Thursday, April 18, 2013

`Real Emotion is Likely to Be Eloquent or Silent'

Sometimes what is most important cannot be articulated in mere words, and some subjects can be addressed only obliquely, without overt mention. This is not Zen mumbo-jumbo. Language, like feeling and thought, has limits. Among them is decency. Too much chatter can be an abomination. On Wednesday I spent two hours with a retiring professor. He’s eighty years old and has taught at the university for more than forty-seven years. His father was a sharecropper in Strawberry, Arkansas. The professor remembered the time in 1936 when a circuit-riding doctor removed his older brother’s tonsils, performing the surgery in the family’s shack. The doctor left and the boy bled to death. “Afterwards I’d see my mother sitting quietly, and I knew what she was thinking about,” he said. “We didn’t talk about it.”

William Plomer (1903-1973) was a South African-born English novelist and poet who worked in publishing and edited the James Bond novels for Jonathan Cape. Ian Fleming dedicated Goldfinger to Plomer. In 1976, Rupert Hart-Davis edited Electric Delights, a posthumous selection of Plomer’s poetry and prose. In the essay “An Alphabet of Literary Prejudice,” Plomer writes: 

“Death is the great evoker of cant and cliché. Memorial notices written by a dead man’s friends have often revealed the poverty of their minds and emotions. Real emotion is likely to be eloquent or silent; if it finds expression in flat or trite phrases it seems, though it may not be, unreal.”

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