I have often felt that I, unlike some people I know, am not so invested in any pursuit or subject, that I can safely call myself any sort of authority where it is concerned.
For example, I have a few friends who are irrevocably on their way to become lawyers (so you really ought to avoid trying to sue me for my opinions, you know) and who, by virtue of their studies, have come across, and become invested in, a bunch of subjects that tend to deal with the broad area of schools of thought. Some, more than others have, as they say, subscribed to one school of thought over all the rest. They will, in any way they can, tell people this. They adore quoting people who are long dead and whose names they know only because the aforementioned group of people who have gone on, as it were, once said something which caused their contemporaries to say other things. Which is how philosophies are born, it seems. One friend in particular insists that studying philosophy would be very good for me as it would, and I quote, make me “less of a nincompoop”. Dear me.
Now, a sharp fellow who is prone to classifying all and sundry would tell you that the preceding paragraphs are written using a voice that is a couple of notches below formal. Not perfectly formal because the pronoun ‘you’ is a strict no-no, first person pronouns are also best avoided and there is a faint stab at humour toward the end. It is formal nevertheless because there are no contractions nor abbreviations, the language is fairly stodgy and inexpressive, and the sentences are long and say more things than a good, well-bred sentence ought to say.
I, on the other hand, love dogs. How is this relevant? Well, you know those straight- spined butlers who come with great old manors and things, who are likely to care for your hounds? They will train up the said hounds until they are unrecognisable as animals, and become better mannered than you or me. But even those dogs will forget themselves if you give them the slightest indication that you, much to the distaste (and the slightest derisive curling of the upper lip) of all ye lords and ladies, are ready to roll around in the dirt wrestling for a tennis ball which you will not get tired of throwing for the dogs to fetch. That is how you interact with dogs, because just holding out a hand soberly for the dog to put their paw in, is just dead boring.
And one of my aforementioned lawyer friends agrees: being formal is boring. What he did not concede was that being formal is also overrated. I posit the latter statement to be true. Don’t get me wrong, I am not asserting that formality is unnecessary. Formality itself will tell you in fact, that there is a right time and place for anything.
When one sets out to write a scientific article, one must remain objective, impartial, simply stating facts as opposed to judgements. One must also never address the reader directly, nor refer to oneself throughout the work, and use the correct terminology as and when required, because after all, one is a scientist and did not study for many years just to explain every little thing.
When drafting a legal document, one must make sure to correctly define all parties involved in or aﬀected by the same. One must also state clearly the nuances of each sentence and the implications thereof, so as not to cast any doubt as to the meaning. One must also be careful to avoid any incongruities which may later return to bite one in one’s behind because that is the whole point of being so careful and correct.
However, if you (yes, you) want to write a novel of haunting beauty, or maybe a tale of how everything goes hilariously wrong, or even simply a good story, you’ve got to let go of propriety. Because there are such things as unreadable articles and books. I personally find myself very frustrated when eloquence is overused, or when implicit beauty is explicitly announced for reasons unknown, or when, as is now happening, a sentence goes on and on and uses a comma and a conjunction where a full stop ought to be. I do not understand the appeal of many a literary magazine, and feel the need to ask “What’s your point, eh?” every few lines when I happen to read one. It’s really curious that people don’t seem to get that laughter is much more important than primness. They pay no heed to the fact that cold pragmatism and a large vocabulary is much worse than warm familiarity even when it is merely information being exchanged. And above all, they sneer at naïveté when a little innocence is all that is needed for that shiny, sparkling ideal of Happy Coexistence to be brought a little bit closer.
All those schools of thought, phrased correctly and unambiguously are no match for the simple pleasure of reading a novel that is clearly meant to entertain you. Because we learn a lot, a lot of the time and that’s important. But perhaps we sidestep the simple learning given to us by the noted philosophers Me and You, that now and then, being our relaxed unburdened selves is highly conducive to happiness. Or perhaps this is all rubbish and I really am a nincompoop, who needs to be educated. Either way, you can’t sue me. I’d like to see you try. As I said, I have friends who are on the way to high places, and besides, my dog doesn’t care for such formalities as not striking below the belt.