Tuesday, June 8, 2010

outward obscurity as a sign of inward clarity

Liam told me that as a freshman he had trouble getting better than a "B" on a paper because he had too much to say and it was difficult to say it within the word limits for the paper. When he cut it down to get it to size his thought processes became cryptic to those who read his papers. I liked this bit from Chesterton on Browning.as a charitable and perceptive explanation of why a young author might write in a less than clear fashion. By the way, Liam happily did go on to be able to write his thoughts in a more comprehensible fashion, but not out of vanity; rather from a more accurate sense of what the reader needed out of his writing.

A man who is intellectually vain does not make himself incomprehensible, because he is so enormously impressed with the difference between his readers' intelligence and his own that he talks down to them with elaborate repetition and lucidity. What poet was ever vainer than Byron? What poet was ever so magnificently lucid? But a young man of genius who has a genuine humility in his heart does not elaborately explain his discoveries, because he does not think that they are discoveries. He thinks that the whole street is humming with his ideas, and that the postman and the tailor are poets like himself. Browning's impenetrable poetry was the natural expression of this beautiful optimism. Sordello was the most glorious compliment that has ever been paid to the average man.

In the same manner, of course, outward obscurity is in a young author a mark of inward clarity. A man who is vague in his ideas does not speak obscurely, because his own dazed and drifting condition leads him to clutch at phrases like ropes and use the formulæ that every one understands. No one ever found Miss Marie Corelli obscure, because she believes only in words. But if a young man really has ideas of his own, he must be obscure at first, because he lives in a world of his own in which there are symbols and correspondences and categories unknown to the rest of the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I would love to hear your thoughts on this!