Wednesday, July 15, 2015

`Not an Excess of Words But a Dearth of Ideas'

Somewhere, a harmless drudge, cloistered and anonymous, has perfected the most difficult and least appreciated of literary forms: the fortune in the fortune cookie. How I would love to meet him and talk craft. While his co-fortunists crank out platitudes, he fashions diamond-hard crystals of wisdom and light. He makes another Asian form, the haiku, seem verbose. He is an epigrammist, a lineal descendant of Martial, and here is the message he sent me along with my General Tso’s chicken: “Four basic premises of writing: clarity, brevity, simplicity, and humanity.”

For the sake of brevity I might quibble with the Oxford comma but my man is a classicist, ever respectful of tradition. I’ve tacked his work to the cork board on the wall beside my desk, next to photos of my sons and Louis Armstrong, a small American flag and a pin decorated with Dr. Johnson’s visage. When I took down the fortune to look at the other side, I found this:

Lucky Numbers 56, 20, 41, 9, 29, 37”

Persiflage for the credulous. The real news is on the other side. If I detect an influence on my benefactor’s work, I might first suggest the great Colombian aphorist Nicolás Gómez Dávila. Had he sought employment, Don Colacho would have made a splendid fortune writer. This, for example, might stand as his credo: “Many people believe that a laconic statement is dogmatic and judge the generosity of an intelligence by the verbosity of its prose.” And here, at the risk of posing the paradox of writing at length about concision, are other pertinent Don Colacho aphorisms:

“No writer has ever been born who did not write too much.”

“To accuse the aphorism of expressing only part of the truth is tantamount to supposing that a verbose discourse can express all of it.”

“Prolixity is not an excess of words but a dearth of ideas.”

1 comment:

George said...

Loeb's Deli, on I St. NW in Washington, DC, used to carry "Jewish fortune cookies" thirty odd years ago. I don't think I ever got one, but a co-worker quoted to me the proverb she found in one: "It is a miracle when an ass speaks like a man, but nobody is surprised when a man speaks like an ass."