Language and Purpose #
There are many different purposes for which we use language, both spoken and written. Often there is an underlying (covert) purpose of which we may not be aware, as well as the apparent (overt) purpose.
Take the incident of two men and a woman in a railway carriage. One man smokes, unaware that it is a non—smoking carriage. After a few minutes the other man turns to the woman and says:
“DO YOU mind if I smoke?”
Let us Look at the purpose here.
Overt purpose — to discover if he may smoke (conscious).
Possible covert purpose
a) to establish contact with and ingratiate himself with the woman
b) to reproach the other man.
Even if he did not intend to reprove the first man, his words may have the effect of doing so.
Writing helps to organise and clarify our perceptions of life and the world. It is a continual process “with many visions and revisions before the taking of a toast and tea”. (Eliot) Narratives are needed to keep the storm of reality from flooding in, and destroying the carpet. Stories tell us about ourselves and can guard our beleaguered reality. Narratives have the effect of forcing an unruly universe into some saving order, some semblance of authoritative record. Time inexorably flows from past to future through what Proust calls the “incurable imperfection in the very essence of the present moment” and where events can be interpreted in as many ways as there are observers. (Geordie Williamson review)
Writers write for a variety of reasons, but mainly to voice their concerns; some write to document the times – chronicle or crystallise experience and distil the essence of history to give it permanency, while others use it as an emotional release of pent up tension and some write for the edification or moral uplifting of the world.
Escapism: Some writers use their writing to escape into a fantasy world of make believe to avoid facing reality. This can be a form of denialism; to veil layers of self-deception.
On the other hand some write to confront reality. Ceridwen Dovey, an émigré from South Africa claims:
“we write to make sense of our world, to understand our origins, our values and influences. We need to take ourselves beyond our limited life experiences. We express ourselves to excavate our past to acknowledge and expiate our complicity with the randomness of life; to dispel wilful amnesia, to deal with or reckon with the secret guilt of our good fortune." She also confesses to a guilty pleasure of writing.
History illustrates that social organisation consists of perpetrators, victims and beneficiaries. Which one of these we are, determines our perspective and motive. We may carry the moral burden of our ancestors; inter-generational trauma. Examples include: beneficiaries of South African Apartheid, Turks, German, or Rawandans dealing with genocide. All British Colonials owe a debt to displaced indigenous occupants. Evidence of vicarious trauma exists for grandchildren of the holocaust and Rawandans volunteering in UN peace keeping forces.
As perpetrators or beneficiaries, we need to find the right words to heal the vicarious guilt and shame of our inherited past. Dovey distinguishes chronic guilt as “what we have done”, and chronic shame as “what we have benefited from”. Dovey exudes a cosmopolitan air with a modest unassuming demeanour demonstrated by this observation:
We write to become free of our cultural markers; not to be a prisoner of them.
The Art of Reading – Geordie Williamson on Ceridwen Dovey
Readers for all their care and insight, scholarly acumen, or critical analysis, exist to the degree they engage with the text.
A book is an artefact of mental commitment and imaginative effort.. Once a reader cracks the spine, they activate the text and assist in completing the creative art.. They initiate the act of communication that brings a text to life.
But the markers of authorial intent, the imprint of the personality that shadows each sentence of the book comes first. The reader arriving afterwards, must justify their presence in the relationship even if just to themselves.
Criticism is the noise we make to try to identify what it is about the book that has moved us and what ideas it has incubated in our minds.
This imbalance is supercharged when it comes to an author of uncommon intelligence or stylistic force.
It takes some chutzpah for Ceridwen Dovey to intuit giants like J.M. Coettzee, theoretically learned and ethically alert.
Men and women who profited by apartheid or any other injustice to the dispossessed, became haunted by the brutal inequity baked into their social compact, but only if they are figures of thoughtfulness and conscience.
Writer’s Aim and Purpose
All other identifiable aspects of writing should be in keeping with the aim of the writer in a particular passage; they can be said to be appropriate to the writing.
The most common examples of a writer’s aim are:
Narrative: to tell a story
Descriptive: to give descriptive information, often in a figurative or comparative manner. ** **
Informative: to give information and fact
Entertaining: to amuse, to provide light-hearted diversion
Satiric: to use humour as a method of ridiculing or exposing wrongs in any area of society; also uses irony and sarcasm.
Evaluative: after examining a number of differing views, to decide on the strongest case; a decision may he based on strength of a particular argument or a number of arguments
Argumentative: to put any number of differing views on one case, idea or situation and to examine the strengths of each view.
Opinionative: to express a view which is strongly and personally held; usually to the exclusion of a differing viewpoint
Persuasive: to try to convince an audience to agree with a particular point of view.
Expressive: to share one’s private, inner emotions; grief, anger, or exuberance.
Emotive: to express emotions; to try to develop a particular emotional response in an audience.
Reflective: to look back on an event or situation a comment on it in a personal way
Didactic (educative): to teach.
Reasons for Writing
One of the primary considerations reader’s focus on is the Purpose of the writer. Why is the composer creating his/her artifact? Let us look at some what some writer’s claim they are:
- Guy Maupassant – a French writer of the 19^(th) C.
To console me, amuse me, make me sad, make me sympathetic, make me dream, make me laugh, make me shudder, make me weep, but above all to make me think!
- Joseph Conrad – Polish/English writer early 20^(th) C.
By the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel… before all to make you SEE.
Salmon Rushdie – Indian quoting South African Andre Brink
”Writer’s responsibility to speak against the silence” Rushdie added that as long as governments lied and journalists told at best half-truths, it was the role of the writer, through fiction, to tell the facts (truth).
George Orwell (Eric Blair) shares four reasons with us:
-Sheer egotism - a desire to be recognised, remembered after death
-Aesthetic enthusiasm – perception and expression of beauty.
-Historical impulse – to see things as they are
-Political purpose – alter people’s idea on the society to strive for.
We write to express our emotions and ideas. Imran Mohammad’s personal account of his resettlement in Chicago, after spending five years in detention on Manus Island, demonstrates the healing power of expression.
“The setting was so inhumane, it broke me,” Imran wrote of Australia’s detention centre on Manus. “I emerged only through the beauty and gift of writing, which gave me motivation and a purpose to wake up every morning… In my quest for freedom, I lost so many of my growing years. I spent them in jail for a crime that does not exist. I have no remorse for this. I have become a person who can see pain, love and beauty, in life and the environment.”
Coleridge’s The Ancient Mariner gets relief by telling his story over and over again to anyone he can get to listen.
Sylvia Plath* used her writing as therapy; by a frank and full admission of her pain she is hoping for some release of tension and an exorcism of the demons that haunt her.
Emily Dickinson’s poems, intensely emotional, yet never dissolving into sentimentality, reveal a troubled soul searching for understanding and acceptance.** **
Another writer who used writing as an attempt to address inner turmoil
is Zelda, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, commenting on the
disintegration of their marriage: *“To right myself, I write myself.”
Writing is an escape into the depths of my imagination.” *
Franz Kafta – describes* “Writing should be an axe for the frozen sea inside us.” *
Kathy Lette** **claims she writes because “it’s cheaper than therapy”.
**Nikki Gemmell: “**writing is my ballast through life’s toss."
Ted Huhges Private Letters indicate his motives and a therapeutic effect:
‘I’m not sure the effect of writing the poems isn’t just too raw’.
at the end of the project:
It was so great, I was sorry I hadn’t done it before. Writing released a bizarre dream life, and I realised how much had been locked up inside me.
“I hope each of us owns the facts of her or his own life,”
6. Fiction attempts to approximate feelings and emotions that defy articulation.
A major conflict has existed between those who write for aesthetic reasons; “art for art’s sake,” and those who feel it should have a more utilitarian or purposeful function, either activism, advocacy, didactic or propagandist.
Why Writing Matters: #
‘Creating’, wrote Albert Camus, ‘is living doubly’. He was thinking about Proust; “the Frenchman’s assiduous assembling of the living details of his world. The carpets, the flowers, the wallpaper patterns, the dresses, the table settings, the jewellery and walking sticks, the teacakes and bed blankets: the sheer clutter of stuff in space and time. His imagination was like some nightmare.”
All art is the act of creating something from nothing; improving on a blank space.
*You can make anything by writing. *C. S. Lewis
The role of the artist is “to stir the imagination, provoke, disturb and enlighten”. Louise Adler
Writers are not here to conform. We are here to challenge. We’re not here to be comfortable—we’re here, really, to shake things up. That’s our job. Jeanette Winterson
*In my writing, as much as I could, I tried to find the good, and praise it. *Alex Haley
*A well-written life is almost as rare as a well-spent one. *Thomas Carlyle
*There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. *W. Somerset Maugham
*Writing is nothing more than a guided dream. *Jorge Luis Borges
*Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else. *Gloria Steinem
*Every writer I know has trouble writing. *Joseph Heller
*To write something you have to risk making a fool of yourself. *Anne Rice
*I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn. *Anne Frank
If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.
*The writer needs to convince the reader to believe the narrative, even though both know that it is fiction. *Margaret Atwood
*The poet’s skill lies in the summoning and semantic energies of words. *Seamus Heaney
It relies on nuances, suggestion the multiples meanings of words and the inferences we all choose to draw.
Most common regrets of the dying: “ I wish I’d had the courage of expressing my feelings”, or “I wish I’d spent more time with my family”.