Day by Day #44: Masterworks and A more-or-less Review of Paper Towns, by John Green

There is something deeply troubling about good literature. Well. There is something deeply troubling about great works of art. I never knew who Gustav Klimt was, until I found myself standing in front of The Kiss. My jaw fell to the floor. All of his works – his paintings, his sketches, his disembodied portraits – all of them make me so frustrated. It’s not jealousy and it’s not laziness (admittedly, both might be involved); it’s knowing that Gustav Klimt found great pleasure and satisfaction in his work, if only temporarily. It’s knowing that I, as the reviewer, can never really be him and feel his brushstrokes and know the plan…and to see it finally painted.

Concerning the instinctual lust for creativity, there is perhaps no other frustrating situation than the one faced by the reviewer. The only real satisfaction in creation is by creating yourself and when you see a perfect work – and you know your desires  – all you want to do is create. But there is no long-lasting satisfaction in the reviewing…unless there is a future hope of one day creating something similarly wonderful. Ignoring any talk about Scotsmen, a true piece of art will do this.

But, if we never take the action to go and repeat the creation, we will be as sensually frustrated as the lover whose object is already married. We want the creation, but the creation is already connected to someone else. For me, at least…

I subsequently hate the artist. I feel like Brian Wilson listening to Sgt. Pepper’s. It’s maddening. In the case of Gustav Klimt, I immediately brought the pencil to the paper. To already add to my insanity, my creation looked everything like a refrigerator, not a face.

Sometimes, I finish a book. I had been putting a book off for quite some time, but knew that I had to read it before I gave it back to my friend.

When I picked it up and began reading, I didn’t expect much. It seemed unnecessarily crass and mechanically witty. The descriptions were plain and the characters were exactly what you might expect them to be, considering the target audience. I thought to myself, “Well clearly, the target audience here was high schoolers aged 16-18. Why do books have to have a target audience at all?” I felt like I was being manipulated. Even though the very goal of art is to manipulate the reviewer, there is something particularly acrid when you feel the rag of chloroform on your mouth.

I was right. All of it was a facade.

About halfway through the book, I felt my heart twitching and my fingers tapping. It wasn’t because I was excited to find out what would happen next – I was excited for the next thing to end. I got tired of hearing the name “Margo” – the object of the main character’s affection – twice on. Every. Single. Page.

In the end, John Green in his book Paper Towns tore down the facade he built up deliberately, beautifully, and movingly.

I said that good works of art move you to make good works of art, too. That’s true. But how? How are they good works of art?

I’m okay with not knowing, exactly. Yet, we can still observe the effects of good works of art.

Inherently, good works of art will accurately reflect something we know to be real. It will pull at our innards and remind us, “This is what is true, beautiful, and good!” All three are necessary, so I suppose it’s more accurate to say that good works of art are also true and also very beautiful. We will not know that the work espouses something infinite and totally un-new under the sun, if it doesn’t hit us as true, beautiful, or good. That is, it won’t really be a masterwork to us, if it doesn’t manipulate us. For example, no one will say that the Bible is a masterwork, if it doesn’t manipulate them. But, if it successfully manipulates someone (in the best sense of the term, the sense that the reviewer is equally both voluntarily and involuntarily acting), then it will seem true, beautiful, and good to them.

If a masterwork possesses beauty, truth, and goodness and the reviewer is willing to submit to it, then the real meaning of things will be revealed. For a moment, that person can understand the nature of reality, the, um…forever everything. George Lucas’ force (Or is that Buddha’s?). Plato’s forms. God. The Trinity, who owns patents on anything true, beautiful, and good. It’s the Trinity’s force, the Trinity’s forms, the Trinity’s forever everything. There’s nothing new under the sun, because everything real originates from it.

I believe I have found myself a temporary relief from my previous frustration (although, I humanly struggle with two opposing realities which both seem just as real). Speaking of opposing things both being just as real, George Orwell failed when he tried to apply the laws of logic to human perception. Things can be opposing, but exist undeniably in the same reality, if we take into account the flawed nature of human perception. The only thing I can really know is that I know some things. The temporary relief to my previous frustration is not a hope that I can one day be steeped in the cosmic, but that the artist – Gustav Klimt, John Green, etc. – are not actually the artists. Yes, yes, they are. But this isn’t the law of non-contradiction being thrown out the window. This is both things being equally true. They are the artists, in a sense, but the real artist is the Trinity. It’s like George Lucas “inventing” Jedi, when in fact Jedi are merely samurai.

It’s not really John Green’s ideas. It’s not really his work. It’s his emulation of a masterwork already completed. I’m not talking about the Bible. I’m talking about God and His creation. The Bible is only part of that. And now, this is the part where I subsequently get slapped by every artist for my insolence and pride.

That’s okay, they can have their independent works of greatness. All that leads to frustration and confusion. I, for one, prefer to live a life where all masterworks are done under submission to the triune God, the author of reality. Like in a marriage, the reality related both by God and men are equal, but one is in submission to leadership. Things don’t work well when everyone assumes a role of leadership. John Green’s truth is equal to the truth that hangs above creation, but it is certainly in submission to God’s.

This makes me feel less frustrated after I read something like Paper Towns. Honestly, when I finished reading it, I wanted to scream and get angry at John Green. But, why? He couldn’t have done it without something to work with. In fact, I am exceedingly happy with John Green. Not only has he reminded me of things I’ve so desperately wanted to relate to the world, he’s reminded me that I can do it. Any truth I relate is not a worse mash-up of something John Green said. It may be done with less skill, but it is a re-telling of the same thing. It’s not plagiarism. It’s emulation of the same source, whether John Green agrees with me or not.

It’s impossible to create without first having something to work with, unless you are God. I have wanted to write something for the past month, but it has just been so difficult. I tried writing a short story, but it self-destructed. Why? I wasn’t experiencing anything. Why? I wasn’t reading anything. How could I possibly just come up with something to relate to the world, when I was leaving myself high and dry? I was neither experiencing nor reading. You can’t eat without food.

I can write now. I want to write about a lot of things right now. I can’t help it. I’m too full of things to say. I suppose this whole discussion wasn’t really about John Green’s Paper Towns. But the truth, beauty, and goodness of Paper Towns compelled me to write about something. That is what I would call a masterwork.

Gustav klimt

One comment

  • I just read Paper Towns last night, and I did scream and get angry at John Green. If it’s a competition, you won, Caleb, because I reacted exactly the opposite of what you did, I think. For one, I enjoyed the two dimensional paper facade story John Green wove–though I did recognize its flaws. However, the ending’s significance simply eluded me, and just left me in pieces.

    You win, Caleb, because you understood, and I didn’t. Immensely jealous.


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