Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Loving Bad Writing

What constitutes bad writing, anyway? Apparently, cliches. Laura Miller talks about why we love bad writing, prompted by an article by Edward Docx. From reading Miller's article, I was expecting Docx's to sound much more snotty than it actually was. It wasn't very snotty at all.

One unexpected bit from Laura Miller's article: C.S. Lewis wondered why people liked bad writing, too. He even wrote about it.

Until recently, hardly anyone considered why some readers might actually prefer clichés to finely crafted literary prose. A rare critic who pondered this mystery was C.S. Lewis, who -- in a wonderful little book titled "An Experiment in Criticism" -- devoted considerable attention to the appeal of bad writing for what he termed the "unliterary" reader. Such a reader, who is interested solely in the consumption of plot, favors the hackneyed phrase over the original

... because it is immediately recognizable. 'My blood ran cold' is a hieroglyph of fear. Any attempt, such as a great writer might make, to render this fear concrete in its full particularity, is doubly a chokepear to the unliterary reader. For it offers him what he doesn't want, and offers it only on the condition of his giving to the words a kind and degree of attention which he does not intend to give. It is like trying to sell him something he has no use for at a price he does not wish to pay.

A hieroglyph of fear. What a great turn of phrase. Is that the difference between good writing and bad writing? Does it matter, so long as we enjoy it?


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