I hasten to add: there are some people out there who write very well and I am really glad they do. Haruki Murakami. Philip Roth. I could name literally hundreds more. But the rest? Like little ticker-machines producing airribbons of language in a continuous chattering stream, the invisible snake-like wordribbons evaporating into a coffee-scented breeze around our chests; horribly, a great many of these coils are translated into print and then pasted across our visors.
A lot of the people who write shit and say shit should just be shot, and twitter would largely determine who would be first against the wall. But there are some people who are really annoying even if you think that maybe over a beer or if they were giving you a massage, you might quite like them. There's Hugh Muir over at the Guardian today; I don't know much about Hugh Muir; he seems like a good bloke, although with his rather phlegmatic article today and its ham-handed, glib references to comedy, he should go by the moniker "Bad Hugh Muir".
(I googled this; nobody seems to have made this joke before? Christ . . . Christ! What sort of monster must he be that nobody has dared call him . . . Hughmuirless? Or maybe people will whisper it ("Hey now, he's a bit . . . hughmuirless." "Shhhh!") but are scared to write it? Perhaps he's some sort of SAS-Clive Owen figure: ruthless, righteous, determined to avenge any insults, as tough as the nails crapped out by a Welshman who wanted a little light snack. Or maybe it's not a matter of fear; maybe it's because he is too precious, too beloved? . . . . Or did he die? Am I joking about a man writing from the beyond the grave, about whom nobody would be so crass as to make a joke?)
Anyway, there are a couple really important lessons we can learn as Hugh Muir vents his spleen.
1) When you write, it is quite possible to write nothing at all:
If someone hasn't taken the handbrake off – facilitating a slow but steady decline towards grouchiness and intolerance and not a little meanness – it certainly feels like it.
"If someone hasn't taken the handbrake off . . . it certainly feels like it." That doesn't actually mean anything. And I'm sure the Cliche Expert would, ahem, have a field day with "slow but steady" and "not a little"; and, mechanically, does taking a handbrake off actually facilitate a decline? Really, this paragraph is perfect journalistic puff: profoundly expressionistic and fundamentally preverbal, rather like having somebody fart in your face and then turn to you with an inquiring glance, "Well?"
Well what, exactly?
2) When you write, you can evoke an expert in something that may have some sort of vague relevance to whatever it is you're talking about (any sort of professor of psychology would do, regardless of the actual topic), who actually admits that he is not an expert in what you're talking about, and can turn this multiply-layered lack of expertise into something that suddenly sounds like expertise by groping for a historical reference that manages to do two things at once: prove that the entire point you're making is itself a gnarled, hoary stump of an opinion that may have been freshly-sprouted and newly-minted about two millenia ago, and turn this into the nostalgia you're touting. In other words, you evoke a pseudo-Dickens figure to shill the same old nostalgic tripe about things getting worse is a kind of warm-hearted sentimentality, like Christmas carols.
Now, if you think that this whole preceding paragraph includes multiple diverse claims, I promise you: the same paragraph could be written about dozens, and maybe hundreds, of the editorials groaned out through the puckered wordholes of pundits across the land.
3) Although this does happen to be specifically relevant to Hugh Muir's melancholic article about Britain today, I would suggest that every piece of writing should commence under a large photograph of John Terry shouting what looks to be the "ack" in "Black Cunt". I have pasted the photograph heading Hugh Muir's piece below:
4) I have made three arguments so far about other people's writing: their writing can be meaningless; it can be misleading; a picture of John Terry shouting "Ack" is worth a million of their words.
But the last thing that needs to be said is a single word of its own: poetry. Like Joyce before him, Hugh Muir bears the sanguine knowledge that a concatenation of cliches has its own poetry; the final paragraph to his article is a small modernist masterpiece, not so much a mental wordpicture as a Yuletide paean to national salvation through banality, its heritage rooted firmly in one of D.H. Lawrence's most famous poems:
And that is a point worth ending on. For even if things do seem to be unravelling a bit, this is a still a small island nation that strives, with some success, to fuse the destinies of people who have been here for hundreds of years with those of people who arrived yesterday. People with all sorts of complexions, all kinds of lifestyles; people with strong religious beliefs, people with none. We live together in cities, not in silos. We tend not to pry, but, if needed, we try to help. We try to live and let live. There are problems – the events of a turbulent summer and all we learned from those who were involved show that. There are serious challenges. But given the potential for division and societal dysfunction, the record is pretty good. It is right to take stock, and hopefully we will return to equilibrium, emerging a little less cranky. Still, the UK with the handbrake off remains a better place to be than many others with the handbrake firmly engaged.
*slow clap . . .
*slow clap . . .
*slow clap . . .
*someone else joins in, slow clap
*slow clapping, more joining in
*slow clapping, getting louder
*slow clapping, getting faster
*loud hard clapping
*loud whoops and cheers
*more cheers and laughter
*Joyously insert Love Actually into arse