Upon moving into my residence hall here at the university last week, I encountered a bit of difficulty. It seemed my plans were too complicated for the room. The microwave plug didn’t fit into the power strip and this meant that the whole apparatus I had formed—with the printer on top of the microwave and the microwave on top of the refrigerator—had to be relocated to a place in the room that would better accommodate for all the electrical connections. I had, from the start, opposed my bringing of so many appliances to school, but my parents insisted that I do so in order to make the place more comfortable and ‘home-like’.
After trying out a few different arrangements of the room, each one feeling more cramped than the last, I settled on stuffing all the appliances except the refrigerator into a small storage space in the upper part of the wardrobe and moving the furniture into the least confining arrangement possible. When I was all done with this, I felt quite remarkably liberated; suddenly the little space, which had seemed very much to resemble a prison only moments ago, transformed itself into a rather pleasant study and dormitory. Now I have a big beautiful desk basking in natural sunlight beside the window where I can lay out my orchestra scores to work (see figure 1).
I told my mum how I felt about this when I rang her up that evening. She and I both agreed that if I felt more comfortable without all the clutter, I didn’t need to use it, seeing as comfort was the original purpose of the supplies. As I write this, all of the mentioned supplies, along with several other items, are sitting in that storage place, waiting patiently to be brought home. The new order of my room is by no means minimalistic—aside from the refrigerator I mentioned, I also have here a good number of my books and my unicycle—but it is simple. That’s the beauty of it.
On the same day that I made these arrangements, I was thinking about economic styles of music, art, and writing. Among the many examples of the aesthetic I had in mind were a couple of scenes in Shakespeare, that popped into my head, as well as the opening line of Milton’s famous epic, which reads: “Of man’s first disobedience and the fruit of that forbidden tree”. Part of the brilliance of this line is how simply it conveys something so large and complicated. Instead of droning on and on pedantically to lay out the details of a theological framework for the ‘fall of man’, Milton leans into the lexical and philosophical associations already built into the English language—perhaps placed their directly by the hand of God himself—in order to discuss not only the hamartiology of an ‘original sin’ or ‘total depravity’, nor the soteriology of ‘salvation’, but the entire human understanding of all the associated ideas, dreamings, and truths that have been passed down via the Indo-European language from before the time of the Romans to the present, now to be contained in the single English word ‘fruit’.
You may have already sensed this by now if you read this blog often, but I am, quite frankly, all about complexity. I make nearly every form of art or study that I engage in as complicated as I possibly can. But the reason things ought to be so complex, in my mind, is because that’s the only way they can become simple. One of the greatest transformations that western languages have undergone over time is simplification. Dead languages often have very complicated grammars, and it is through these original complex systems that modern languages have come to posses the power they hold today in their much simpler forms. We might also note, however, the way this complexity supported something simpler even in the ancient languages themselves. If this post were written in Ancient Greek or Latin, you would probably be finished reading it by now (assuming you were as fluent in one of those languages as you are in English). Indeed, you would have probably finished reading a good while ago; the reason for this is that the more complicated grammars allowed for more economic communication—simpler sentences had more complicated meanings than in modern English.
I am not here by proposing that ‘less is more’. That’s ridiculous! Less is less. But somehow the God of the universe has been able to communicate to humanity everything they need to know in order to be self-conscious and self-willing creatures, and if so much is possible, then is it not our duty, as artists, thinkers, and human beings, to at least try, by virtue of that very possibility, to stuff the entire human experience into something portable and sharable?
The beauty of fractals is that no matter how much or how little of their detail you can make out, they look similar and appear the same.