A World of Speculation

No, it’s not one of those nifty quizzes. At a writers’ workshop a while back, the leader, Cricket Pechstein, gave us an exercise, asking to classify ourselves accordiwg to the four elements–earth air, fire, and water. Well, different people took it different ways, and none were wrong, of course, but I landed on a scheme that made sense to me then and still does.

  • Earth–concrete detail
  • Water–“flow” of language, line, melody; what’s aesthetically pleasing, easy on the eye or ear, pleasurable to behold
  • Fire–emotion
  • Air–philosophy, ideology–the “ethereal”

A successful work of art will contain these elenents in a balance appropriate to itself. Different artists will to emphasize one element or another.

James Joyce is water; Dostoevsky is fire; Faulkner is fire and water; Henry James is fire; Steinbeck is earth; Tolstoy is air. Feel free to argue this list or add to it. I am mostly earth. I have a deep hunch that truth shines through the details.

What brought this to mind was a chat with a woman the other day. She told me she was an artist. When I asked what kind of art, she said, “Feminist. I read a lot of philosophy, and my paintings are about the fragmentation of modern life.” Earth, meet air. I was asking about the medium.

Reminds me of a poem I wrote once, “To emily dickinson.” I showed it to an English professor. He read it and asked what it was about. It was about three feet wide and sixteen lines long.