To make an idea come alive in a sentence, some of its words must be left for dead: The penalty for trying to bring them all alive is preciousness at best. If such preciousness is not firmly ruled out by the writer, there will be readers all too keen to supply it. In modern times, critics have earned a reputation for brilliance by pushing the concept of “close reading” to the point where they tease more meaning out than the writer can conceivably have wanted to put in; but it isn’t hard, it’s easy; and the mere fact that their busy activity makes them feel quite creative themselves should be enough to tell them they are making a mistake.

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg from Cultural Amnesia (adapted), Clive James

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