14 November 2006

E. B. White Is The Grammatically Correct Shit


Kneel, bitches! Give it up for the O.G. of essay
writing! E. B. White in tha house y'all!

Greg:

I'd like to put some effort into this letter but I just don't have the gumption. I'm battling some poorly defined illness who's major aspects are dizziness, wretchedness, ennui, the dubiously correct usage of the term "who's", ( It's supposed to be whose, Typhoid Mary. Take a pill. -Ed.) and other things that end with "-ness". So what I'm going to do instead of composing some sort of cohesive epistle is just try to throw spots of thought on the paper, not unlike the tiny specks in the effluvium issuing from my head. Some of them are interesting. Hey, there's one that looks like a bas relief of Alexander the Great!

While I'm on the subject, how are you? Haven't heard from you. Limbs intact? Just wave if you can hear me.

E. B. White is the shit. He is a straight-up literary-pimp gangsta. (...and probably would not approve of multiple compound adjectives. -Ed.) I just picked up a collection of his essays from the library. It has made me re-think everything I was taught about essay writing. I love writing essays, (hell, I've got a hundred five of them on this here clog) though a long string of well-intentioned editors and teachers tried to bind, gag and exsanguinate that love over the years. Funny how the worst teachers can turn something you had a keen interest in into something you keenly despise. I guess my love of my own opinion has weathered the best criticisms ("You have become a fine and pithy writer - who won't miss any more classes!" -T. C. Boyle, PEN/Faulkner Award winner and six-time O. Henry Award winner) and the worst ("This sucks." -Former Editor-slash-Braying-Jackass).

Here's what I like about White. Instead of the standard "tell what you're gonna tell 'em, tell 'em, then tell 'em what you told 'em" approach, White's essays, at least in this collection, are more of the "March from The Love of Three Oranges" approach. There's very little fanfare at the beginning, everybody in the orchestra gets a shot at the staff, and then before you know it - brrump bump frrump SHRIEK! - it's done. Everything that needs saying is said, the stage goes dark - no punchline, but a great feeling of fullness and satisfaction nonetheless. By comparison, the former approach seems unecessarily didactic and condescending. The closer almost always comes off as, "Hey idjit! Didja hear what I said?"

I'm sure that if any English student nowadays tried to write an essay by the White method (my name, not his), they'd get their knuckles rapped, ironically no doubt, with a hardcover edition of Strunk and White. If the student protested that this was the way he or she had seen White do it, they'd no doubt get the cop-out tautology that White can do that "...because he's E. B. White."

It reminds me of a story that I heard from one of my profs at USC. When he was in high school - a military high school, mind you - he got an assignment to write a two-page essay about the meaning of two lines from Robert Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening: "And miles to go before I sleep,/And miles to go before I sleep". His essay itself consisted of one line: "It was to give the effect of echoing." His teacher promptly failed him. Righteously incensed, he put gathered up the literary balls to write Frost a letter and ask him directly what his intentions were when he wrote those two lines. Frost replied with one line: "It was to give the effect of echoing." He took Frost's letter back to his English teacher, who then convened a quorum of the English department behind closed doors to scrutinize the letter. Days later, they came back with their verdict: "Robert Frost does not know his own work." The student was promptly re-failed.

Brrump bump frrump - SHRIEK!

-Thaddeus

3 comments:

Sgt. Rock said...

Which is precisely why I never finished college. Paying someone stupider than you to make you stupider than you already are is just too stupid.

Oh yeah; whose - possesive,
who's =who is
You can't ask "who is shoes?"

By the way, we are homeless again
(but not landless!)I'm considering Florida, as the driving November rain turns to sleet on my 31st wedding anniversary.

Oh yeah. There's now a company that for a small fee will clean up your internet indiscretions to keep them from prying eye's (so you don't have to dump your blog in a panic). Actually they'd deal with your blog by asking you politely to dump it and then threatening you with legal action if you refused. Hmmmm.

randomrelation said...

Writing with the "White Method" doesn't fill your requisite 10-page-minimum requirements in higher education. Thus, bullshit, not quality rules the day. Of course the quality of a work can be greatly enhanced by the use of the word "tautology" at some point. I'm going to try that in my next term paper.

luke keen said...

what?!?!?

"Robert Frost does not know his own work"
!?!?!

I would have lost the plot at that point and spat in the persons eye who told me that
MY GOD!

so Teachers and critics are much the same thing ("those who can, do. Those who can't, slag it off and rip it to pieces in an over blown, up their own arse way, just to big themselves up and make them sound clever" I believe the old adage goes?)

how on Earth dare they say that?
I'm flabbergasted!!!