And Now for Something Lighter — Nah, not reallyPosted: September 17, 2012
I have received some comments — ex channels — proposing, I think, that a more Hemingway-like approach to writing could be applied to my blog.
The answer, of course, is NO! While writing in short, declarative sentences worked well for Hemingway, works well in popular fiction, is required in movie dialog, and clearly is the de rigueur in blogs whose length are capped at 200, or so, words, I think it drags blogs into a sphere of ignorance the same way on-line “news” sources such as Yahoo is being dragged into a sphere of irrelevance through its application of mindless top-ten lists with sensational headings — something that I will write about in another posting.
Just to clarify, my view is that although short declarative sentences, à la Ernest Hemmingway’s shotgun style of writing, have a sharp and caustic quality, they tend to drive unsubstantiated monologue, rather than promoting reflexion and dialogue. Let me make the difference clear by answering the question of why the chicken crossed the road as Hemingway:
Me: “Why did the chicken cross the road?”
Ernest Hemingway: “To die. Alone. In the rain.”
Funny? Yes, in a sardonic way. Substantiated? No. Inviting and making you stretch yourself? No.
Let’s try it with Niccolò Machiavelli:
Me: “Why did the chicken cross the road?”
Niccolò Machiavelli: “So that its subjects will view it with admiration, as a chicken which has the daring and courage to boldly cross the road, but also with fear, for whom among them has the strength to contend with such a paragon of avian virtue?”
Not as funny, sure, but far more interesting, I think.
My personal preference is to blend Machiavelli’s reflections with Hemingway’s dark humor and just a touch of Hemingway’s staccato — along the lines of Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction.
Me: “Why did the chicken cross the road?”
Jacques Derrida: “Any number of contending discourses may be discovered within the act of the chicken crossing the road, and each interpretation is equally valid as the authorial intent can never be discerned, because structuralism is DEAD, DAMMIT, DEAD!”
Since I am conducting this grand blogging exercise with a certain amount of transparency, sharing my somewhat experimental approach with the reader at almost each and every turn, I did take the time to update my About section to — briefly, I hope — explain why you should not expect short, declarative sentences to be the communication form of this blog.
Warning — Profanity filled rant zone ahead
For reasons that are not totally clear to me, the style comments that I received made me think of movie rants. Actually, let me correct that… I suspect that the connection is that I see movie or TV dialog is a steady buffet of short, declarative sentences, and I think that a consistent feeding of this buffet over 75 years or so has resulted in a dumbing-down of all form of literature, with short, declarative sentence usage leaking into fiction, non-fiction, news, synthesis, and analysis.
Movie rants interests me because I find them funny and because they ought to be able to violate what I will call the declarative sentence paradigm of scripts, but, as a rule, I think, do not. To lighten up the overall mood of this blog, let’s look at some rants (while trying to avoid falling into the trap of creating yet another mindless top-ten list.)
By the way… language and views that may be considered offensive are part of parcel of a good rant, so, if you are up-tight about the use of curse-words or the airing of views that conflict with your own, please stop reading right… now….
A Sales Rant and an Interview Rant
First, here is a relatively short rant related to high pressure sales — always good for a laugh — mixing profanity, hypothetical questions, and insults with good, old-fashioned chest-thumping by a alpha-male:
“You see this watch? You see this watch? . . .
That watch costs more than your car. I made $970,000 last year. How much you make? You see pal, that’s who I am, and you’re nothing.
Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? Fuck you! Go home and play with your kids.
You wanna work here, close. You think this is abuse? You think this is abuse, you cocksucker? You can’t take this, how can you take the abuse you get on a sit? You don’t like it, leave.”
I am cheating a little bit here, breaking the rant into smaller paragraphs to increase readability, but you get the point.
You will note that although the rhythm of this rants makes us feel like this is quite a mouthful, it really is just a series of short declarative sentences, strung together and continuously accelerating. In fact, the length and cadence of a rant can deceive us into thinking that it consists of complex and deep thoughts, when, in fact, it is simply the rapid-fire application of short, declarative sentences, with an occasional hypothetical thrown in. Consider, for instance, this — very, very long — interview rant about holding out for a job that is just a little bit more meaningful:
“Why shouldn’t I work for the NSA? That’s a tough one, but I’ll give it a shot.
Say I’m working at NSA. Somebody puts a code on my desk, something nobody else can break. So I take a shot at it and maybe I break it.
And I’m real happy with myself because I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army in North Africa or the Middle East. Once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels were hiding and 1,500 people I never had a problem with get killed.
Now the politicians are saying, ‘Send in the marines to secure the area’ because they don’t give a shit. It won’t be their kid over there, getting shot. Just like it wasn’t them when their number was called because they were pulling a tour in the National Guard.
It’ll be some guy from Southie taking shrapnel in the ass. And he comes home to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his ass got his old job, because he’ll work for 15 cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile my buddy from Southie realizes the only reason he was over there was so we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price.
And of course the oil companies used the skirmish to scare up oil prices so they could turn a quick buck. A cute little ancillary benefit for them but it ain’t helping my buddy at 250 a gallon.
And naturally they’re taking their sweet time bringing the oil back and maybe even took the liberty of hiring an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink martinis and play slalom with the icebergs, and it ain’t too long until he hits one, spills the oil and kills all the sea life in the North Atlantic.
So my buddy’s out of work and he can’t afford to drive, so he’s got to walk to the job interviews, which sucks because the shrapnel in his ass is giving him chronic hemorrhoids. And meanwhile he’s starving because every time he tries to get a bite to eat the only blue plate special they’re serving is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State.
So what do I think? I’m holding out for something better. Why not just shoot my buddy, take his job and give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? I could be elected president.”
Long, eh? Funny? Yes. Carrying a message? You bet. Open to a discourse? Nope.
“Don’t Push Me, ‘Cause I’m Close to the Edge” Rants
The above interview rant is calm in its rage, and that, of course, can be scary, but sometimes you just feel pure rage, and calmly laying out the facts simply does not cut it. How about, for instance, the frustrations and associated rage that we feel when we encounter bureaucracies — such as car rental companies — attempting to steal our precious time:
“You can start by wiping that fucking dumb-ass smile off your rosey, fucking, cheeks! Then you can give me a fucking automobile: a fucking Datsun, a fucking Toyota, a fucking Mustang, a fucking Buick! Four fucking wheels and a seat! . . .
And I really don’t care for the way your company left me in the middle of fucking nowhere with fucking keys to a fucking car that isn’t fucking there. And I really didn’t care to fucking walk down a fucking highway and across a fucking runway to get back here to have you smile at my fucking face.
I want a fucking car RIGHT FUCKING NOW!”
Now that is scary. Let’s see this done in a much shorter form:
“Listen, you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is a man who stood up.”
Pure Hemingway! Funny? No, not really. Scary? Yes. Entertaining and carrying a message? Yep.
A More Cerebral Rant
That’s about it, but since I don’t want to end on a note of despair, let’s look at a rant that breaks the rules that seems to be governing rants, having at its center-piece a sentence with complexity and the implicit requirement for a broad understanding of historical and global context. Don’t be deceived by the opening sentences… they are intended to lull you into a false sense of security.
“Holly, I’d like to cut you in, old man. There’s nobody left in Vienna I can really trust, and we’ve always done everything together. When you make up your mind, send me a message – I’ll meet you any place, any time, and when we do meet old man, it’s you I want to see, not the police.
Remember that, won’t ya? Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
Clearly, it can be done. There is still hope for us all.