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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Make It Beautiful

By Steven Pressfield
Published: January 21, 2015

Picasso's "Guernica"

My first exposure to contemporary writing and art came in eighth and ninth grade. I can’t remember what books we were assigned in English class (I don’t think we read Catcher in the Rye till tenth grade) but whatever they were, they were dark. The point of view was bleak and despairing.

That’s what I and my classmates came to think of as “literary.”

Movies were grim too. Dance was weird. Sculpture was industrial and monolithic. Fine art’s job, it seemed, was to mock fine art, to declare that the creation of art was impossible in an era of nuclear bombs and Cold War. Comedy was ugly then too. Four-letter words were coming in. The more avant-garde a piece was, the more disgusting its subject matter had to be.

This again was what I imagined art was. If it wasn’t repulsive or nihilistic or deliberately pointless, it wasn’t serious. An artist couldn’t seriously have a positive point of view. By definition, an artist who produced something beautiful testified only to her own state of delusion or denial. Her head was in the sand. She just didn’t get it.

I confess I still don’t have a handle on this issue. How dark is the world? God knows the news could hardly be more grisly. The human race seems hell-bent on destroying the planet, not to mention each other, as fast as it possibly can.

If you’re an artist or a writer, what do you say to this? What kind of art do you produce? What’s the point of producing art at all?

And yet …

And yet art demands to be beautiful. Even the sentences of this blog post are crying out to me as I write them: “Make us look good. Make us cohere. Make this whole piece interesting and fun and informative.”
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Posted in Writing Wednesdays
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The Warrior Ethos

The Spartans do not ask how many are the enemy,
but where are they.
—Plutarch, Sayings of the Spartans

The Warrior Ethos was written for our men and women in uniform, but its utility, I hope, will not be limited to the sphere of literal armed conflict. We all fight wars--in our work, within our families, and abroad in the wider world. Each of us struggles every day to define and defend our sense of purpose and integrity, to justify our existence on the planet and to understand, if only within our own hearts, who we are and what we believe in.

We are all warriors. Do we fight by a code? If so, what is it? What is the Warrior Ethos? How do we (and how can we) use it and be true to it in our internal and external lives?

From the Introduction by Steven Pressfield.

[The following is from chapter 12 of The Warrior Ethos:]

12. HOW THE SPARTANS BECAME THE SPARTANS

All warrior cultures start with a great man.

In ancient Sparta, that man was Lycurgus. He took the city from a normal society to a warrior culture.

So that no man would have grounds to feel superior to another, Lycurgus divided the country into 9000 equal plots of land. To each family he gave one plot. Further, he decreed that the men no longer be called "citizens," but "peers" or "equals."

So that no man might compete with another or put on airs over wealth, Lycurgus outlawed money. A coin sufficient to purchase a loaf of bread was made of iron, the size of a man's head and weighing over thirty pounds. So ridiculous was such coinage that men no longer coveted wealth but pursued virtue instead.

Lycurgus outlawed all occupations except warrior. He decreed that no name could be inscribed on a tombstone except that of a woman who died in childbirth or a man killed on the battlefield. A Spartan entered the army at eighteen and remained in service till he was sixty; he regarded all other occupations as unfitting for a man.

Once a Spartan was visiting Athens. His Athenian host threw a banquet in his honor. Wishing to show off for his guest, the Athenian indicated several illustrious personages around the table. "That man there is the greatest sculptor in Greece," he declared, "and that gentleman yonder is its finest architect." The Spartan indicated a servant from his own entourage. "Yes," he said, "and that man there makes a very tasty bowl of soup."

The Athenians, of course, were outstanding warriors in their own right. The great playwright Aeschylus, composing his own epitaph, mentioned nothing of his ninety plays or of any other civilian accomplishment.

Here lies Aeschylus the Athenian. Of his courage at the battle of Marathon, the long- haired Persian could speak much.

Lycurgus decreed that no man under thirty could eat dinner at home with his family. Instead, he instituted "common messes" of fourteen or fifteen men who were part of the same platoon or military unit. Above the threshold of each mess was a sign that said:

Out this door, nothing.

The point of the common mess was to bind the men together as friends. "Even horses and dogs who are fed together," observed Xenophon, "form bonds and become attached to one another."

The payoff came, of course, on the battlefield.

Here's how Spartans got married. Lycurgus wanted to encourage passion, because he felt that a child—a boy— conceived in heat would make a better warrior. So a young Spartan husband could not live with his bride (he spent all day training and slept in the common mess). If the young couple were to consummate their love, the husband had to sneak away from his messmates, then slip back before his absence was discovered.

It was not uncommon for a young husband to be married for four or five years and never see his bride in daylight, except during public events and religious festivals.

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