Monday, August 22, 2005

tips, from W.B.

Mozart is rolling over in his grave:
Good Writing

The good writer says no more than he thinks. And much depends on that. For speech is not simply the expression but also the making real of thought. In the same way that running is not just the expression of the desire to reach a goal, but also the realization of that goal. But the kind of realization, whether it is precisely adapted to the goal, or whether it loosely and wantonly wastes itself on the desire–depends on the training of the person who is running. The more he has himself in hand and avoids superfluous, exaggerated, and uncoordinated movements, the more self-sufficient his position will be and the more economical the use of his body. The bad writer has many ideas which he lets run riot, just like the bad, untrained runner with his slack, overenthusiastic body action. And for that very reason, he can never say soberly just what he thinks. The talent of the good writer is to make use of his style to supply his thought with a spectacle of the kind provided by a well-trained body. He never says more than he has thought. Hence, his writing redounds not to his own benefit, but solely to the benefit of what he wants to say.

Easy for you to say; W.B. who never penned a clunky phrase in all his life.

And on introjective imagination vs. projective empathy:

Reading Novels

Not all books are to be read in the same way. Novels, for example, are there to be devoured. To read them is a pleasure of consumption [Einverleibung]. This is not empathy. The reader does not put himself in the place of the hero; he absorbs what befalls the hero into himself. The vivid report on those events, however, is the enticing form in which a nourishing meal is presented at the table. Now, there is of course a raw, healthy form of experiencing, just as there is raw, healthy food for the stomach–namely, experiencing something for oneself. But the art of the novel, like the art of cooking, begins where the raw products end. There are many nourishing foodstuffs that are inedible when raw. Just as there are any number of experiences that are better read about than personally undergone. They affect many people so strongly that individuals would not survive them if they were to experience them in the flesh. In short, there is a Muse of the novel–it would be the tenth–it must bear the features of a kitchen fairy. She raises the world from its raw state in order to produce something edible, something tasty. Read a newspaper while eating, if you must. But never a novel. For that involves two sets of conflicting obligations. (Selected Writings, Vol 2, part 2, 1931-1934, pp.728-729)

More on saying no to empathy here (and here) as John P. responds already to Amardeep S. Elsewhere, Michael B. makes some pasta.

(Perhaps "salvages" is a better word.) And finally:
The Newspaper

In our writing, opposites that in happier ages fertilized one another have become insoluble antimonies. Thus, science and belles lettres, crticism and literary production, culture and politics, fall apart in disorder, and lose all connection with one another. The scene of this literary confusion is the newspaper; its content, "subject matter" that denies itself any other form of organization than that imposed on it by the reader's impatience. For impatience is the state of mind of the newspaper reader. And this impatience is not just that of the politician expecting information, or of the speculator looking for a stock tip; behind it smolders the impatience of people who are excluded and who think they have the right to see their own interests expressed....

And yet, as always, there is an upside to the story. One marvels again and again at Benjamin's self-restraint from the indulgences of anything like an habitual cynicism:
....And it is at the scene of the limitless debasement of the word–the newspaper, in short–that its salvation is being prepared. (ibid. 1934, pp. 1933-34)

Or rather still being prepared, 70 years later.

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