On prose style, “deep literacy” & Schiele and Klimt.
Recent links of note:
“‘Farnsworth’s Classical English Style’ Review: The Charm of Novelty”
Barton Swaim, The Wall Street Journal
“Good writing is efficient writing,” as Barton Swaim points out in The Wall Street Journal, but it does not follow that all efficient writing is good. Ward Farnsworth, the dean of the University of Texas School of Law, agrees. In his new Classical English Style, reviewed here by Swaim, he explains that “efficiency is the most important value in most kinds of writing,” but “it isn’t the only value.” These other values, not concerning efficiency, are apt to be more complex, and so it is in their discernment that various style guides have relatively more or less to offer. Swaim finds much to like in the approach Farnsworth takes, but it would be of little use to parse out here one man’s evaluation of another’s observations about how still others write. Instead, we confine ourselves to noting happily that “the book is loaded with quotations, none of them from writers more recent than the mid-twentieth century.”
“Love and death in Vienna”
Nigel Jones, The Critic
During the second half of 2018, New York museumgoers had the chance to observe and compare the art of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele in an exhibition at the Neue Gallery, reviewed in our pages by Andrew L. Shea. The current pandemic has presented an opportunity to reconsider these artists, this time in a more historical context. Both died in Vienna from the Spanish Flu of 1918–19, but that fact alone would hardly warrant a serious comparison between their era and ours. Writing for The Critic, Nigel Jones goes deeper. He examines the “perverse union of Eros and Thanatos that saturated Viennese culture” at the time, which informed the work of authors like Sigmund Freud, Arthur Schnitzler, and Robert Musil alongside the art of Klimt and Schiele. A fit subject for the present, then: our own age has long been defined by libidinal excess, and our current preoccupations are nothing if not morbid.
“The Erosion of Deep Literacy”
Adam Garfinkle, National Affairs
The phrases “deep reading” and “deep literacy” may emit a whiff of cant—they seem, in fact, tautological—and this essay by Adam Garfinkle, with its excursions into psychology and neuroscience, falls somewhat outside our usual purview as a magazine of arts and letters. But clothing “literacy” and “reading” in novel terms may not be such a bad thing. As Garfinkle notes, “We almost never reflect on how unusual, and in many ways unnatural, deep reading actually is.” It is a wholly exceptional phenomenon and fundamental to the notion of civilization. In the words of Herman Hesse, “[w]ithout words, without writing, and without books there would be no history,” which means “no concept of humanity,” either. These issues are precisely what’s at stake in the twenty-first century, when developments in technology and media have drastically changed the way we receive, process, and employ the written word. Rather than niggle about Garfinkle’s “deep reading,” it’s worth examining the cultural anemia that made the distinction necessary and, in turn, the technology that enables it.
“James Panero on ‘the woman who saw the future’”
A new podcast from the Executive Editor of The New Criterion.
John Check reviews Poulenc: A Biography by Roger Nichols.
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