“What for others is style, for me is soul.” — Johann Georg Hamann
“[Hamann’s] stye is appalling: twisted, dark, allusive, filled with digressions, untraceable references, private jokes, puns within puns and invented words, cryptograms, secret names for persons in the past or present, for ideas, for the inexpressible contents of visions of the truth; where the spirit cannot be conveyed by the verbal flesh he attempts at once to imitate and emulate the cabbalistic utterances, justly forgotten, of mystagogues of the past, in phrases where it is impossible to tell where imitation ceases and parody begins.” — Isaiah Berlin
Turning round and round an idea about Instagram/minimalist design/et al as “virtual Ikea” - replicating in an affordable form the style of a decade the rising generation grew up seeing as cool but unavailable because it was so recent. Not just nostalgia, in other words, but aspirational nostalgia: desiring the things our imagined best selves would have wanted if they were alive 40 years ago.
First, honesty. In literature, as in life, one of the fundamentals is to find, and be, one’s true self. …. In writing, in the long run, pretense does not work. …. If handwriting reveals character, writing reveals it still more. You cannot fool all your judges all the time.
Secondly, courtesy — respect for the reader. From this follow several other basic principles of style. Clarity is one. For it is boorish to make your reader rack his brains to understand. One should aim at being impossible to misunderstand — though men’s capacity for misunderstanding approaches infinity.
Brevity is another basic principle. For it is boorish, also, to waste your reader’s time. …. [B]revity is often more effective; the half can say more than the whole, and to imply things may strike far deeper than to state them at length.
This week, Carnegie Mellon will have me back to talk to students in the program I graduated from, one founded after the Plain Language Movement in the early ’70s. It was there, in a course called “Style,” that we learned to practice (and practice) clarity, brevity, and respect for readers. And that much of writing is really rewriting.