Australian writer, poet, essayist, and critic
It is better to err on the side of too much scrupulosity than too little, but it remains a fact that good writers are occupied with more than language. The fact is awkward; and the most awkward part of it is that for metaphorical force to be attained in a given sentence, the metaphorical content of some of its words—which is a historic content provided by their etymology and the accumulated mutability of their traditional use—must be left dormant. Our apprehension of the Duchess of Gloster's mighty line in Richard II, "Thou show'st the naked pathway to thy life," would be blunted, rather than sharpened, if we concerned ourselves with the buried image of a naked person instead of with the overt image of an unprotected path, and our best signal for not so concerning ourselves is that Shakespeare didn't, or he would have written the line in a different way. To make an idea come alive in a sentence, some of its words must be left for dead: The penalty for trying to bring them all alive is preciousness at best. If such preciousness is not firmly ruled out by the writer, there will be readers all too keen to supply it.
Slate Magazine, March 2, 2007
Posted on March 30, 2007