Cliché

George OrwellIt is the cliché that most makes me grind my teeth. Seventy years after George Orwell attempted to eradicate cheap litotes with the sentence “a not unsmall dog chased a not unfrightened rabbit across a not ungreen field”, “It is…. that” makes me fall to my knees, sobbing Oh God!! NOOOO! WHY!!!!

From Prospect magazine: “It is Joanna Scanlan, as Catherine Dickens, who almost wordlessly conveys the true cruelties of Love”. “It is…who” adds nothing here. I first noticed it in my own writing. It is a way of providing emphasis to the subject of the sentence by making it the object of the verb to be. The trouble is that (pause- no, I have narrowly avoided it) this is a cheap way of emphasising, requiring no thought or creativity, and so it becomes addictive then omnipresent.

Just like Orwell’s cheap litotes. St Paul was a citizen of “no mean city”- the greatest in the World at the time- which carries a hint of menace, something to savour when you work it out. “Not un-” can be stuck in before any adjective.

File:Tolstoy, from Gallica.jpgI have hated the word “almost” since an adjudicator called my teenage performance of the Chopin C minor prelude “almost breathtaking”, offering me praise then snatching it away from under my nose. Either it is breathtaking or it is not. Prospect narrowly avoids that: one can indeed be almost wordless.

Listening in my mind to the rhythms of my sentences, I think of where to put the full stop, and where I can carry on the melody with a colon: for a colon inflects up, and a full stop irrevocably down. Too many colons: eg, here, ruin the effect. Psalms say the same thing twice, separated in English by a colon: saying it the second time, as lawyers often do, gets the idea over to more limited minds. One author I used to like made sentences longer than a page by making lists of clauses separated by semicolons. One Michael Moorcock novel had only one-clause sentences. They illustrated the closed-mindedness of the first-person narrator. It is tedious after a time.

“It is that,” agrees the Yorkshireman.

What clichés in writing set your teeth on edge?

Looking for an illustration- should I really use Orwell?- I started reading Clive James. He writes, Any successful style is a spell whose first victim is the wizard. Perhaps writers are better with our infelicities jerking you out of your mindless absorbing, so that readers question rather than idolise. But I could hardly wish that for myself.

Thoughtcrime

File:Ingsoc logo from 1984.svg

When Newspeak is introduced, thoughtcrime will be impossible. The sentence “Big Brother doubleplusungood” would be meaningless. Only orthodox thoughts will be possible. Our language accomplishes that purpose, now: just not so efficiently.

The way it accomplishes this is negativity. Words that describe those who do not conform are negative. A gay child in the 1960s would hear words like “sodomite” but perhaps not words like “gay”. That example shows we get better, but we still do not have a positive word for “sissy“.

The bus stop was immediately behind the taxi rank, and though the taxi rank was empty, the post office van was parked in the bus stop. “I’ll show him”, said the bus driver. He got out and scratched “Please do not park in bus stops as a slap in the mouth often offends” on the van’s bonnet. Later, we were having coffee. Sara, who is three, wandered away from the table only for a moment, and when we looked she had gone. “Easy come, easy go”, said her mother, and indeed no-one gave a toss. And- just after I noticed the used condom lying on the footpath, the jogger ripped my wig from my head, threw it in a puddle, and laughed.

I got less bothered by groups of loud drunks in the street when I labelled them “boisterous”. There are positive ways of seeing anything, which liberate both the viewer and the viewed.

AArgh! I am feeling disturbed and out of sorts, and

Where I am is perfect.

I have never made a single mistake, 

for I have got to this perfect place,

being loving and creative along the way

and blessing others with my presence.

I am perfect as I am:

what might seem a "fault" is beautiful if seen correctly.

File:Lightning in Zdolbuniv.jpgHave you ever noticed those abrupt changes of gear in the Bible? The prophet is going great guns, God is wrathful and Israel is going to get what is coming to it, very soon and it can’t come quickly enough. And then everything is going to be Wonderful. God like an abusive parent or wife-batterer, swapping at random from rage to weeping declarations of LOVE and apology, with nothing in between.

Better find one, now. Get down the Bible- Isaiah should do: And indeed, as soon as I thumb through to Isaiah, I find this:

You will be like an oak with fading leaves,
    like a garden without water.
31 The mighty man will become tinder
    and his work a spark;
both will burn together,
    with no one to quench the fire.’
This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
In the last days
the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established

    as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
    and all nations will stream to it.

Remember that the chapter and verse divisions are Mediaeval French, not original. It begins to make psychological sense to me, if not rational or objective sense: there was I in my misery, not showered today until 3pm and playing spider solitaire obsessively, and beating myself up about it until I decided not to beat myself up. If that is what I want to do, then that is OK. Then I went for a walk and wrote my purple prose.

Seeking the slime II

File:Ruin at Ardmenish.jpgThe great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.
George Orwell, Why I Write

Well, at least at the moment I am not smothered under drudgery. With Jacques Mesrine, I am not being told what to do. This doing nothing is the only way I can see to “live my own life”. I write here, I read a bit, I meditate less than I consciously intend, and I “play” Spider Solitaire. I could practise the piano, and don’t; I have picked up three or four pieces to learn in these two years, and mastered none.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a9/Jura_Beinn_a_Chaolais.JPG/320px-Jura_Beinn_a_Chaolais.JPGIt would be nice, perhaps, to have the heart-impulse to do something more, and then do it. Is it possible?

I resigned because I had been given an ultimatum, a “reasonable” instruction and a final written warning, I had not complied and was going to be sacked. After two years’ unemployment I think it unlikely that I will get a job of the responsibility or interest of which I think I am capable.

During the Hoffman Process I saw clearly for the first time one of my characteristics which I saw as particularly harmful: seeking out stories of why I should be frightened of the World, in order that I should hide from it. This seemed abominable, and I labelled it shit-hoovering.

File:Feolin Ferry, Isle of Jura.jpgLast night I was weeping because my dear friend lost half her capital in a fake investment scam- spent it on moonbeams and rainbows, a false hope of an impossible return. And her emotional reaction to this gets in the way, a year after we found it was a fraud. Someone should have prevented the scam, it was well-known: I tell her the lie is half-way round the world before the truth has got its boots on, and the fraud was set up in order to be difficult to prosecute, and I am not certain she can take that in. Her anger and her knowledge of what should happen gets in the way of seeing what is, and how she might avoid further loss.

You see I know this story, and I know the truth of it, and it miserifies and horrifies me and makes me want to turn my face to the wall. With other stuff. And the world really can be an awful place, and my friend’s pain is real.

Whose side are you on?

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fd/Alexander_Evgenyevich_Yakovlev_Pierrot_Arlecine.jpgDoes anal sex cause incontinence, and does the answer depend on whether you are a right wing nut-job (or a reasonable, moderate conservative who happens to feel distaste for gays)? What words do we use, whom are we trying to persuade, or are we trying to reassure our own lot?

Here is an article by Tracy Clark-Flory in Salon, and here is a blog response. Ethnicmuse signposts this study, showing either some willingness to engage with the issue, or just an attempt to appear willing in order to advance his own agenda. That study shows no problem with incontinence for receptive gay men. (My aim, as should be clear to regular readers, is unashamedly to advance my own homosexual agenda, to encourage gay people and piss off right wing nut-jobs; and also to find truth.)

I have not studied the scientific literature, and do not feel moved to anal sex, giving or receiving, though that might change with the right partner. Does anal sex cause incontinence? Possibly in some cases, possibly even irreversibly, there may be precautions one can take to make it less likely, there may be doubt on how likely it is. There may be research that could be done to make these things more certain, and there will be more certainty about a greater range of possible likelihoods than about a narrower range. (See how mangled my language becomes when I try to be objective.)

Does anal sex cause incontinence? I don’t know. Ethnicmuse claims he can completely destroy the credibility of the Salon article in that Clark-Flory calls this book by Erik Holland with a search giving this part, homophobic right-wing propaganda. Is Holland’s book “homophobic right-wing propaganda? His blurb saying “the religious need not despair; homosexuality is not part of human design” may indicate he is, though his book title shows an attempt to appear more nuanced.

Is anal sex completely safe? No, but then neither is switching on light switches. I do not think Clark-Flory has completely refuted the idea that gay men’s incontinence is a right wing myth, though I would love to fact check her assertion that “There haven’t been any large-scale, long-term incontinence studies done on gay men who bottom”. Mmm. Define long-term, and how large-scale is necessary for sufficient certainty?

I don’t think Ethnicmuse’s attack on Clark-Flory works completely. He has asserted not demonstrated that calling Holland “propaganda” is “shooting herself in the head”. It feels to me like polemic trying to force through a point, rather than a credible refutation.

Um. There is no substitute for primary sources, and even doing definitive research- and I am not going to gain the necessary degrees for that. Meanwhile, there are people strongly or weakly identifying with one “side” or the other, and seeking more or less to find truth or to persuade or to reassure their own side.

Here is George Orwell, on how we know almost everything we know by authority rather than by experience. Why should we believe the Earth is round?