Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Epilogue to Mary Duffy's Writing Guide: Writing Con Brio

They have been at a great feast of languages and stol’n the scraps.
Love’s Labour’s Lost, Shakespeare

The longing not to die, the hunger for personal immortality, the effort by which we strive to persevere in our own being, this is the emotional basis for all knowledge and the intimate point of departure for all human philosophy.
The Tragic Sense of Life, Unamuno

You have now reached the end of this Book. After reading and studying the preceding chapters you should be able to write riveting prose.

When Nietzsche proclaimed, “Only as an aesthetic phenomenon is existence and the world forever justified,” he assigned representation —in particular language with all its tropes and components— the supreme value of being aesthetic.

When Polonius asked Hamlet, “What do you read, my Lord?” the prince answered: “Words—words.” But scrupulous writers must give more than just words for the public to read; they must arrange words in a manner that depict pathos, violence, and the rage and range of all human emotions.

Grammar, syntax, and rhetoric are but the tools of writing or the aesthetic phenomenon. “Language is the house of being,” Martin Heidegger proclaimed, and by that he meant that humans would never be homeless for they carry their homes within—which is their soul!

It is with words that we capture empirical reality. It is with words that we represent not only that empirical reality, but also that magical reality that is fiction. But none of this can be achieved if the writing lacks the variety, the rhythm, the suspense, and tension that the concepts we have studied provide.

How do you make a doughnut? You begin with a hole … likewise with writing.

There’s a certain emptiness, a void out there in the phenomenal world that only you —the writer who has felt that vacuum— can fill up, and do it with heart and mind.
What we ask is that the writer be daring, that the writer be different, or eccentric if you will.

By looking at reality with skepticism, new ideas will form, just as when Johannes Kepler discovered that planetary bodies moved in elliptical orbits as opposed to the conventional wisdom of circularity. That eccentricity paved the way for Galileo, Newton, and Einstein.

Writers must fill up the gaps and omissions—by means of their artistry—with effective, moving language. To do this writers should avoid the trap that normal speech sets: the pattern Subject-Verb-Complement, for an endless chain of this type of sentence is a recipe for disaster.

Roland Barthes in The Rustle of Language speaks of specialized realms: “on one side, Science, Reason, Fact; on the other, Art, Sensibility, Impression.” The truth is that humans own the sea of language into which the writer dives, floats, swims, or flounders, with both reason and art. With sweet voice and art the writer can create, inform, entertain, and enchant, just as Homer made the Sirens beguile Ulysses—and us.

And just as Calypso tempted Ulysses with knowledge, writers should also tempt readers not only with plain, ordinary knowledge—of the flora, fauna, and artifacts of this universe—but also with wisdom, with the unusual, with probing of the extraordinary.

Whether for good or evil, whether fact or fable, writers leave their wisdom in books and in the ultimate analysis, books are the repository of mankind’s knowledge.
It is my fervent desire that you, dear reader, study this humble guide and use some of the techniques. And that this should be done with care and love of language, with the same passion that Scott Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, Norman Mailer, John Updike, Scott Peck, Michiko Kakutani and other masters show in their craft, with God within (entheos)—with the ideals of beauty that Saint Thomas Aquinas and The Greeks favored, lest we say:

They have been at a great feast of languages and stol’n the scraps.

Every time I walk in front of Carnegie Hall, in my meanderings, I chuckle when I think of the answer a New Yorker gives to a tourister’s question,

“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
“Practice, practice, practice.”

Novelist Mario Vargas Llosa in Letters to a Young Novelist writes:
… no one can teach anyone else to create; at most, we may be taught to read and write. The rest we must teach ourselves, stumbling, falling, and picking ourselves up over and over again.

We are all born with the power to see the world in full color and splendor. We don’t learn that; what we can learn is to stimulate this mysterious power and translate it into words—we can do it! It takes imitation and practice.

Imitate and practice the lessons of the great masters as we’ve highlighted in this book. With that experience behind you, the force of your own style will emerge.
Now it is up to you to satisfy the urge to write, to create, and so outdistance the ‘state of nature’ Hobbesian world—where no arts, letters, or science exist—I mention in the opening chapter. Writing requires that you read, writing requires that you think, but above all writing requires that you write.

“All men by nature desire to know,” thus Aristotle begins his Metaphysica. Your readers desire to know what you have to say. Write and fulfill their desire. You have a soul, a mind, and a heart full of ideas and feelings.

So write you must. To make a good omelet you need fresh ingredients, but more than anything else: you need to crack the eggs.
So, get cracking.

Mary Duffy's Writing Guide

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