“What happens to a dream deferred?” Langston Hughes
When Walter Lowenfels and Michael Fraenkel began their short-lived publishing venture before 1930, they hoped to publish artists anonymously thereby highlighting art rather than the ego of the artist. Noble as the movement was, its eventual demise could be largely traced to a paucity of contributions by artists, a great many of whom must have considered anonymity too exorbitant a price to pay knowing that their success in the arts industry depended highly on their fame. One wonders why it did not occur to Fraenkel and Lowenfels that anonymity is too steep a price to require of artists, who most certainly feared that it would strip them of the respectable status of ‘producers’ and relegate them to a lower rung of ‘delivery men’. This intended reform, of emphasising art rather than the artist, would have implied that art would still express itself with or without the artist – an assertion that is capable of stirring up the feeling of impotence and dispensability in the artist. It would seem that the same factors prevalent back in the days of Lowenfels and Fraenkel are still in play today, compelling poets to consciously or otherwise consider anonymity, or the ascription of such a mean feat as poetising to some other body, as a near-suicide. The Muse may have been, both in the past and today, some nonexistent entity which a lot of poets allude to not necessarily as their inspirer but figuratively, in a manner of speaking.
T S Eliot appears to be one of those poets who thinks that poetising is not automatic but is rather a conscious and deliberate exercise. In ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, he opines that:
The poet’s mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite and form a new compound are present together.
He states further in ‘The Metaphysical Poets’ that:
When a poet’s mind is perfectly equipped for its work, it is constantly amalgamating disparate experiences; the ordinary man’s experience is chaotic, irregular, fragmentary. The latter falls in love, or reads Spinoza, and these experiences have nothing to do with each other, or with the noise of the typewriter or the smell of cooking; in the mind of the poet, these experiences are always forming new wholes.
Even though there does not appear to be an eventual end to the claims and counter-claims by the proponents of these two contrasting positions, perhaps there could be some middle ground where the two possible claimants – the poet and whatever other external entity – can assert influence and also concede some ground without necessarily losing face.
Perhaps, asking the question “Where do unexplored and unexploited talents go?” is like wondering where the fire goes once the candle is put out. Yet, what happens when artists renege on their duties? Does the Muse take back her abilities and pour them on a more co-operative medium, or do the abilities follow the artist to the grave? In order words, would the world still have had the Sonnets, Divine Comedy or the Iliad whether or not there were some Shakespeare, a Dante or a Homer?
If indeed there exists an external power that hijacks the human faculties during moments of creativity, then the artists who claim exclusive ownership of ‘their’ works are quasi-plagiarists. If, on the other hand, art is a purely human endeavour, then the group of artists who tend to dedicate their accomplishments to ‘the Muse’ and/or some other superhuman force are either ignorant or are merely feigning humility.