Today in better writing than mine: Ralph Waldo Emerson on originality of expression

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A man’s power to connect his thought with its proper symbol, and so to utter it, depends on the simplicity of his character, that is, upon his love of truth, and his desire to communicate it without loss. The corruption of man is followed by the corruption of language. When simplicity of character and the sovereignty of ideas is broken up by the prevalence of secondary desires, the desire of riches, of pleasure, of power, and of praise, — and duplicity and falsehood take place of simplicity and truth, the power over nature as an interpreter of the will, is in a degree lost; new imagery ceases to be created, and old words are perverted to stand for things which are not: a paper currency is employed, when there is no bullion in the vaults. In due time, the fraud is manifest, and words lose all power to stimulate the understanding or the affections. Hundreds of writers may be found in every long-civilized nation, who for a short time believe, that they see and utter truths, who do not of themselves clothe one thought in its natural garment, but who feed unconsciously on the language created by the primary writers of the country, those, namely, who hold primarily on nature.

But wise men pierce this rotten diction and fasten words again to visible things; so that picturesque language is at once a commanding certificate that he who employs it, is a man in alliance with truth and God. The moment our discourse rises above the ground line of familiar facts, and is inflamed with passion or exalted by thought, it clothes itself in images. A man conversing in earnest, if he watch his intellectual processes, will find that a material image, more or less luminous, arises in his mind, contemporaneous with every thought, which furnishes the vestment of the thought. Hence, good writing and brilliant discourse are perpetual allegories. This imagery is spontaneous. It is the blending of experience with the present action of the mind. It is proper creation. It is the working of the Original Cause through the instruments he has already made.

from “Nature

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Today in better writing than mine: Phil Jourdan on feminism, breast size, and Haruki Murakami

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This one’s for the writers in the audience. Today’s article comes from LitReactor. It’s called “Her Breasts Were Too Small: Why a Dose of Feminism is Good for Writers,” and it’s a surprisingly astute meditation on the quintessential nature of the feminine and the masculine, on the widely touted idea that men can’t write female characters, and on a lot of other intriguing topics. Oh, and there’s a hilarious selection of cringe-worthy breast references from Murakami’s 1Q84 (which I have yet to read, so I don’t know if Jourdan’s critique is totally fair or not). Here’s a sneak peak to entice you to click the link:

What does it mean for a male writer to “create” a female character, a patchwork of concepts and behaviors quilted together by the word “woman”? To be crude: characters don’t have “real” vaginas or penises. You can’t scientifically distinguish between men and women in fiction by asking the characters to show you their genitals. And that’s a problem, intellectually, in the craft of writing. Every time you create a male character, you are, however subtly and however consciously, telling us that he is not a female character. And in all likelihood, since you can’t just give him a penis, you’re going to have to try to show his masculinity, his “typically male” behavior, through his actions. You may end up following the commonsense advice that everyone loves to give: show, don’t tell. Show us your character, John, being a man among all the other things he is meant to be. At this point, you’ve already made a commitment.

You often hear about men who “just can’t do female characters” — for whatever reason, the argument often goes, these female characters don’t ring true. They rely too much on stereotypes, on the bitterness or the idealism of their creators, on how horny the author happened to be while writing the book.

[ . . . ]

[I]f I’m a man, and I want to write fiction of a certain quality involving female characters, shouldn’t I keep these questions in mind at least some of the time? Take the suspense genre. Shouldn’t I ask myself, when I introduce my third femme fatale into a hardboiled novel, why I still need to make her both dangerous and gorgeous? Is there a reason I need a femme fatale at all? Does the fact that James Bond gets all the hot babes reflect something more than his effortless charm? If I created a female James Bond-type character and she slept with a couple of hot dangerous guys in every story — would I think less of her? Would I want to tell the story from the perspective of one of the hot dangerous guys instead? Why?

I once created tension (without wanting to) among a group of otherwise quite progressive people by asserting, very seriously, that I would love to see a black James Bond. The responses you get from declaring something like that are telling. Someone will make a face and say, “That’s… interesting.” Someone else will say, “I just can’t imagine a black Bond.” Why not? What makes Bond a great character are his qualities as a human being, right? He’s brave, he’s smooth, he’s attractive to all the ladies, he’s funny, he’s strong, he’s so dizzyingly “masculine” in general that young men look up to him as a role model. Where does his race come into it? It doesn’t, in the qualities I’ve described. Race, here, is merely incidental.

Check it out, if it’s your sort of thing. And while we’re on the subject of a “black James Bond,” I once heard a rumor of Idris Elba being cast as the next Bond. Alas, it’s probably too good to be true.