Seven Day. On the morrow is promise that an evil monster will masticate, digest, and defecate the holy torch in the sky.
All right, it’s ice cream day after all and something needs be done to remind the boggerate of their lemming behavior.
I have seen two articles this week on the subject of writing. As is usual with the folks who write semi-academic articles, they confuse writing – the making of letters or ideograms or symbols on a view-able surface such as paper – with composition, the use of language to form mental information into a hoped-for communication.
The first article [Link] is a pseudo-review of a book by Steven Pinker on composition. (I have taken the necessary step of correcting the misuse lest my ire vibrate my brain into a darkness state.) The second [Link] is rather an interventional bit that says much the same thing, at least to someone who has worked at learning composition.
The first article can be summarized by
“For Pinker, the root cause of so much bad writing is a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know. “
The second claims that what is missing is
“the use of narrative and tangible prose.”
Before getting into the middle of things, it seems best to meander a bit on the subject of communication. Communication is by far one of the most important things that humans do, as well as one of the most difficult. So we tend to do it poorly.
The basic idea of communication is that we start with some information in our mind, turn it into information in the encoding of language, speak it to another person, and that person turns the language into information in their mind, and responds by indicating understanding or non-understanding. This process is iterated until the two individuals have a reasonable confidence that they now share the information, in which case communication has successfully occurred, or that they do not share the information and either keep trying, or give up in disgust over the failure to communicate successfully.
This is a difficult proposition, fraught with danger, often resulting in war, famine, divorce, murder, or tooth disease. It is complicated by short attention spans, differences in word knowledge, and general inadequacy of mentation.
The process becomes risky to the point of expected failure when the transmission of information is one-way. Since this is ice cream day, consider sermons. We know from observing the behavior of people who regularly listen to sermons (ostensibly – they attend services and sit in pews,) that almost nothing of that information has any effect on their behavior. This is largely due to the communication failing.
We can extend this to other one-sided communication efforts: schule instruction; television programming; political speeches. (In the latter case, the failure is carefully planned and executed.)
Composition is thus a horribly risky effort. It is inherently a one-way communication attempt. And if the composer does not take special effort to convey the information in a form that engages and is readily comprehensible to the reader, it is a failure from the get-go.
In effect, when one composes, one must tell a story that is good and is well done.
Now let us return to our cited articles. Both are written by academics. Academics compose a great deal; that’s one the the ways they prosper. But that prosperity depends on how many compositions get published, not by how many people learn from their compositions.
In other words, the majority of academics in the majority of their compositions do not care whether they communicate or not. They are not rewarded for the communication, only for the transmission.
Can this be fixed? Probably not. Should it be fixed? Probably not. By that I mean that academics – in the main – cannot be taught to communicate composition-ally without breaking them as academics.
This does not mean that some academics cannot communicate composition-ally. I can think of several: Norman Cantor, Isaac Asimov; Ruel Churchill; to name a few.
But by that token, news readers – or the folks who compose what new readers enunciate – and the like do need to learn this.
Happily, this does not apply to all who have education. Being outside the academic environment does wonders for one’s ability to compose and communicate.
But academics are probably a lost cause because if we teach them to communicate in composition we will have destroyed education as an organization. And we need that more today than ever. And we need educated, cognitive people in the general population to communicate.
Yes, it’s a paradox but that doesn’t keep it from being good.