Reader Advisory: Reading this may induce risk taking with toenail scissors
Yesterday, I profiled Sir John Mortimer, an odd duck who actually enjoyed the craft of writing. Imagine that! After writing it, I spent part of the day pondering why more people are not like Mortimer. Why, even as technology enhances the popularity of ”texting” and “posting”, it does not stimulate our appetite for well crafted sentences (though I admit, CU4T could have some charm in the right context). And why is that social networking platforms built to exchange written missives offer about as much sophistication as a chaperoned dance for pre-teens (yes, we used to have these in the old days).
This collection is a wonderful reminder that good writing is not about knowing words, grammar or Faulkner, but having that rare ability to tell the truth, an ability that education and sophistication often serve to conceal.
Thank the Lord that Ms Bentley does not directly assert that our poor writing is due to poor performance in the sack. According to her, we cannot write because we are a bunch of … do I dare say it … well educated and sophisticated … liars? I protest. Like Cary Grant in the movie Charade, “I am a truthful white foot!” Hmmm …. is that the problem? Anyway, I would argue that we have made considerable progress on the lying front since Shakespeare penned Othello. Long ago, Gide, Wilde et al demonstrated the literary “value added” of well executed lying. Wilde’s play “An Ideal Husband“ takes this idea as its major theme. Perhpas Wilde had a point that there may be more important values than obsessive truth telling. And what about Auberon Waugh, who wrote for a magazine (Private Eye) that proclaimed it was “specifically dedicated to telling lies”? Waugh is not every-one’s cup of tea, but I never heard anyone say that he could not write.
I suspect that the broader ”truth” here is that as Mortimer wrote— we have “too many Hamlets. Not enough Horatios”. We scribble incessantly about our individual preoccupations (navel gazing), assuming that the rest of humanity would find them to be equally engrossing. Indeed. The problem is that my ”no holds barred” and “ground breaking” novel about clipping my toenails will only find an audience if I snip off an entire toe (or better yet, the entire foot), all the while denying that I did it just to get your attention.
We might consider another aspect of building communication skills — enhancing the value one gives by connecting with an audience. Truth for … what? But perhaps Ms Bentley does not favor such “value added” experiences. Come to think of it, my ex wife might say the same about ….. never mind!
FOLLOW - At the outset of her book Two Towns in Provence, M.F.K. Fisher had this to say about good writing at
Often in the sketch for a portrait, the invisible lines that bridge one stroke of the pencil or brush to another are what really make it live. …The myriad undrawn lines are the ones that hold together what the painter and the writer have tried to set down, their own visions of a thing: a town, one town, this town.
And are these undrawn lines … the truth? HeeHee. Methinks they are something else.
2d FOLLOW - As Helen Vendler writes, Wallace Stevens used a different phrase to identify what creates those “undrawn lines” - “a companion of the conscience”. Quoting Stevens
Individual poets, whatever their imperfections may be, are driven all their lives by that inner companion of the conscience which is, after all, the genius of poetry in their hearts and minds. I speak of a companion of the conscience because to every faithful poet, the faithful poem is an act of conscience.
In other words, a “striving towards …” rather than “arrived at …” sort of thing. An anti-Hamlet pill?
3rd FOLLOW - What fun today! Alexander Star provides us via NYT further thoughts on the value of good writing (through his critique of Prof. Proirer). This quote is relevant to our discussion today
linking and hyperlinking are no substitute for a sustained encounter with the great writers of the past,
Heavens no! According to Poiret, we must engage in difficult and sometimes embarrassing work in order to position the cannon so that it is ready to fire at our bidding!