Examining the ongoing challenges of delivering high-quality, value-added ERP services in Higher Education.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Say What You Mean (a Henry James Rant)

I'm not entirely sure what possessed me, given a burdensome load of go-lives ahead, to enroll in a graduate-level English class this semester at Harvard. But enroll I have, and I'm trying to get ahead of schedule on my reading. The class (ENGL E-211 Caught in the Act: Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim, Henry James, The Ambassadors, Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence") only requires three books, but they are dense works from the vanguard of modernism. Lord Jim was a pleasant read with a single remarkable character at its center, and the writing was so brilliant at times (sometimes many times per page) that it took my breath away. Underlines and margin notes complete, I was feeling pretty good to be ahead of the game. So I started The Ambassadors this weekend. What a slog through 500+ pages this promises to be.

The fundamental problem is that Henry Adams seems incapable of completing a simple thought. Ever. Rather than pluck an example from the novel, I'll illustrate through a bit of parody. Take this sentence: "He, possessed of great appetite owing to a long day's wandering and exhilarated from  gazing upon the tall gleaming arches with something approaching, as it were, awe -- the likes of which he had seldom known -- ate, with a lust that thrilled him for reasons he knew not, as he had so seldom succumbed to the tragic weakness of his gluttony, the -- for there was exactly one, swaddled gently in the embrace of wax-lined paper etched with words he had never seen in Wollett, Massachusetts, so the definite article would be proper and just -- cheeseburger."

Or, one could say: "he ate the cheeseburger." But why make it easy for the reader? Great literature should require super-human effort, right?

Here is where I connect this back to the primary purpose of this blog. I have lately found myself guilty (once or twice at least) of what a less refined person might refer to as "diarrhea of the mouth." I have crafted impossible mazes by piling words upon words rather than stopping myself and realizing I've lost my audience. From now on when this happens, I'm going to think of Henry James, take a deep breath, and seek a smaller set of clear and precise words. If I get nothing else from The Ambassadors it will be this insight into myself.

Now back to my reading...


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