Numostic theory

What fascinates me about Sontag’s theory of the writer as nut/moron/stylist/critic is that it really is a theory of how creativity works in general: Which aesthetic/expressive “muscles” need to be developed, and in what order. I love that she starts out with the “nut”. For any artist to be sufficiently motivated to reach others, there needs to be some initial governing passion. What I especially like about Sontag’s way of describing this is her intimation that this initial passion, while necessary, need not remain – a different nut can be swapped in, as the artist develops through the stylist and eventually to the critic stage: What first got you into writing, or painting, or dance, or composing music, might not be what keeps you there.

Just from this observation alone we can start to see ways of distinguishing between the arcs of careers in different corners of the arts. For example, there are very few Rock and Roll song writers who can create as relevant and passionate a song at age forty or fifty as they could when they were twenty three. The particular nut, or obsédé, that pulls you into rock and roll are tied up with youthful obsessions – sex, alienation, new love, rebellion, rejection of the status quo, together with an ability to see the strange world of adult life with the freshness of a newcomer.

People who in their teens discover a talent for expressing the emotions around such things can skyrocket quite quickly to stardom. But by the time they reach their late twenties, many of these things are no longer relevant to them. A writer of prose can more readily trade in a youthful nut for a different one, but that isn’t so easy to do in rock and roll – the audience for this genre isn’t very focused on issues of child rearing, career change or the onset of mid-life crisis.

More tomorrow.

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