Tag Archives: Writing

Modern writers are stylistic clones

American mathematicians … set out to investigate “large-scale” trends in literary style. … they processed 7,733 works from 537 authors written after the year 1550, were looking for the frequency at which 307 “content-free” words – such as “of”, “at” and “by” – appeared. They called these words the “syntactic glue” of language: “words that carry little meaning on their own but form the bridge between words that convey meaning”, and thus “provide a useful stylistic fingerprint” for authorship.

“When we consider content-free word frequencies from a large number of authors and works over a long period of time, we can ask questions related to temporal trends in similarity”, they write in their new paper.

After finding that authors of any given period are stylistically similar to their contemporaries, they also discovered that the stylistic influence of the past is decreasing. While authors in the 18th and 19th centuries are still influenced by previous centuries, authors writing in the late 20th century are instead “strongly influenced” by writers from their own decade. “The so-called ‘anxiety of influence’, whereby authors are understood in terms of their response to canonical precursors, is becoming an ‘anxiety of impotence’, in which the past exerts a diminishing stylistic influence on the present,” they write. This could, they suggest, be explained by the modernist movement, in which authors “reject their immediate stylistic predecessors yet remain a part of a dominant movement that included many of their contemporaries.

From: theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2012/may/14/writers-no-longer-influenced-by-classics

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Read Books to Unleash your Emotions

Have you ever hated a book that kept you awake all night? Has a book you didn’t enjoy ever brought you to tears? An author’s job is to make you cry, make you laugh, and make you late for work.

Fiction writers deliberately encourage us to see the world through someone else’s point of view, or experience characters’ emotions in a visceral way — and that’s the essence of empathy.”

Consider the statement: “I know how you feel.” While separate, our models of the world have to be similar enough for us to agree on pretty much all factual information. Red is red, after all. Maybe what you and I perceive differs, still we agree it’s red. 

But feelings? Theory of mind is a form of internal mimicry that begets empathy and empathy is all-powerful in culture, art, and, ultimately, morality. The sensory excitations we experience from stories, music, paintings, even architecture and engineering, can resonate in our minds in such a way that we respond with visceral intimacy.

From: ww2.kqed.org/arts/2014/10/09/does-literature-make-you-empathic/

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Writers Must be Independent of Institutions

Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his work “rich in ideas and filled with the spirit of freedom and the quest for truth”. He refused it, citing both personal and objective reasons […]

Assuring the press that his decision was not an “impulsive gesture”, one of the reasons Sartre gave for rejecting the prize stemmed from his habit of refusing all official honours.

Sartre believed every individual is responsible for creating a purpose for their life. By accepting the prize, Sartre would inadvertently associate himself with the institution that honoured him.

His humble conception of the writer’s “enterprise” – as he called it in his explanation – led Sartre to believe that those in political, social or literary positions should only “act with the means that are his own – the written word”.

“The writer must therefore refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution, even if this occurs under the most honourable circumstances, as in the present case,” he said.

More: ibtimes.co.uk/nobel-prize-literature-why-jean-paul-sartre-refused-controversial-award-1964-1469202

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Western Writers Cut Off From Society

“Western literature is being impoverished by financial support for writers and by creative writing programmes, according to a series of blistering comments from Swedish Academy member Horace Engdahl, speaking shortly before the winner of the Nobel prize for literature is awarded.”

“In an interview with French paper La Croix, Engdahl said that the “professionalisation” of the job of the writer, via grants and financial support, was having a negative effect on literature. “Even though I understand the temptation, I think it cuts writers off from society, and creates an unhealthy link with institutions,” he told La Croix. “Previously, writers would work as taxi drivers, clerks, secretaries and waiters to make a living. Samuel Beckett and many others lived like this. It was hard – but they fed themselves, from a literary perspective.””

From:  theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/07/creative-writing-killing-western-literature-nobel-judge-horace-engdahl

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The Sorrows of a Young[ish] Writer

“From the moment I start a new novel, life’s just one endless torture. The first few chapters may go fairly well and I may feel there’s still chance to prove my worth, but that feeling soon disappears and every day I feel less and less satisfied. I begin to say the book’s no good, far inferior to my earlier ones, until I’ve wrung torture out of every page, every sentence, every word, and the very commas and full stops look excruciatingly ugly. Then, when it’s finished, when it’s finished, what a relief! Not the blissful delight of a man who goes into ectasies over his own production, but the resentful relief of a delivery man dropping a burden that’s nearly broken his back. Then it starts all over again, and it’ll go on starting all over again till it grinds the life out of me, and I shall end my days furious with myself for lacking talent, for not leaving behind a more finished work, a bigger pile of books, and lie on my death-bed filled with awful doubts about the task I’ve done, wondering whether it was as it ought to have been, whether I ought not to have done this or that, expressing with my last dying breath the wish that I might do it all over again!” 

Emile Zola, The Masterpiece

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Writers’ Words not Relevant beyond their Books

“in terms of having anything useful or helpful to say about their own works, authors might as well be dead. The only intention of the author that counts is what is contained in the text, as understood by readers who interact with it. Any interpretation the author might care to share about his or her own works is, at best, no more relevant than the interpretation of any other reader. Or, to put it in proper literary jargon, the author’s intent is not privileged above other interpretations.” …

“It is generally agreed that the author’s role is finished when the work is completed and published. After that point, the text must speak for itself ’ or, at the most, those few remaining critics who have not altogether abandoned authorial intent might ask the author to clarify what he or she intended (note the past tense) by including certain elements in the text. The writer’s contribution is frozen at the point of time that he or she finished writing.”

“But it seems that nobody has informed the authors of that. Authors, being people, have responses to their own works and they also have responses to the readers who read their works. Just as readers and critics judge authors by how they write, writers judge readers by how they read, and critics by how they criticize. Authors may change their feelings and beliefs about their own work after seeing how the audience responds to it. Many authors are disposed to defend their work against criticism, answer questions, clarify what they see as misunderstandings, and in general do whatever they think will help to enhance reader enjoyment and guide critical discussion into what they see as fruitful paths.”

From: the-leaky-cauldron.org/features/essays/issue9/authordead/

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The Last Untamed Medium: the Novel

“A novel can change lives. Reading fiction is a more intimate – and as a result a more potentially profound – experience than watching a film, or a television series, or even hearing new music.

It is one person talking to another. If it is the right book at the right time, it can convey an important message of comfort and reassurance: you are not alone.

However determinedly schools and universities instil the importance of reading critically, a novel can break through society’s carefully erected barriers of respectability, responsible behaviour and correct thinking. For this reason, it is unlikely to have been tamed and institutionalised by being included on a reading list for exams.”

From: belfasttelegraph.co.uk/debateni/news/no-it-is-not-fiction-a-novel-certainly-can-change-lives-30535160.html

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When Voices Come to Mind

“Most modern readers may feel instinctively that literary experience has much in common with the act of overhearing. Reading fiction is a process of allowing characters’ voices to sound in the inner ear, and absorbing the imagined noise they make (magically cued by curls of ink on a page).

It’s common to think of writers, too, building fictional worlds through voices, as if creativity begins as a subtle internal overhearing. The analogy between imagining and hearing certainly runs deep in our myths of culture. Inspiration, that theory of composition at once ancient, Romantic, and modern, tells us that creativity ignites by admitting some mysterious other voice into the writer’s flow of being. To write means having one’s voice disrupted, taken over, rendered by another.

Dickens believed this, too. Later in his career, Dickens’s vocal impersonations of his own characters gave this truth a theatrical form: the public reading tour. … Hearing voices and inventing character were also indivisible aspects of his creativity.”

Read More: theguardian.com/books/2014/aug/22/charles-dickens-hearing-voices-created-his-novels

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When the Sword is Mightier than the Pen

“PEN’s survey allowed participants to ofer long-form comments on surveillance; PEN also invited members to share their thoughts and personal experiences via email. In reviewing the responses, themes emerged centering on writers’ self-censorship and fear that their communications would bring harm to themselves, their friends, or sources:

1. PEN writers now assume that their communications are monitored.
2. The assumption that they are under surveillance is harming freedom of expression by prompting writers to self-censor their work in multiple ways, including:
a) reluctance to write or speak about certain subjects;
b) reluctance to pursue research about certain subjects; and
c) reluctance to communicate with sources, or with friends abroad, for fear that they will endanger their counterparts by doing so.”

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Creativity a Byproduct of Mental Disorder?

“intelligence doesn’t have much effect on creativity: most creative people are pretty smart, but they don’t have to be that smart […] But if high IQ does not indicate creative genius, then what does? […]

What differences in nature and nurture can explain why some people suffer from mental illness and some do not? And why are so many of the world’s most creative minds among the most afflicted? […]

As research methodology improved over time, the idea that genius might be hereditary gained support. […]

For many of my subjects from that first study—all writers associated with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop—mental illness and creativity went hand in hand. This link is not surprising. The archetype of the mad genius dates back to at least classical times, when Aristotle noted, “Those who have been eminent in philosophy, politics, poetry, and the arts have all had tendencies toward melancholia. […]

Among those who ended up losing their battles with mental illness through suicide are Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Vincent van Gogh, John Berryman, Hart Crane, Mark Rothko, Diane Arbus, Anne Sexton, and Arshile Gorky. […]

The creative […] and their relatives have a higher rate of mental illness than the controls and their relatives do. […] 

Why does creativity run in families? What is it that gets transmitted? How much is due to nature and how much to nurture? Are writers especially prone to mood disorders because writing is an inherently lonely and introspective activity? What would I find if I studied a group of scientists instead?”

And the answer is: theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/06/secrets-of-the-creative-brain/372299/

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