Monday, October 02, 2006

Great Writing Comes As a Result
Of Great Thinking & Observation

In a review last Friday of a new Kate Winslet movie, Little Children, which opened on the coasts last weekend, New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott showed why great writing has the ability to stop us in our tracks and take notice, even when it occurs in a mere movie review. Well into the piece, after the jump to inside pages (at least for readers of the print edition), he offers this glittering little observation:

Sarah has been to graduate school, and though she never received a doctorate, she did acquire the habit of living within the protective quotation marks that the postmodern academy hands out in addition to (and sometimes in lieu of) substantive knowledge.

That's flat-out gorgeous writing, built on first-rate observation of an otherwise-elusive truth. It seemed all the more impressive later that same day, after I came away from lunch with an aquaintance who's a career academic. His apparent inability to say what he really meant seemed merely annoying, until, driving back after lunch, it suddenly occurred to me that he lives life between those protective quotation marks. Good writing has an ability to do that: to make us see our experience in terms of the words these writers offer up in vivid explanation of that experience. Between the winsome Winslet and this lovely prose, that's a lot of beauty happening in one place.
Anyway, to read some other reviews by Scott, click here.


At 6:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a keen observation couched in a great sentence. I think I'm trying to unlearn that quotation mark existence a little bit every day.

At 7:11 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

You said it, Miles. I think you're right--that quotation mark existence doesn't only apply to the academic world. Finally, I'm glad to see you're getting such an early start to your day. The brain tends to be at its optimal best for writing early in the day, at least for most writers. How about for you?

At 8:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I have the grad school experience as well, stopped with an MA. The fear of becomming a life-long academic, as alluring as it was at times, kept me from pursuing a PhD. But I know exactly what he's talking about. And damn if it aint spot on.

I'd agree; mornings are pretty good for writing, as are some parts of the afternoon. Once in a while an evening produces some good writing, too.

At 11:47 AM, Blogger Susan B. Anthony said...

I was in Starbucks reading Scott's review last Friday and had a similar experience of being "stopped in my tracks" when I came upon that very same passage. However, while Scott writes beautifully, he did not convince me to fork over $8 to see it at the theater. (I'll wait for the DVD).

At 12:09 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Miles, I think, had you gone down that path, you would have somehow broken out of the tribal norm and helped blaze a path for your academic colleagues to a fuller engagement with ideas and with the world outside academia, as our friend Dr. Sandy Piderit is doing with considerable success. And glad to see you're using the entire day for writing productivity. Funny how our minds tend to perform as we condition them to, rather than the other way around.

Jennifer, glad to see you've begun. As for shelling out $8 to see that film, you perhaps aren't saddled with the additional burden of enjoying the experience of gazing at the image of the winsome Ms. Winslet for two hours, as some of your feeble-minded male counterparts (like me) are. Just one more failing of the weaker gender.

At 9:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, i always thought i would manage to do that (i.e. break out of the mold) simply due to the fact that I have too many interests and can't be very narrow even if i tried.

On a seperate note, whatever happend to the idea of a literary salon? Fall seems like the perfect time, wouldn't you agree?

At 10:19 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Miles, thanks for that reminder nudge. I hereby promise to mount one before October is through. And I sure hope you'll be able to join.


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