Sunday, October 12, 2008

I have been reading on-line and I am amazed at the incredible amount of verbal content. Some of it is good, some not. And yet I am amazed at the volume. With fingertips poised at keyboard one can fall into mindless blather, and I know at times, I do the same.

You can also fall into mindless making. With anything else that has the potential of expressing human creativity, strict editing is required... Something that I will be faced with if the Wisdom of the Hands ever comes to press. George Orwell gives examples of bad writing in the body of his essay, and by looking at the examples you can also look at your own work in any medium with an editorial eye, leading to better, clearer expression of thought.

I first became interested in Orwell's essay, not as a tool to better woodworking or writing, but as an explanation of the last 8 years of Presidential politics and what we may have to look forward to if McCain/Palin are elected. Poor expression and foolish thought are inseparably bound. I'm concerned that we will continue destroying both the language and the environment and lowering the standards of American education. If you want to know what I mean, read the text of a Sarah Palin interview or her debate with Joe Biden. What will it mean to have leadership that can speak in coherent full sentences without a teleprompter? We can hope, and I do.

George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language," 1946
Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language -- so the argument runs -- must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.
Read Full Text Here!

The process of editing physical work can take years. You make something and try out the process. Then you try out the object you've made. Then you test it in the hands of others, and then go back to the drawing board, or practice new skills and try again with what you have learned from your first attempts. Editing verbal content should be easier. Cut and paste on a computer is much easier than the way writing was once done, in ink. So it should be easy, but editing seems to be the last thought and not the first. So there is a lot to be said about the old way. Think clearly about your thoughts before fingers touch keyboard or grip pen. Be as sparing in your words as you would be in the use of fine materials in the making of things.

In other words, the wisdom of the hands is not just about making things, but making things well or stating things clearly, edited with a sharp knife and with deep affection for the quality of the mark we make.

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