Thursday, April 23, 2009

Writing and Intellect

I initially discovered and acknowledged this idea while reading Evolutionary Psychology - A Beginner's Guide by Robin Dunbar, et al. It is a profound insight, and sheds a great deal of light on why writing is so hard, and why people are generally disinclined to write about an issue rather; they find it easier to talk about it.

In essence, writing requires a far greater degree of consideration of others, and how the words will be perceived and interpreted, than speaking, which is usually spontaneous and can bear a quick correction if there be a mistaken impression.

This idea is not central to the whole book. The book is actually about various aspects of our brain and our mind, and while talking about the development of intentionality in children, the authors touch upon writing. Fictional writing, according to the writers, is a hugely demanding task since in addition to calculating how the reader will perceive the writing, now there are various intentional characters in the writing itself who have to respond to each other (within the fiction), and who have to be understood by the reader.

Writing intended for the public needs to stand on its merits for many months and years. If the writing be self-serving (e.g. a journal, or a diary) it is generally not that good (though it can serve a therapeutic and clarifying purpose). When one writes for the general public, one has to gauge their comprehension abilities, their understanding of certain concepts and cultural artifacts. When one is trying to write for a broad audience, the effort is likewise harder and the writing has to be even more self-sufficient, without a cultural bias.

The skill in writing is therefore directly linked with an intelligence which can gauge others' objections in one's intellect and preempt them while writing. It is therefore directly linked with a sophisticated apparatus for estimating how humans perceive other humans and their words. It is not for nothing that great dialogues require the greatest minds. Plato's dialogues, the written dialogues of Leibniz with Clarke, and in general, the tradition of written debate requires a degree of intelligence which is not all that common. Most of us want to say our piece and quit the scene.

I find the written tradition and the tradition for dialogue much more evolved, advanced and sophisticated in the west, whereas in India (and other Asian countries), the oral tradition and authoritarian writing (brooking no dialogue) is more common.

What do you think?


dadi ma ke kissey kahani said...

is it possible for you to give a label to the post, so that locating it on the blog is easier even when you have written other blog entries. I will take time to reply but may find it difficult to locate later.


Harmanjit Singh said...

Applied the label "Misc" to posts without a label, including this one.

dadi ma ke kissey kahani said...

Hello Harmanjit

Historically ( since you mentioned Plato) Indian subcontinent has had a rich tradition of, both, written and oral dialogues. While Plato gained currency in west ( as well as east through colonization) as Europeans put a lot of premium on Geek learning.

But this requires tracing of history which i may attempt at another time, in another avatar with precise facts and names of writers as evidence.

As of now, the lack of writing as a method of communication and popular medium may be directly linked to:

a. poor literacy rate
b. invasion of mass media dislodging reading habits
c. patriarchal/feudal/colonized mind(still)

which discourages propagation of written dialogue or writing as such. It does not help that literates have a wide variety in vernacular and English languages, hence the readership gets divided.

Dialogue as a method of communication, teaching, public debate is past its best days in Indian Subcontinent. However, Internet mailing lists are reviving this tradition to some degree.

Yes, over all, west seem to have more logical sensibilities and greater tolerance and capacity for dialogue at present. Their is a greater propensity among south Asians to follow, believe and to take quick offense, all of which discourage dialogue or an urge for it.

I am bidding farewell to this avatar on internet, and i must compliment you for maintaining excellent blog and creating an environ of dialogue on your blog. I have enjoyed reading and responding!

best of luck.

Dadi ma

Harmanjit Singh said...

NY Times today has an article about this aspect of literature:

Surbhi Goel said...

The writer in the NY times article has pointed out correctly. But syllabuses of English Departments (in a country like India as well) keep scope for psychoanalytical theories, both in literature and language. It is one of the most effective way of accessing the 'make-up' of the characters and why they act the way they act. And authors like Lawrence have provided detailed preface to their fictional work to illustrate and explain these aspects. JANE EYRE can only be fully understood when cognitive theories are applied to it. Similarly,Browning's 'The Last Duchess' is a text book study of a murder's mind.

the trouble is that despite such an extensive learning in this area, students and teachers of english departments do not really go beyond the book learning. It is like, every one recites Bulle Shah but no one really catches his meaning:

thank you for the article, forwarding it to many students/teachers of literature.