Virtuous cycle

Bartlomiej Owczarek weblog

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Roman civilization

Still reading Ulysses, last night I stopped on this:

“What was their civilization? Vast, I allow: but vile. Cloacae: sewers. The Jews in the wilderness and on the mountaintop said: It is meet to be here. Let us build an altar to Jehowah. The Roman, like the Englishman who follows in his footsteps, brought to every new shore on which he set his foot (on our shore he never set it) only his cloacal obsession. He gazed about him in his toga and he said: It is meet to be here. Let us construct a watercloset.

Reading Ulysses

Wow, it?s been quite a break. I skipped the last weekend and didn?t write anything here.

I am studying Ulysses, which I always wanted to read, as part of my quest to get better in writing in English. Just before it, I went back to basics with “Old man and the sea” and it was fine, but with Ulysses, things are different.

I wanted to take a sample paragraph, retype it here and mark all the words I don?t understand in bold, because it would make a nice visualization of what I mean. But I forgot to bring the book today.

I was considering if I would be able to impress people with the fact that I finished reading; even better, I could say that I liked it so much that I’ve read it twice. But my friend told me noone would believe this; she, for example, endured only 20 pages, and not even the original version.

Writing well

One of the advantages of having a blog in English and suffering from an urge to be always correct is that, sooner or later, you feel compelled to do something positive about your writing skills. Even if you, like me, spend days and nights producing doubtlessly English content, when you start to write an article you find that a very different language competence is required.

As it is apparent to everyone reading this, I have not made so much progress as far as this competence is concerned, but at least I found some resources, namely two of them, which I can recommend. Both are quite dated. Fortunately time doesn?t matter much in this faculty.

Elements of Style, ?the little book? was originally written and published privately by William Strunk in 1918. Its age takes away little from its usefulness but allows to read the first edition free of charge, e.g. here. As Wikipedia notes, the value is not only in the rules it contains, but in the examples it provides to support them.

Donald Hall?s Writing Well is the second and the last position that the library of the Warsaw School of Economics is able to offer on the topic of style. I only started reading; this book is not so ?little?. Halls? description of a cliché helped me realized that most of what I read daily is composed exclusively of it:

?Little cinder blocks of crushed and reprocessed experience (…) familiar and seem to mean something, yet are meaningless (?) prevent true contact?

In contrast to Strunk, Hall takes a broader perspective to the act of writing. Of particular interest is the understanding of how good writing is distinguished by giving the reader impression that the author is truthful in what he communicates, as opposed to feeling of indecisiveness and dishonesty in bad writing. Technicalities aside, this point struck me as a key and in the same time probably the main difficulty in writing the way that people will find enjoyable to read.