Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for December 24th, 2006

Filmmaking, writing, and the imagination

Posted by metaphorical on 24 December 2006

Every writer has a different writing process, and there’s no wrong or right way to write. Still, writers are obsessed with the different ideas other writers have about how to go about it.

At my school’s reading series, mostly attended by graduate writing students, questions of process always come up. Some writers seem to write very sequentially. They can spend an hour on one sentence, then move on to the next one. Of course they revise their words, but they’re far less likely to make revisions than other writers are. And indeed, it seems that if they’re up to, say, page 185 in their manuscript, they might go back to page 170, but not back to page 25.

In an earlier post, I described the process of trying to write directly out of the imagination, and letting sentences and paragraph flow in a way that lets strange and unexpected images and ideas come out.

At a reading a couple of years ago, Mary Karr, whose 1996 book, Liar’s Club, is sometimes credited with triggering the modern fashion for memoir, and who doesn’t attend the sequential school of writers, talked about the words you put onto the page, and the words that come off of the page.

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Too many grasshoppers, too few ants

Posted by metaphorical on 24 December 2006

There’s a nice WSJ article (sub req’d) remembering C. Peter McColough (1922-2006): “Former Xerox CEO Funded Fabled PARC but Failed To Harvest Innovations While He Focused on the Bottom Line, Researchers Departed With Ideas To Build Modern Computing.”

That sums up a pretty large problem these days. No one is investing in the long term future in the United States. By contrast, China is putting money into solar energy, which won’t be cost-effective for another 20 years. It’s investing in green buildings technologies, mass transit systems, and hydro power, which, though it wipes out entire valleys, produces no greenhouse gases.

China has no problem taking the long perspective. It seems to be something that’s just built into its culture. I’m sure its heart was broken when it gave the British a 99-year lease on Hong Kong, but while the west was chortling, “99 years! That’s forever!” the humiliated Chinese leadership was probably saying, “but it’s only for 99 years.”

U.S. culture has impatience baked into its genes. That’s a generally useful perspective, in business at least, but not always. To return to McColough for a moment:

The reasons for Xerox’s inability to take advantage of its own inventions are debated in business schools to this day. Jacob Goldman, Xerox’s chief scientist at the time who founded PARC, blames short-sighted managers unwilling to take chances on small-scale, unproven technologies. “They managed the company quarter to quarter and looked at the bottom line,” Mr. Goldman says. “They weren’t thinking about the future really.”

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