Skip to main content

Aesthetics of the Short Haul

hemingway list free

Certainly it is easy to create a literary aesthetics of brevity. The haiku and the aphorism have their admirers.

Ernest Hemingway is widely thought to have invented a perfect short story in the form of a classified ad: "For sale, baby shoes, never used."

Edgar Allen Poe famously developed a theory for why short stories are superior to novels. His explanation of that theory was, IMHO, longer winded than it had to be. The point, though, was that a story should have a unitary impact and this could be achieved best with a work that could be read in a single sitting.

Yet one shouldn't let the aesthetics of the short haul have the last word. The world has room for Melville's and Tolstoy's and Victor Hugo's novels, and creating a Reader's Digest version thereof will never be the same.

As for Hemingway's six word story? He didn't really write it. It is the work of a playwright named  John deGroot who created a one-actor play about "Papa" in the 1990s.

Still, that six-word story works. How? It works on a meta level by inspiring us to do the first level narrative work ourselves. We imagine a loving couple expecting a baby,  shopping for what the baby would need, including of course a pair of perfect shoes. Gazing fondly at those  shoes day after day and anticipating the feet that would fill them. Then, tragedy, miscarriage, grief. We fill it all in and it ends with the posting of that classified.

Part of the secret of concision, then, is authorial laziness.

As for this blog entry? It is a good deal longer than 6 words but shorter than deGroot's play, and a lot shorter than For Whom the Bell Tolls. Which tells you nothing at all about its literary value.


Popular posts from this blog

England as a Raft?

In a lecture delivered in 1880, William James asked rhetorically, "Would England ... be the drifting raft she is now in European affairs if a Frederic the Great had inherited her throne instead of a Victoria, and if Messrs Bentham, Mill, Cobden, and Bright had all been born in Prussia?"

Beneath that, in a collection of such lectures later published under James' direction, was placed the footnote, "The reader will remember when this was written."

The suggestion of the bit about Bentham, Mill, etc. is that the utilitarians as a school helped render England ineffective as a European power, a drifting raft.

The footnote was added in 1897. So either James is suggesting that the baleful influence of Bentham, Mill etc wore off in the meantime or that he had over-estimated it.

Let's unpack this a bit.  What was happening in the period before 1880 that made England seem a drifting raft in European affairs, to a friendly though foreign observer (to the older brother…

Cancer Breakthrough

Hopeful news in recent days about an old and dear desideratum: a cure for cancer. Or at least for a cancer, and a nasty one at that.

The news comes about because investors in GlaxoSmithKline are greedy for profits, and has already inspired a bit of deregulation to boot. 

The FDA has paved the road for a speedy review of a new BCMA drug for multiple myeloma, essentially cancer of the bone marrow. This means that the US govt has removed some of the hurdles that would otherwise (by decision of the same govt) face a company trying to proceed with these trials expeditiously. 

This has been done because the Phase I clinical trial results have been very promising. The report I've seen indicates that details of these results will be shared with the world on Dec. 11 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. 

The European Medicines Agency has also given priority treatment to the drug in question. 

GSK's website identifies the drug at issue as "GSK2857916," althou…

Francesco Orsi

I thought briefly that I had found a contemporary philosopher whose views on ethics and meta-ethics checked all four key boxes. An ally all down the line.

The four, as regular readers of this blog may remember, are: cognitivism, intuitionism, consequentialism, pluralism. These represent the views that, respectively: some ethical judgments constitute knowledge; one important source for this knowledge consists of quasi-sensory non-inferential primary recognitions ("intuitions"); the right is logically dependent upon the good; and there exists an irreducible plurality of good.

Francesco Orsi seemed to believe all of these propositions. Here's his website and a link to one relevant paper:

What was better: Orsi is a young man. Born in 1980. A damned child! Has no memories of the age of disco!

So I emailed him asking if I was right that he believed all of those things. His answer: three out of …