7.05.2011

A Time to Strive, and a Time to Cease Striving

In response to Masha, Mediocrity: Meanness and Indifference, and Mr. Pond, mediocrity, n.

For proof that different words mean different things to different people, look no further than our last week's discussion. I defined the word mediocre as, basically, neither wonderful nor awful. Masha defined it more along the lines of the lukewarm being spat out of God's mouth:
"Mediocrity in my understanding is the failure of the person to be a person, to be an active participant in his own life. It is the pursuit of the "good enough" and not the Good.... Mediocrity fails to create Art because it is indifferent to Beauty, and uninterested in effort - it lacks not only talent but desire."

Faced with two such dissimilar sets of connotations, Mr. Pond did the only thing he could do: pulled out his authoritative old Oxford Dictionary and wrote a lighthearted piece about the time when mediocrity came from the Aristotelian mean, and was therefore something to strive for.
"But what happens when, if you’ll forgive the reductiveness of the analogy, we use a horizontal spectrum? And the goal is balance at the centre point.... If this is the case, then perhaps what we should be striving for is mediocrity, the aurea mediocritas. This becomes the third road, the middle way, ‘Where thou and I this night maun gae’. Are we, in fact, not mediocre enough?"
I do love etymology. It's fun.

The laws of probability dictate that if I push forward into the next topic on the list, we'll come up with more ways to interpret words differently. At Masha's suggestion, then, I'm taking a step back. We're going hunting for the ways in which we do agree, the beginning places that set us together as likeminded artists even while starting us in certain different philosophical directions.

Because I don't disagree with Masha that we ought to strive wholeheartedly for the Good, the True and the Beautiful, any more than I disagree with Mr. Pond that we should search for the elusive third road. (Though I've never liked the analogy of the intermediate point between two extremes; I believe in fusing the rightful passions from both ends of the spectrum. It's an exhausting way to live, but worth trying, I think.) Here's where I start: I don't know what it is to not strive.

I strive hard. I try long past the point of frustration; I try to that icy burning point where you know that a single step further will break you irreparably. Once in my life, I went past and learned the lesson. And while there are very bad mistakes that any aching, haunted human can repeat, there are some only a true fool makes more than once.

Which works out to this: when I hear that it's a bad thing to ever settle for being 'good enough', I have to back away from the searing idea and breathe before I can see any sense in the words. But in that moment, that intermediate point between killing oneself trying and giving up completely, I look up and find the answer—the transcendental secret I am confident both my artistic dialectic partners understand. It is grace.

4 comments:

  1. Clarification, because I can imagine the last paragraph making no sense to most readers: For the perfectionist, the idea of never settling for 'good enough' is unbearable. In pursuit of the best, we will try to the point of self-destruction. That leaves us with an imperative need for the freedom to say "Good enough" before destroying both ourselves and our work.

    Masha's words, of course, have nothing to do with perfectionism. She's speaking of a good and important goal: getting as close as we can to the Good, the True and the Beautiful. Most people, I think, can comprehend trying for the best without freaking out. Some of us just lack the safety on that gun. :)

    The three of us do know that we start from a shared love of the good, the true, the beautiful, and art itself. I kind of wish I'd thought to include that.

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  2. Nice, I'm excited to run for a while in this direction..and I think I'm begining to see a bit of where some of our differences come from..
    the clarification was a good idea too, I was a little uncertain of where you were going with the last paragraph, your comment helped a lot!

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  3. Yes, perfectionism kills the spirit and saps confidence. We perfectionist must learn to "let go." I've finally learned to do this much more.

    There is a two-sided coin on "good enough." Labor for greatness and you will at least get "good." Labor for "good enough" and most likely mediocrity, at the very best, will result. In artistic endeavor these days, too many Christians are satisfied with so little, not demanding even goodness. As brilliant singer-songwriter Bob Bennett (a favorite of mine) once said about offering up a bad song as "God gave it to me"--"I bet he was glad to get rid of that one!"

    --Arabella

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  4. Great, Masha! I'm looking forward to this, too. And I liked your post--I'll try and make it over to your blog to tell you.

    Arabella, you're right about the two-sided coin. And little annoys me more than that "God gave it to me" line. The Bob Bennett response makes me laugh!

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