman who didn't really need an editor to stop him putting a word wrong.

How is this possible? I always thought such combinations of chaos and order showed that the mind is Modular: that each part of it enjoys (relative) independence from the other parts. (In psychology, think of Jerry Fodor or Howard Gardner). The bit of Carver's mind which reviewed the story line and the sentence structure was not the same bit which got blind drunk.

In the same way, I sometimes wonder how democracy can be a good thing when we know that at any one time, half the citizenry of any democracy are depressed, drunk, otherwise off their heads - you name it (the surveys do). Maybe - just maybe - people can think straight about politics even when they can't think straight about anything else. The case for democracy needs something like this to be true.

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