Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Good writing and bad.

Last night, I began reading John Le Carre's new novel, "A Legacy of Spies." I seldom read anything so "popular." But having loved about every version of Le Carre's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," and needing a break from the usual academic histories that usually make up my reading list, I turned to this book.

Besides, the reviews in "The New York Times," were flattering and about a week ago I was intrigued enough to stumble upon an excerpt, also in the Times, where the writing was so crisp, precise and vivid that I just had to give it a chance. I'm a sucker for writing that makes sense.

Here's Le Carre's opening sentence:

What follows is a truthful account, as best I am able to provide it, of my role in the British deception operation, code-named Windfall, that was mounted against the East German Intelligence Service (Stasi) in the late 1950s and early '60s, and resulted in the death of the best British secret agent I ever worked with, and of the innocent woman for whom he gave his life.

There's a lot you could pick at above. First off, it's a whopping 67 words long. Second, it's rife with subordinate clauses, parentheticals and more. Third, it's complicated. But fourth, and most important, it's very nearly perfect. 

The reader, in this case, me, is intrigued, seduced and informed. Not a bad adjectival trinity to keep in mind if you write for a living.

Now, posit the Le Carre above and read these two excerpts from agency press-releases I read yesterday.

“My intention is to continue building a collective of culture’s muses, invest in and amplify their passions, and architect strategic blueprints for brands fueled by authentic story narratives."

“We are aggressively designing the world around us. It’s critical we leverage design to create meaningful experiences and drive innovation in a way that helps brands break through, while also being relevant and respectful to our rapidly evolving human experience."

As an old colleague of mine used to exclaim, "Fuck me with an iron rod."

The clarity of expression from real writing, Le Carre, and the utter sump of bullshit from communication "professionals," is damning to us all.

Often, and this has earned me no friends, when someone in a meeting spouts crap like the above, I'll say, "I'm sorry. I'm dense. Would you show me an example?"

They'll look at me, laugh nervously, try to put me on the defensive, and then, uncomfortably, the meeting usually ends.

I suppose you could say I'm hopelessly out of touch. I am citing Le Carre who is 85 as an exemplar of lucid prose. What's the point? He's out of touch! He's an old man!

My ship of clarity may be taking on water. It may be sinking fast.

But I'm going down with it. And I'm going down fighting.

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