Transparency

Nothing is all one way or the other way, just this or just that. And there’s not one audience, there are dozens, maybe scores, perhaps hundreds, and each has its preferences.

I’m afraid my take is probably too one-dimensional because it seems to me that most of us are trying to figure out how to get something published, so when I read stuff I’m likely to be thinking of it as it slides across the agent’s desk, is it likely to go in this pile or that?

The other thing I see so much of is self-indulgence and S.I. is so difficult to deal with, for the writer and for me when I comment on someone’s work. I know the writer’s difficulty from my own proclivities and tendencies, but (like so much of this stuff) it’s much easier to see in others. Please note I’m not accusing anyone of anything, and what comes out seeming to me to be self-indulgence probably starts out as the writer’s strong emotional attachment to the material and maybe a sense of “this is how I think I should be writing” or “this is what good writing is like, the Thomas Wolfe of Look Homeward Angel and not the Tom Wolfe of Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby.”

And then there’s the late-20th Century American Dictum: Do what feels good. (To which the response might be, Fine, go ahead and overdose and we’ll be rid of you.)

Because I am so ancient, hopelessly so, I can’t get myself away from the old ways. Back in 1937 the English novelist Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) published in New Statesman and Nation a review of Somerset Maugham’s “Theatre.” I liked it when I read it when it first came out, so I’ve always saved it. (Just kidding, I’m not *that* old). She wrote in part:

“Not a phrase is there for its own sake; transparency to meaning is the object, not colour; not a phrase obtrudes [obtrude – become noticeable in an unwelcome or intrusive way] romantic complexity. For its activity, Mr. Maugham’s style is stripped: there is no atmosphere, no American cuteness, no attempted poetry: it is professional writing, without a touch of amateur privilege — and this is pretty rare now.”

And little way on she writes:

“It might not be well to make Mr. Maugham a model, but he should set a precept: he might correct our tendencies to maunder, to exhibit or to denounce. With first-rate ability, but without high-class fuss, he drops a plumb-line into the subject. Here is a personality so positive, so pickled in experience it attracted, that it can use style impersonally. The professional has not time for stunts.”

I love that line, and I think that generally if the writer is trying to drop a plumb-line right into the subject, he won’t go far wrong.

I see the same commitment to subject in “The Dubliners” by James Joyce, and the opening of Madame Bovary, describing young MISTER Bovary coming into the classroom is (even in translation) for me about as perfect as writing gets.

So if somebody posts something up here that is literary in genre and very well written, I don’t think I’d be complaining that there’s no car chase and where’s the robot? (But, let’s face it, the long middle portion of “The Dead” isn’t the most exciting thing to read, but to get to that ending I would wade through almost anything.)

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