“…sometimes more words are required”

“The memo, for example, might have an audience of one, or none; it might be read once, or never. But however vanishingly ephemeral its interest, it must nonetheless be preserved, that is, filed.”

“In an argument notably ingenious, if not persuasive, he [Herbert Spencer in Philosophy of Style] asserts that poetry is in fact more economical than prose in its demand on the reader’s attention. The evidence for this point is the extreme compression of poetic language, particularly figurative language; but Spencer has confused compression, which might very well tax the reader’s attention by producing ambiguity, with a concept of brevity that would seem to resist ambiguity as an impediment to communication.”

[Ah — wasn’t it Yuri Lotman who, much later, argued along the same lines?]

“Tufte’s critique of PowerPoint confirms a distinction between concision and clarity, since the burden of his critique is to remind us that sometimes more words are required in order for communication to be effective. There is no easy correlation between the quantity of words and the quality of communication, and this mysterious intransigence of language, which goes very deep, means that it will probably never be possible to reduce writing to rules, schemata, or the algorithms that run computer programs.”

“The norm of clarity arose from the publicness of print culture, which presupposed that written communications were addressed ideally to everyone, to the hypothetical “general reader.””

John Guillory, ‘The Memo and Modernity’, in Critical Inquiry 31, 2004, http://www.uchicago.edu/research/jnl-crit-inq/features/artsstatements/arts.guillory.htm.

en,quotations,research,ubiscribe,writing | August 8, 2006 | 15:40 | Comments Off on “…sometimes more words are required” |


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