Friday, May 14, 2010

Correct thought

One of the less trumpeted features of the Internet is the unprecedented access it provides to really, really bad writing. Of course, awful books have always been with us, but nowadays a specimen of unkempt, puffed-up prose or stumbling, lugubrious verse doesn't even need to make it past an editor or publisher to glide slimily into the awareness of the unsuspecting public.

[. . .]

In the early 20th century, dinner party guests would entertain each other by reciting passages from the alliteration-heavy works of one Amanda McKittrick Ros (1860-1939), regarded by experts as the greatest bad novelist of all time. In Oxford, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and their friends competed to see who could read aloud from Ros' books the longest before cracking up. (Laura Miller, “Bad writing: What is it good for,” Salon, 11 May 2010)

Correct thought

I think if you laugh at prose so that it strips it of authority (what the Moderns did with their Victorian predecessors), so that your own artistic ventures feel more legitimate, it is a sound thing to do. More than this, it is a GOOD thing to do -- as laughter, mockery, is at the service of growth.

If you're laughing at prose without any real authority, then you're not servicing your own growth, rather, you're foreclosing it: as who amongst the legitimate would risk writing anything that would leave themselves open for laughter from their peers? None at all -- and so a culture freezes in its preferred prose, state of mind, and current grammatical correctness. Some time later, after they've crumbled away, a new generation emerges that laughs "their" way on toward unusual things. Or not -- and we're left with successive generations of elites against the mob, complaining of plagiarism, not knowing that IN ESSENCE, that is all they are.

Link: Bad writing: What is it good for?

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