Jan 12, 2011

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, A Review - Part I


I've chosen not to publish reviews of climbing guidebooks or training guides (both of which I obsessively collect and analyze). I have started many reviews and discarded all of them. Why? I want to push climbing forward. Guidebooks mostly record the past; the occasional expectation is when they list projects. Training guides frequently are just rehashing of old material or material that is functionally obsolete, e.g., glycemic index. I want to push climbing forward. I have unique contributions to make to climbing/life, the same as everyone if they spoke up. One of my "superpowers" is that I see connections between things that most people don't see or (even worse) won't say. Overall, I'm interested in incorporating modern thought into climbing, e.g., my review of Linchpin by Seth Godin.

The Review

I'm a voracious reader. When I'm in a reading mood, I can read 400 pages straight. The War of Art is not that long or complex. It is very deep. Once I started, I couldn't stop. I paused briefly to create art, i.e., this post. I was initially tipped off to this book by Seth Godin's blog.

The book has three sections – defining the enemy, combating the enemy, and moving beyond the enemy. In this case, the enemy is The Resistance. The Resistance is the internal stopping force of creating something new and meaningful, aka the shadow of T. S. Eliot.

The book is universe. However, this review will be specific. I will take representative book quotes and relate them to the current state of climbing.

"It was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas."

I see most climbers as miniature Hitlers. They spending more time destroying, most frequently through criticism, than creating. I have made a conscious choice to create. Now I can't imagine going a week without creating something new, most frequently it is a climb*. Some climbers go their whole lives without creating a new climb. That something I can't understand. Some would attribute it too laziness. I see it as The Resistance.

I have been in (and out) of the indoor routesetting game for 6 years. I have never had "setter's block". There are simply too many holds and the human body has too much potential to run out of ideas. I see routesetters get stuck on a blank canvas. Just put a hold on the wall, even a bad hold. Better yet use the most illogical hold in the most illogical position. The same for working a project. Try a bad idea. Then try an even worse idea. Then at least you know what doesn't work (at least for right now).

"Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive"

Almost all fundamentalist climbers do not create art. They are too busy policing other's actions, making sure no one breaks their rules. Even the fundamentalist climbers who create art, would create more if they used that energy as gist for the creative mill.

Pressfield discusses how fundamentalists look to purer world from which we have fallen. There are too many references to various "golden eras" of climbing to even mention. Instead, think of this moment as a "golden era" and try to maximize it.

I see neotraditional climbing as a mild form of fundamentalism. Especially people who choose to remove bolts. The bolts don't interfere with your art, i.e., climbing & placing gear. Let everyone have his or her art.

"The athlete as to play hurt"

I want to suffer. I want to do things that are both physically and mentally hard. Lifting weights is hard. Getting a PhD is hard. Developing new climbing is both. That is why I seek it out.

To be continued ...

* DISCLAIMER: I sometimes rediscover a lost classic due to incomplete information. It is creating a new climb from my perspective. If people waited for complete information very little would ever happen.