“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Essays From the Edge, Patricia Hampl contends that the Jazz Age novelist’s chronicle of his mental collapse, much derided by his critics, anticipated the rise of autobiographical writing in America.
Thinking well takes time: time for doubt, time for analysis and synthesis, time to let your intuition operate, time to have a second thought. The faster we write, the faster we respond (on Twitter or Facebook, in discussion threads or texts), the more superficial the level of consciousness we’re working from. We’re skimming the surface of our minds (which, like the surface of other things, is mostly foam and crud), forgoing reason, judgment, artistry, craft. That is not the place from which the most intelligent forms of communication, the ones that used to play a larger role in our lives—novels, essays, serious journalism—originate. But it is the place our public discourse, and our private discourse, too, increasingly inhabits.
In Soul Food: Why cooking isn’t art, William Deresiewicz suggests that while some argue that there is a narrative behind a meal, food is only a medium, one without an inherent story-telling property. His modernist stance begs us not to assign meaning to nonlinear substance but also affirms a trustworthy spring of art and narrative.
Since 1857, The Atlantic has presented some of America’s most provocative thinkers, people with the bravery to challenge convention or imagine the future. Plenty have been prescient, and more than a few have been proved wrong—but time and again, they’ve inspired us all to think for ourselves.
Writing about Writing about Writing …
“Surprisingly often they use the phrase “You changed my life.” I don’t take that to mean that they found Buddhist enlightenment or quit smoking. What they mainly mean is that I cleaned out the sludge in their thinking that had paralyzed them from doing writing of any kind—a phobia not unlike the fear of cleaning out the closets or the basement.” —William Zinsser
Check out Visions and Revisions.
I have observed that a reader seldom peruses a book with pleasure until he knows whether the writer of it be a black or a fair man, of a mild or choleric disposition, married or a bachelor, with other particulars of the like nature that conduce very much to the right understanding of an author.
Michael Dirda uses this famous passage to muse on style and tone, and the austerity of his prose. Read.
I reduce my sentences to the minimum number of facts I think a reader would want to know. Readers curious to learn more about what my people look like, or what they are wearing, or what they are eating, will remain curious. There will be no sentences like: “‘I always wanted to be an actress,’ she told me over a lunch of arugula tossed with balsamic vinaigrette, Stilton cheese, and a glass of Sancerre.
William Deresiewicz on politics in academia.
Paula Cohen waxing poetic about Life Coaches.
Priscilla Long explores he Antarctic ice shelf from her armchair with explorer Richard Byrd.
Jessica Love explains phonetic neighborhoods, and why we articulate words and mumble others.
William Zinsser drops some knowledge on prospective writers.
Enjoy your weekend, tumblr.
(Above, Richard Byrd)