Monday, April 29, 2013

*Cerements Of Style


Rude writers who write "Fuck" make David Brooks nervous.

Rude writers who write "How the fuck does a war-mongering, austerity-pimp like you still have a fucking job anywhere within sharting distance of a fucking typewriter?" make Mr. Brooks very, very nervous.

In today's column Mr. Brooks takes steps to eliminate this blight of Rude Writers by advising the Young Writer Out There to ignore the advice of every single writer and writing teacher I have ever heard of -- 
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
― Ernest Hemingway

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
― Robert Frost

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”
― Henry David Thoreau

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
― Ernest Hemingway

“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don't write, because our culture has no use for it.”
― Anaïs Nin

“You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
― Jack London

“Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke

“The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.”
― Albert Camus

“Don't bend; don't water it down; don't try to make it logical; don't edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”
― Franz Kafka
“A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it”
― Roald Dahl

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”
― William Wordsworth

“The only way you can write is by the light of the bridges burning behind you.”
― Richard Peck

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”
― Natalie Goldberg

-- and instead immediately begin following David Brook's sure-fire method for draining as much life and color out of their calling as possible.

First, in typically Brooksian fashion, Mr. Brooks divides his topic into two, wholly-artificial and artificially counterpoised camps: the Detached and the Engaged.

Then Mr. Brooks -- who has built an entire career punching hippies and hauling the Right's most toxic water -- advises the Young Writer Out There to take up the Detached Cross by not taking sides or getting too worked up over anything:
The detached writer believes that writing is more like teaching than activism. Her essays are generally not about winning short-term influence. (Realistically, how many times can an outside writer shape the short-term strategies of the insider politicians?) She would rather have an impact upstream, shaping people’s perceptions of underlying reality and hoping that she can provide a context in which other people can think. She sometimes gets passionate about her views, but she distrusts her passions
Then again, maybe the Young Writer Out There should believe something.
The detached writer also starts with a worldview. If you don’t have a philosophic worldview, your essays won’t even rise to the status of being wrong. They won’t be anything.
Sort of:
She fears the team mentality will blinker her views. She wants to remain mentally independent because she sees politics as a competition between partial truths, and she wants the liberty to find the proper balance between them, issue by issue.
Although why the Young Writer Out There should bother is not entirely clear:
Detached writers generally understand that they are not going to succeed in telling people what to think.
Also, once you have worked very hard to footbind your writer's birthright into a tepid custard of Brooksian faux detachment, you still might suck:
At his worst, the engaged writer slips into rabid extremism and simple-minded brutalism. At her worst, the detached writer slips into a sanguine, pox-on-all-your-houses complacency and an unearned sense of superiority. The engaged writer might become predictable. The detached writer might become irrelevant, ignored at both ends.
Plus, at no additional charge, in a profession which, trust me, boasted a staggeringly high unemployment/underemployment/living-under-a-bridge-eating-beans  rate even before the Great Recession gutted the economy,  by following Mr. Brooks' tribal elder advice, the Young Writer Out There can expect to have their employment prospects lowered even further!
These days most writers land on the engaged side of the continuum. Look at most think tanks. They used to look like detached quasi universities; now they are more like rapid response teams for their partisan masters. If you ever want to get a political appointment, you have to be engaged, working on political campaigns and serving the team.
Did I mention that this is all coming out of the face hole of the same guy who literally bought himself a mansion with the proceeds of a professional lifetime spent pimping one crackpot Republican idea after another? 

 But now that he has made his boodle:
...I would still urge you to slide over toward the detached side of the scale. First, there is the matter of mental hygiene. You may think you can become a political partisan without becoming rigid and stale, and we all know people who achieve this, but the risk is high. 
Engaged writers gravitate toward topics where they can do the most damage to the other side. These are topics where the battle lines are clearly drawn, not topics where there is a great deal of uncertainty. Engaged writers develop a talent for muzzle velocity, not curiosity. Just as in life, our manners end up dictating our morals. So, in writing our prose, styles end up shaping our mentalities. If you write in a way that suggests combative certitude, you may gradually smother the inner chaos that will be the source of lifelong freshness and creativity.
Here endeth the lesson.

*Cerement: cloth treated with wax, formerly used for wrapping the dead.


Phil Perspective said...

Does anyone from Yale read your blog? I hope to God they do. Someone needs to bring this to the joke of a class Brooks "teaches."

driftglass said...


No one reads this blog :-)

Unsalted Sinner said...

When I was a teacher, I used to recommend that my students, when choosing which essay assignment to write, should (if possible) pick the subject which angered them most. Dog knows there's enough "detached writing" in this world. We don't have to encourage it.

vanmet said...

what a great list of writers-on-writing quotes! but all those names in a post about Brooks? It's a kind of holding-a-candle-to-the-sun mismatch. Still, i like this kind of
incommensurable thing; he's got the gall to hold forth of writing, after all.

meanwhile, of course we read this blog:-)

but back on Brooks as a fixture in contemporary discourse, the Public Intellectual--which is practically an oxymoron--i recall H. Miller, something like: "you can fight evil, but against stupidity one is defenseless."

Harry Tuttle said...

Also, engaged writers drive like *this*, but detached writers drive like /this/, am I right?

steeve said...

"the detached writer slips into a sanguine, pox-on-all-your-houses complacency and an unearned sense of superiority"

This is actually a fairly advanced thought. It's at least two steps away from tautology. The media could benefit from immediately firing anyone who doesn't fix this (which of course would include Brooks).

tmk said...

"No one reads this blog :-)"

*iz vry proud to be this particular no-one* :)

Anonymous said...

Some of us just have it as part of our Morning Coffee Firefox addon...

Cliff said...

David Brooks writes like the personification of Entropy, the force that even now wears down the universe into a vast spread of subatomic particles and uniform energy states.

In his words, I see the death of intellect, the death of civilization, ideas and dreams, and the death of even the passions that once drove the barbaric nations (when they still existed).

And really? I have just put more poetry into two drunken paragraphs than David Brooks has ever produced, and that's far more than his undead mumblings ever deserve.