Tag Archives: humanity

What is the point of art?

This is a question that almost everybody has an answer to. Some would accuse art as being merely a superficial distraction, designed to inflate the artist’s egos and all his admirer’s who ‘understand’ his work on a deeper level. This might be one side, but to dismiss art in this way is foolish. The marks left by inked fingers and the stories passed down through voice precede the sterile laboratories in which people expect the absolute truth to be extracted, dissected, and conquered. This extract is from Lehrer’s book, Proust was a neuroscientist; 

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pity this busy monster…

Here I thought I would be slightly self-indulgent and talk about one of my favourite poems, if not the favourite; Pity this busy monster, manunkind by e.e. cummings. Here it is –

pity this busy monster,manunkind,

not.  Progress is a comfortable disease: 
your victim (death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness 
–electrons deify one razorblade 
into a mountainrange;lenses extend

unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish 
returns on its unself. 
                                A world of made 
is not a world of born–pity poor flesh

and trees, poor stars and stones,but never this 
fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnipotence.  We doctors know

a hopeless case if–listen:there’s a hell 
of a good universe next door;let’s go 

Firstly, the word ‘manunkind‘ alone deserves much attention. Although it is essentially quite simple, this simplicity merely adds to its genius. The fact that the addition to the word from our dictionary, mankind, is so slight makes it very easy to say, although it does not feel natural due to the repetition of the ‘n’ sounds. This perhaps reflects that although mankind today is “unkind“, we have developed a tolerance for it. The word kind also has two meanings; one being that of gentleness and thoughtfulness, combined with the ‘un’ drawing attention to how callous the world can be. The word ‘kind’ is so much more gentle than other words that mean the same thing such as caring or nice… I am searching for a reason why but perhaps it is due to the other meaning of the word. Kind, especially used referring to humankind, also means a collective unit, bound together by some likeness. This is perhaps used to show how disjointed we have become, with each other as well as the world around us. Later on in the poem, cummings describes the victim as “playing with the bigness of his littleness“. I see this as a reference to masturbation, showing how selfish and self-centered we have become. It is also a quite sneering and derogatory way to describe it, emphasising that although it seems big, this is only in comparison to how small it actually is. Considering men’s insecurity concerning this, it seems to be a very direct attack on society. The isoloation that masturbating requires (in general) also contrasts with the final lines; “Listen, there’s a hell of a universe next door” as not only does the sense of listening contrast with  looking (at porn), it begs the reader to leave their room and explore.
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