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· My Half-Nietzschean Take on Brevity ·

"It takes less time to learn to write nobly," Friedrich Nietzsche once remarked, "than to learn to write lightly and straightforwardly."

Since writing my last post I've been thinking about Nietzsche's claim, especially since the ending of "We Hold these Truths" on the First-Person Plural took some time to write. For most of the week I tried, mercurially but methodically, as I sometimes tell students, to move my slippery adverbs and shifty pronouns into substantively significant, and still stylish, juxtapostion. Finally, I heeded President Lincoln's advice: "It is fitting and proper that we should do this," as you may have seen in my result.

But Saturday night I essayed another take on Lincoln's theme by trying out a friend's latest teaching trick: "Turn off the monitor," he tells his students. Indeed pointing to their keyboards alone, he suggests writing for a change blind — "in the dark!" "Well," I thought, "why not? Mine is but a Nietzschean variation on the keyboardist's sentence, 'Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country!' So go for it!"

Here's what I wrote in just four minutes:

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country. We have the chance now to undertake the job the nation has prepared us for. It's hardly the time to do otherwise. What would the nation say if we were to renege on our duty? It's abundantly clear that if we don't take up the challenge now, we will succumb to the sad temptation to avoid forever that patriotic task for which we have so long been prepared. Mark my words: This is the day. This is the hour. This is the year. We can do no less than our ancestors have done already, dedicating our lives to bringing everyone the joys of freedom, the riches of enterprise, the pleasures of art, and the clear, honorable challenges of service. Now it is our turn. Rise up Men (and Women) of America! It's time to come to the aid of your . . .

"I'm on quite a roll," I thought. "In just minutes (just as my colleague suggested), 'I've found my voice' — 'fluid,' 'rounded,' 'full,' 'profound,' 'indeed maybe decisively brilliant.'"

"And darkly, fulsomely bathetic, too!" I had to confess.

But I remembered, then, Nietzsche's aptly personal, perfectly-styled ambition to craft his own famously difficult, light, straightforward prose:

It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what other men say in whole books — what other men do not say in whole books. Freidrich Nietzsche: Jon Winokur, ed., Writers on Writing, 2nd. ed., Philadelphia: Running Press, 1987, 23; above, 112.

And I remembered, too, my own recent post's quite analogous conclusion:

Properly speaking (sotto voce), it is our [my] challenge.


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