In which I end with Calvin and Hobbes and that’s the most important part

I’d like to talk about clarity in writing. I had a stimulating dialogue with a friend about the uselessness/usefulness of what he calls “embellishments of language.” He was on the bias against the need for artful writing and pointed to philosophical greats and their discourses, and the difference between English and French. I remember him saying that fancy language is overesteemed and too much when used toward the goal of being clear. I’m going to sound sexist here, but of course it was a He. I’ve heard stuff like this from a lot of my guy friends, or at least several bouts of chuckling at the way I write and the writing I love (Ayn Rand, Adrienne Rich). A few disagreements and glasses of wine later, I had surmounting interests, a headache, and a good laugh at how snobbily collegiate we were being. I began foraging for new things to talk about next time the subject ever came up.

My little brother started reading Communist Manifesto for his World Topics class with Dr. Igo (heads up Garland graduates). I decided I would read some aloud with him at the park to get him to actually accomplish his homework. Then, I realized while twirling a flower between my fingers and watching a succession of bicyclists roll over the bridge at sunset, that we were reading Marx and Engels patter on for about 80 pages on Communism on a beautiful summer evening. The most beautiful part of the day was just passing us by. There is a reason why I prefer philosophy over politics. The thing about political discussion and debate as I’ve come to learn is that it takes much more explanation. There are labels and definitions that must be clarified in order for a politician to make his or her point. So while philosophy may not be entirely clear in language, that is the purpose. To me, the difference is that politics leads you by the hand and demands you take notes, while philosophy swoops an open-palmed hand across the length of a chalkboard marked over with “What has been thought before,” and says, “Think for yourself.”

Take these two.

From “Communist Manifesto”:
A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.
Okay. That’s kind of dramatic. Keep in mind this sort of writing goes on for about 79 pages and 19 lines more.

Look at the difference between the two titles. If you aren’t going to judge a book by its cover, at least a look at its title will tell you something.
-On the Origin of Inequality. Sure, I could have called it “Inequality’s Origins,” but this sounds so much more stately, right? Riiiight?

From “On the Origin of Inequality”:
“The savage and civilized man differ so much in the bottom of their hearts and in their inclinations, that what constitutes the supreme happiness of one would reduce the other to despair.”
Also dramatic. But look at what he’s talking about: not money, not politics, not power, not society. He talks about a notion that’s been defined, even in politics (Helloooo, American Constitution preamble!) as a puh-retty important one: HAPPINESS. Simple, Will-Smith movie-style happyness. I think that subject deserves more artistic flair than Communism. However it doesn’t deserve all the punctuation and near run-on sentences. Despite that, I still like how he articulated this idea. I could go on about the way I suppose humans are shaped by society and how we go against what we really want for GOD KNOWS WHAT but there’s so much to say I think I’ll save it.

Rousseau philosophized like a Frenchman; he talked about the average man yet used rhetoric that required an above average education or patience with long-winded philosophic poetics. As a French major and having recently returned from Paris, the language is complicated. For reasons beyond my comprehension and sometimes beyond my sanity. But it is a matter of comparison with other languages. A language is simply a means to communicate, no matter how complicated or uncomplicated it is. I used to loathe the way French made you work around ideas rather than making a bee-line for what you really meant, but then I thought: when contemplating the complexity of the Aboriginal language, which would I prefer? Which would I use to better make myself understood?

After all. What is writing if not for discovering how powerful words can be and how you can use them and harness some of that power?

Or this.

Gotta love Calvin and Hobbes.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: