Sunday, 25 June 2006

On Paragraph Length; or, I vs. E, Except After C: [The following is an adaptation of a comment I left earlier this afternoon which turned out less germane than I thought it'd be. What can I say? "One of those days" has morphed into "one of those weeks," but it will not snowball into "one of those summers." ] As y'all know, I’m delivering a conference paper on the relationship of blogging and academia, and one of the points I want to address is the length and substance of blog posts. When I read piny's complaint about paragraph length, I pounced on the opportunity to defend my long-paragraphers. One respondent embodied the "longist" ideology. (Not to be confused with the antithetical "longest" ideology. This unfortunate phrasing has confused spectators at longist protests of longest events and vice versa. They try to disambiguate their positions by reducing their homophonic labels to the seemingly straightfoward "I" and "E." Then the "Unix First" crowd drives up and what had merely "confused" the spectators becomes utterly inexplicable. On the main stage a longest contingent reenacts the infamous morality play "Death of Sir Attention Span." To its left, a man with an "I" painted on his smooth chest is heard declaiming "the hegemonic forces marshalled against brevity" shortly before being engulfed by a huddle of penguins. As the play ends a young woman with an eye crudely silk-screened on her shirt hops on stage and warns everyone about Big Brother and his appetite for Your Personal Information. But boy howdy do I digress.) One longinista wrote: One long paragraph often means it was written and never edited. It is poor writing, since good writing is almost entirely editing and rewriting. I agree with the second half, but not the first. A long paragraph doesn’t necessarily mean it’s never been edited. If you were to walk into my classroom and ask my kids “What is writing?” they’d answer, in unison, “Writing is rewriting.” But they’ll still write long paragraphs when it’s appropriate. Here’s an example (stolen from the Writer-L listserv) I use in the classroom : I have the option of tuning out, half-listening, drifting about mentally while glancing around at the crowded and noisy dining room, watching almost simultaneously a sporting event being shown on television above the bar, an attractive blonde sitting sideways on a stool, and a fat man sitting at a nearby table with his mouth open, about to devour a piece of fish, a slender slice of flounder; and suddenly I imagine the fish coming to life, jumping off the fork, wiggling along the floor, and being retrieved by a waiter, who carries it in a napkin back to the kitchen, where I have visions of the fish swimming backward in time, a flashback fish floating freely ten days before in the Labrador Sea of northeastern Canada, a fish that is flat-bodied and pancake-size and has two eyes on the same side of its head, a Picasso fish, cruising easily along the muddy bottom of the sea in search of a...

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