Intellectual terrain

Books today are for sharing, not reading

Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice; journalism what will be read once. Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise

I’ve been reading Cyril Connelly’s Enemies of Promise. It is wonderful, brilliant, and meandering; analytical where complexity requires it to analyse; spiritual where the soul needs to be fed; and optimistic just when your spirit is about to break.

It also manages to make you think about what you’re doing and where you’re coming from.

Which is humbling.

Despite the wide ground it covers — style, autobiography, grammar — it maintains a steady focus on the subject of promise, what it means to be a promising writer and how it either pans out or doesn’t.

It’s meandering in the same way that a hiker meanders. Like Connelly, the hiker has a destination and they aren’t diverging from their path, but the terrain they are covering simply doesn’t lend itself to direct routes. You can’t run a marathon or sprint without a road or a track. Uneven terrain requires a wandering path.

Modern writing, the chatter that fills websites, newspapers, and short ebooks, doesn’t account for terrain. They are mental sprints — short bursts along a paved road where everything uneven and unnatural has been removed, cut away, or flattened. The longer books might qualify as marathons, but they still only track along the ready-made roads of pre-fabricated ideology and and cookie-cutter abstract arguments.

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