Exuberance is Beauty

Sometimes I miss the way I used to write. I’ve been thinking lately about presentations. I’d never taught public speaking or anything approaching it before, but it seems to be a major component of the way that the University of Minnesota likes to do things. I’m pretty used to presentations—my experience with them started years ago in literature seminars where you have to present the significant aspects of a poem or section of it to the rest of the class. That small venue (usually 7-10 people) soon grew to full classrooms when I started teaching. To “teach” presentation I mainly thought about what I like in speakers.

Two primary aspects came to mind. First, I hate it when people “read” in public unless they are reasonably dramatic writers. Note cards and such generally just create a really annoying “presentation” that would have better been delivered in print/electronic format. Dull cadences of dull thoughts bore me. Enthusiasm is the primary quality I like to see. Second, I hate it when people say the words but really don’t seem to have a clue what they mean. Most papers about “blogging” or electronic discourse are written by people who started a blog because it was trendy, wrote a handful of entries, and then decided they knew all about blogging. I keep reading and seeing presentations on “visual rhetoric” by people who don’t really know much about the background of the age-old war waged between text and image, who cite clichés without ever seeking their origin and then proceed to offer “their thoughts” as if they were making an important contribution. To speak about something, one really should have solid control over the subject of which they speak. There has to be some amount of rigor. So, the primary advice I tried to get across to my classes was simply this: have control over your subject and be enthusiastic.

In the post-semester depression, I begin to wonder if these components aren’t some sort of dialectical opposition. Rigor frequently turns into rigor mortis. If you have to justify everything you have to say carefully because you fear challenge, unless you are of a particularly agonistic bent, stifles enthusiasm. I find this sad. I was thinking of the weird sort of fearlessness I used to have as a writer, a sort of beautiful exuberance that I couldn’t push back. I had this quality, I think, because I reached a point in my life where I really had nothing else to lose. Now, I do—the fearlessness has been replaced by a more careful emphasis on precision of expression. Writing in public can do that to you, and I don’t know what the way out might be. I’m not sure fearlessness can be taught, or even maintained. It’s just a momentary feeling which seems impossible to sustain.

I can’t get one of Blake’s :”Proverbs of Hell” out of my head: Exuberance is beauty. A frivolous google search turned up Myla Kent’s visual take on the phrase. I like it.