Laught Out Loud Cats #331 (Adam Kofer)
From Slate, posing the question, “Are you a language bully?”
So language bullies love company. But the only people who love language bullies are other language bullies, and that’s largely because the rest of us realize that the use of their advanced knowledge doesn’t have to result in a shaming exhibition at another’s expense. When someone uses a word in a way that we believe to be technically incorrect, we have choices. Beyond the obvious one—simply recognizing that the definitions and usages of words change over time, and getting on with our lives—there are at least two additional options available. We can correct the person in private, or we can point out the mistake publicly. “I think that choice is pretty revealing,” Kurzban says. “If you are in an antagonistic relationship with the person, then you might do the public correction. If you’re in a positive interaction with the person, and you want to save them from embarrassment, then you might do it privately.” He adds: “I know who my real friends are in this way. My friends email me when I [make an error] in a blog post. My enemies put it in the comments section.”
That’s not to suggest, of course, that all who offer up hyper-technical corrections in a public forum are necessarily language bully-type enemies. (Monin posits that some correctors may earnestly consider themselves stewards of the language: “If people misuse a word repeatedly, that becomes the usage of the word. So in that respect, it’s important to [speak up] if I think the ‘correct’ usage is important.”) But even if we assume altruistic motives in every case, that doesn’t make pushy, nitpicky language corrections any easier to stomach.
A foolish remark. A folly.
Attempting an act of literature is a writing bêtise.
“This bêtise of a war has made us all serious.” –Benjamin Disraeli
“Mountain Sliding Ahead” (Tavis Ford)
Writing Advice from George Saunders and Cheryl Strayed:
“The thing is though, you’re never going to become amazing at anything without first being… well, sort of shitty. Strayed put it more eloquently: “You have to surrender to your mediocrity, and just write. Because it’s hard, really hard, to write even a crappy book. But it’s better to write a book that kind of sucks rather than no book at all, as you wait around to magically become Faulkner.” Sadly, mere desire is never good enough when it comes to achieving anything – in writing, and in life. “No one is going to write your book for you,” she reminded us, “and you can’t write anybody’s book but your own.”
I will admit this notion seemed rather bleak at first. “Great,” I sat there thinking. “I basically have to accept the fact that I suck in order to not suck? Sounds like some depressing paradoxical bullshit to me.” But it’s not, and Strayed made that clear in what she talked about next.”
“Saunders spoke of his own desire to be just like the writers he respected, referring to them as his idols. Saunders talked about his failed attempts to emulate Ernest Hemingway, and of his discovery he wasn’t very good at being anyone but himself.
“You go up the mountain of your idol,” he explained, “but when you get to the top, you realize they’re already there, and that mountain is never going to belong to you. So, you go do your own thing and it’s more of a shit-pile than a mountain at first, but it’s yours. It’s your shit pile. And that’s not nothing.”
Seamus Heaney and Family, 1979
Seamus Heaney died today at 74.
I have a touchy relationship with Heaney’s poems. I didn’t appreciate them at all when I was young and I wasn’t alive to the pure music of language, which is a good part of the craftsmanship of Heaney’s poems. I slowly began to understand what the fuss was about, but my preference in poems has, at the same time, turned more and more toward the briefest of forms.
But when his poems work, they really work. I’m sure “Digging”, one of his most famous poems, will be shared all over the net, but I can’t resist this video of Heaney reading it:
We’ve lost a poet of the highest order. RIP, Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013.
“And But So” Event Poster by Chris Stangland
If I get a literary tattoo, the phrase “And but so”—oft-used by David Foster Wallace—is high on the list of possibilities. There’s something about that phrase, that oh-so-intentional verbal tic, that captures a precise moment of a cascade: a burgeoning coupled with the possibility of contradiction and a headlong rush into what’s next, which might be a resolution…but might not be.
The Ambiguities explores the phrase well:
On the basic, sentence-by-sentence level, it’s kind of his trademark — what he’s known for. And I think it’s most prevalent in IJ, although it pops up everywhere. Most writers don’t have any sort of grammatical or syntactical trademark, simply because their goal is writing transparent prose. This was not DFW’s goal, although I think he comes closest to writing transparently in this book. (Of course, it was not Hemingway’s goal either, whatever he might have thought about it. There are all kinds of self-conscious writing.)
DFW was obsessed with grammar, usage, sentence structure. It was more or less second nature to him. A lot of those pages I mentioned above dismiss “and but so” as a tic, an annoyance, or an affectation. But I think, given his level of attention to and control of the building blocks of his work, that it behooves us to think about it when he chooses heterodoxy. Why “and but so”?