Wednesday, April 20, 2005

language and inclusion

I had an interesting discussion last night with my roommates about the use of jargon in writing. Sonya was reading a book for class that used a lot of philisophical jargon - things like "praxis oriented theory." She was navigating it fine, but complaining because there was some difficult language. From what Natalie labeled a marxist perspective, she argued that using big or unusual words in your writing only serves to exclude those with smaller vocabularies from reading your work. This creates a literate elite and keeps those less educated from accessing the ideas of ones writing. Sonya was advocating an extreme inclusivity - writing as simply as possible. I mostly argued in defense of big words, party because I like them, and partly to argue. I'm still thinking about it, though, today.

What does it accomplish to use unusual words and write more complicated sentences? I think it lets language push the limits of what it can do. Reminds us of the richness of shades of meaning we have access to, and exposes us to unusual words that are beautiful and fun to say. Like perspicuity! Also, using a large vocabulary and less common grammatical structures is a way to show your command of the language and your education, it's a way to gain respect and establish authority, especially when you are writing as someone who is educated in a certain area. It also demonstrates a level of respect for your audience as educated, intelligent people with access to a dictionary.

On the other hand, writing inpenetrable academic prose really just guarantees that aproximately 3 people will read your work and only because they're writing on something similar. If you have something to say, saying it in a difficult to understand manner will not help get the word out, and if your thing doesn't matter, why write it in the first place? And it does take a greater command of the subject (and of the language) to translate your thoughts into something that someone who is not an expert (or a college grad) can access.

Of course, as an educated person who talks to other educated people a lot, using big words is a fun game, or sometimes I'm not sure what language is normal and what's jargon. So how does one reconcile a love of language and perhaps too much education with a desire to write hospitably? Where is the balence between accesibility and complexity?

Monday, April 18, 2005

writing and prayer

For me writing has always felt like praying, even when I wasn't writing prayers, as I was often enough. You feel that you are with someone. - from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I've been reading this book for senior seminar and underlining more than is probably healthy.

This particular quote struck me, because it resonated with my experience, both as a general writer and compulsive journaler (and lets face it, blogger) and as one who writes for worship sometimes. Writing is similar to prayer for me in a lot of ways. Both are simultaneously solitary and communal. Especially when I write with a particular audience in mind, I have a sense of their presence, of anticipating a reaction. But sometimes I just write for the writing of it, and that's not lonely either. If I go too long without writing something I get restless and moody, and the same goes for prayer. Often they follow each other.

I don't know where I'm going with this, but it seemed so profound when I read it. Maybe carefully crafted writing can function as prayer, the same way knitting a hat or taking a walk can be. At least sometimes. What's that Madeline L'engle said about all good art being religious art?

Monday, April 04, 2005

linguistic nitpicking

okay, how come "each other" is two words instead of one? I always want to type eachother, but microsoft word gently reminds me that, indeed, that is not a word. But I think it should be. After all, "myself" and "yourself" get to be one word. Why not "each other." is our individualistic english-speaking culture scorning the togetherness of eachother?

I propose a crusade to make eachother into a legitimate single word. If enough of us do it in print, does it become no longer wrong? How does one go about changing a convention of spelling?

Sunday, April 03, 2005

I was directed to this website today, and I've got to admit I'm a little enchanted. The idea is you register a book, and then give it away or trade it or sell it or leave it somewhere, with a number in it and a note, and you write a journal thing about it, so that future reader/finders also go online and write about it, and you can see what happens to your book and all experience the joy of reading together with strangers. It seems rahter romantic. In much the way the whole marginalia thing captures my imagination, which I posted about a while ago.
And it wouldn't take much to make a very sentimental movie about the idea. Unless it was some horribly unromantic book. "I knew we would fall in love when I found her name in my used copy of 'a modest proposal', complete with underlining."

Friday, April 01, 2005

the untimely end of Dinosaur Comics

Imagine my dismay as this morning I click one of my few but quality webcomic bookmarks, and discover that the webpage no longer contains daily dinosaur comics - in my opinion a brilliant plan for webcomic writing. It contains a new venture by same author, Ryan North. And though softer world 2 does have the potential to be quirky and clever, I miss T-rex already. I suppose you can only go so far with a silly concept like having a comic with the same pictures every time.

update: imagine my chagrin when I remember that it is april fool's day, and I have been, indeed, fooled. I can be really gullible sometimes.