Saturday, September 19, 2009

I'm in love with John Ruskin

I used to post conglomerations on Facebook as just that - a conglomeration of whatever thoughts I was thinking at the time, and each one would be titled something random, then " - a conglomeration" at the end. But, since this BLOG is entitled "Conglomeration," I think the point of it is that the entire blog is a conglomeration of different thoughts, with the entries being the thoughts. So! I shall attempt to make my posts have something to do with each other.

In other news, I am in love with John Ruskin.

Until I took Brit Lit 3, I was unaware that this man had ever existed, but he did, in fact, exist, between the years of 1819 and 1900. He is absolutely fabulous.

First off, he was emo: "I wonder mightily what sort of creature I should have turned out, if instead of the distracting and useless pain, I had had the joy of approved love, and the untellable, incalculable motive of its sympathy and praise. It seems to me such things are not allowed in the world. The men capable of the highest imaginative passion are always tossed on fiery waves by it." ... and I think emo boys are wonderful... just because I want to swoop in and make them happy. Haha.

Second, he has a DELICIOUS flair for description. These are some excerpts from his description of the painting The Slave Ship by Turner (whoever he is): "... the torn and streaming rain clouds are moving in scarlet lines to lose themselves in the hollow of the night ... the fire of the sunset falls along the trough of the sea, dyeing it with an awful but glorious light, the intense and lurid splendor which burns like gold and bathes like blood ... its thin masts written upon the sky in lines of blood, girded with condemnation in that fearful hue which signs the sky with horror" and excerpts from a segment of "The Stones of Venice" (about gothic architecture) where he described gothic architecture as being reflective of its harsh environment (as opposed to architecture in hot climates, which is bright and merry): "Let us watch him with reverence as he sets side by side the burning gems, and smooths with soft sculpture the jasper pillars, that are to reflect a ceaseless sunshine, and rise into a cloudless sky: but not with less reverence let us stand by him, when, with rough strength and hurried stroke, he smites an uncouth animation out of the rocks which he has torn from among the moss of the moorland, and heaves into the darkened air the pile of iron buttress and rugged wall, instinct with work of an imagination as wild and wayward as the northern sea; creations of ungainly shape and rigid limb - but full of wolfish life, fierce as the winds that beat, and changeful as the clouds that shade them." Ahhhh.... if I had been alive then, I would've given him all the approved love he could need, hahaha. ;)

Third... I think he's very very smart. I've been thinking about his idea, presented in "The Stones of Venice," that "If you will have ... precision out of [people], and make their fingers measure degrees like cogwheels ... " you, in effect, turn them into a machine. But if you encourage them to think, to imagine, to create, etc. then you will turn them into a human being: "You must either make a tool of the creature, or make a man of him. You cannot make both."

He was of course talking about how most of the work we now use machines to do, humans were doing in his time, and since all their days were spent doing the work of a machine, they became a machine themselves, unable to think about anything other than manual tasks. It makes me wonder how this can be applied in a modern world, where work like that is done by REAL machines. Would Ruskin be happy with this change? That we have, in a way, "freed" our workers from having to be machines? But... in my opinion... those who used to do "machine" like work, aren't doing anything any more intellectual, creative, or imaginative. Our lower-class workers are janitors, wal-mart greeters, cashiers, fast food cooks, etc. They aren't doing repetitive manual labor, but they aren't exactly employing their mental faculties, either. So have we improved? I think maybe Ruskin had too high of hopes for the "machines." He thought that if you just had them do something less repetitive, a latent creative/intellectual faculty would spring forth. I don't think this is the case. Some people are creative, thinking people, and others aren't. Just because you give someone a job that doesn't fit his description: "All the energy of their spirits must be given to make cogs and compasses of themselves. All their attention and strength must go to the accomplishment of the mean act. The eye of the soul must be bent upon the finger point, and the soul's force must fill all the invisible nerves that guide it, ten hours a day, that it may not err from its steely precision, and so soul and sight be worn away, and the whole human being be lost at last - a heap of sawdust, so far as its intellectual work in this world is concerned" ... doesn't mean that they're going to instantly burst forth in creativity. In fact, when I do manual labor, repetitive tasks where I don't have to think... I find that I think MORE. I can "zone out" and my brain can fill the empty space with its own thoughts, as creative and intellectual as they want to be... most of my best thinking is done while driving, for example.

And what about the countries where some people still do the work of machines, for almost no money? We haven't improved at all on that front.

Another quote from this section, saying that we do nothing to help the masses of factory workers except to teach and preach: "To teach them is but to show them their misery, and to preach to them, if we do nothing more than preach, is to mock at it." Good point, on the preaching. I kind of want to spray-paint this on Evangel's campus, haha... especially speaking to those who believe that helping someone is just a means to get them to listen to your preaching (more or less direct quote from a friend of mine recently... sigh). I don't know what kind of teaching Ruskin was thinking of, though... but generally, giving someone an education helps them rise out of their poverty, not just show them how miserable they are. If one of those factory workers back in the day had had some sort of trade or skill, they could have gotten a job somewhere much better.

Also, I love how people 100+ years ago used to go on random rabbit trails and wander about in their thinking when they wrote. It makes it hard to figure out what the "point" of what they're saying is, but it's the rabbit trails that usually contain the most interesting information, haha! He randomly starts talking about art, in this segment (which, remember, originally was about gothic architecture, haha! So I have no idea where he thinks he's going with all of this) and he says:

"No great man ever stops working till he has reached his point of failure" ... "His mind is always far in advance of his powers of execution, and the latter will now and then give way in trying to follow it; besides that he will always give to the inferior portions of his work only such inferior attention as they require; and according to his greatness he becomes so accustomed to the feeling of dissatisfaction with the best that he can do, that in moments of lassitude or anger with himself he will not care though the beholder be dissatisfied also ... if we are to have great men working at all, or less men doing their best, the work will be imperfect, however beautiful. Of human work none but what is bad can be perfect, in its own bad way ... imperfection is in some sort essential to all that we know of life. It is the sign of life in a mortal body, that is to say, of a state of progress and change. Nothing that lives is, or can be, rigidly perfect; part of it is decaying, part nascent ... Accept this then for a universal law, that neither architecture nor any other noble work of man can be good unless it be imperfect." (Ah, so that's how this relates to architecture.)

This is encouraging to me, even if I'm not sure I believe in it. I write stories and poems... and sometimes I am too afraid to even START my story because I'm afraid it won't be good. I'll go over one chapter over and over and over again, hoping I'm making it better, but wondering if I'm really just ruining the whole thing... I'll write something, come back months later, and decide to just throw out the whole idea because it would be too much work to salvage it from the wreckage of awful writing that it has become. I'm so concerned with "getting it RIGHT" I think I might end up taking away some of the artful "imperfection" that he's talking about. Although I think I don't agree (and my art teachers over the summer wouldn't agree either, actually) that art is only good unless it's imperfect. Teachers and the entire system of people whose opinion is worth anything constantly badger us into perfecting our pieces... of art or writing or whatever... unless you're some kind of hippie who thinks anything that "comes from the heart, mannn" is good... o.O;;; you don't go to an art museum to see people's mistakes. You go to see something so brilliant you could never even hope to come close. So I dunno. On the one hand it's encouraging, on the other I'm like "psht yeah right" and I return to my endless labors. :P

So yes... this is John Ruskin, my new dearest love. Haha. ^_^ What do you think of him? :P



  1. One of my favorite quotes belongs to him: "All one's life is a music if one touches its notes rightly and in tune."

  2. Wow... that's lovely. <3 Now I like him even more!! haha.

  3. Wow. I like the quote Stina posted. Thanks to this post, I now have more of an interest in older writers. We've lost touch with the beauty of words in recent years. In endless grammar classes in which instructors rigorously instil the idea that one should concisely reach the point (within 5,000 words, of course), we've lost the ability to think. If we are being concise and clear, where is the challenge in understanding the words written?

  4. I love the title of your blog and the way you put your thoughts into writing. I don't know Ruskin, but I sure feel like knowing him now. By the way, if you want to meet Turner and his Slave Ship, take a peek:
    I once saw a whole exhibit dedicated to Turner and came out dead tired. He's powerful.

  5. I have never heard of him, but I will start reading his works now. He sounds amazing!