Writing.

Writing. August 3, 2011

I love stylish writing. Prose that plays, wiggles, and spills over the lines. But not too much.

There is a certain, incredible freedom to the pen that purposefully writes for the sake of writing, for the sake of life itself. Writing, it seems, can sustain life.

A true writer is someone who can write beautiful nonsense.

I’ve often wished to be a true writer, but I know that I’m not. It’s okay, though: I’m happy to read those who are. I’ve come to think of myself as something of a homiletic essayist with tedious philosophical habits and pretensions. (To be a philosopher and a true writer is utterly miraculous to me.)

As a philosopher, I usually consider good writing to be an exercise for and manifestation of clear thinking—even if one is thinking clearly about being unclear. This is how and why I teach writing. But this way of conceiving the metaphysics of writing is too narrow.

When I read a writer, a true writer, I am not interested in the clarity of her intellect: I am reading, devouring, masticating, salivating, keeping myself alive for a moment and dying in the next.

The beauty of writing cannot be reduced to its analytic merits. There is a flux of life in the Word that is music, sex, birth, breathe, suffocating…

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  • brian martin

    “I love stylish writing. Prose that plays, wiggles, and spills over the lines. But not too much.

    There is a certain, incredible freedom to the pen that purposefully writes for the sake of writing, for the sake of life itself. Writing, it seems, can sustain life.

    A true writer is someone who can write beautiful nonsense.”

    I love it…and that “sings” when I read it…it does exactly what you describe.
    nice

  • The Pachyderminator

    As usual, Sam, the exact meaning of your post is not quite certain, but you seem to be making a false dichotomy between writing as writing as pure aesthetics and writing as an exercise of clear thinking, similar to the false dichotomy sometimes made between a picture that exists for the sake of the interplay of color, light, and shape and a picture that is meant to represent or depict something. Writing that really is “beautiful nonsense” is like an abstract painting: it can be a beautiful and hence valuable object (equally well, it can be a lazy self-indulgence by an artist who lacks the talent or drive to make something more rigorous), but it is cut off from the highest function of an artistic medium: to achieve meaning that transcends itself.

    Good writing, to my mind, is like a magic wine that creates the cup it is held in as it is poured out. The wine is the sheer flow of words. The words contain, just often enough to meet the mind with sweetness while not being cloying, apt turns of phrase that make the writing indelible to memory. If these are well placed, they group themselves into larger units and then arrange themselves in elaborate hierarchies, they vary themselves so that each one places a certain strain on the reader which is later relieved by another, they play with each other so that flashes of half-imagined meaning and barely intuited vistas of inference and extension present themselves to the mind, and there is a progression from beginning to end that seems as natural and inevitable as the shape of a beautiful cup. But even after the whole shape is seen, the reader will experience it more richly as he remembers watching the shape appear bit by bit.

    Such is the writer’s art, and thus far the wine may be poured by a melodious idiot or a miraculous philosopher. However, remember that the best way a cup of wine can present itself to us is not only an objet d’art (though it is that), but a sacrament. Likewise for the true writer.

    • I wrote, “The beauty of writing cannot be reduced to its analytic merits.”

      It does not follow that the analytic merits of writing are nonexistent or inconsequential. For a narrow-minded professor such as me, this is a reminder of the excess within the art and craft of writing.

      By the way: nice writing.

      Sam

  • Mark Gordon

    Writing is like cooking. There are technical requirements, to be sure, but the writer, like the chef, flavors his raw materials with inspiration, intuition, daring and other rare seasonings to create something bold and new. Writing is to English composition as cooking is to baking. The former is an art; the latter, a science.

    Incidentally, that’s why Truman Capote was wrong about Kerouac when he said, “That’s not writing. It’s typing.”