January 8, 2010

The Art of Writing

Note: This entry is designed to gather into one place the aphorisms in which Gómez Dávila mentions the art of writing. Some related aphorisms may be found under the label "language."

The reader will not find aphorisms in these pages.
My brief sentences are the dots of color in a pointillist painting. (#2)

What I say here will seem trivial to whoever does not know everything to which I allude. (#1,474)

Allusion is the only way to express what is intimate without distorting it. (#2,358)

The modern writer forgets that only the allusion to the gestures of love captures its essence. (#2,581)

Certain ideas are only clear when formulated, but others are only clear when alluded to. (#2,741)

Only he who suggests more than what he expresses can be reread. (#2,771)

Many people believe that a laconic statement is dogmatic and judge the generosity of an intelligence by the verbosity of its prose. (#865)

Phrases are pebbles that the writer tosses into the reader’s soul.
The diameter of the concentric waves they displace depends on the dimensions of the pond. (#43)

The definition locates the object, but only the description captures it. (#1,755)

The writer arranges for syntax to return to thought the simplicity which words take away. (#59)

Perfect prose is prose which the ingenuous reader does not notice is well written. (#2,902)

Write concisely, so as to finish before making the reader sick. (#82)

A sentence should be hard like a rock and should shake like a branch. (#498)

A phrase should ruffle its wings like a falcon in captivity. (#2,511)

The writer who has not tortured his sentences tortures his reader. (#990)

Being common and customary without being predictable is the secret of good prose. (#1,651)

Whoever stuffs his text full of idiomatic expressions creates linguistic folklore for literary tourists. (#2,392)

Avoid repeating a word is the favorite rule of rhetoric of those who do not know how to write. (#2,439)

He who is not aware that two opposite adjectives simultaneously qualify every object should not speak of anything. (#95)

Prolixity is not an excess of words but a dearth of ideas. (#111)

No writer has ever been born who did not write too much. (#2,711)

Literature does not die because nobody writes, but when everybody writes. (#1,256)

Political activity ceases to tempt the intelligent writer, when he finally understands that there is no intelligent text that will succeed in ousting even a small-town mayor. (#2,812)

Journalists and politicians do not know how to distinguish between the development of an idea and the lengthening of a sentence. (#884)

Eloquence is the child of presumption. (#125)

Clarity is the virtue of a man who does not distrust what he says. (#1,956)

To cause confusion, ambiguity is more than enough; clarity suffices. (#2,146)

The fewer adjectives we waste, the more difficult it is to lie. (#1,663)

Literary skill consists in keeping a phrase at the right temperature. (#1,885)

The professorial tone is not characteristic of one who knows, but of one who doubts. (#227)

Words are born among the people, flourish among writers, and die in the mouth of the middle class. (#2,898)

Writing would be easy if the same phrase did not appear alternately, depending on the day and the hour, mediocre and excellent. (#142)

If words do not replace anything, only they complete everything. (#1,737)

When we say that words transfigure, the fool mistakenly thinks that they adulterate. (#1,875)

Triviality is the price of communication. (#187)

Speech was given to man not to deceive, but to deceive himself. (#198)

Journalism is writing exclusively for others. (#723)

To write honestly for the rest, one must write fundamentally for oneself. (#2,507)

We who say what we think, without precaution or reticence, cannot be taken advantage of even by those who think like we do. (#1,943)

When he believes he says what he wants, the writer only says what he can. (#246)

The writer cannot pride himself on the successes he attains, but on the mistakes he avoids. (#926)

The writer who does not offer intellectual trifles for sale cannot complain of his limited success. (#1,156)

A genuine vocation leads the writer to write only for himself: first out of pride, then out of humility. (#415)

Writing is the only way to distance oneself from the century in which it was one’s lot to be born. (#2,988)

To write for posterity is not to worry whether they will read us tomorrow.
It is to aspire to a certain quality of writing.
Even when no one reads us. (#1,626)

I do not belong to a world that is passing away.
I prolong and transmit a truth that does not die. (#1,627)

My convictions are the same as those of an old woman praying in the corner of a church. (#2,794)

The writer should be only his own spokesman. (#1,239)

The first step of wisdom is to admit, with good humor, that our ideas have no reason to interest anybody. (#427)

Resistance is futile when everything in the world is conspiring to destroy what we admire.
We are always left, however, with an incorruptible soul, so that we might contemplate, judge, and disdain. (#510)

Nobody thinks seriously as long as originality matters to him. (#287)

Whoever cites an author shows that he was incapable of assimilating him. (#669)

A man does not communicate with another man except when the one writes in his solitude and the other reads him in his own.
Conversations are either a diversion, a swindle, or a fencing match. (#2,291)

The writer who does not insist on convincing us wastes less of our time, and sometimes even convinces us. (#2,590)

In unremarkable texts we soon trip on phrases that penetrate into us, as if a sword has been thrust into us up to the hilt. (#2,834)

We eventually understand the man who knows what he is saying, no matter how complicated what it is he is saying.
But it is impossible to understand the man who merely imagines that he knows [what he is saying]. (#963)

Only in what he manages to express nobly does man grasp profound truths. (#1,871)

Nothing is so important that it does not matter how it is written. (#2,682)

Literature is not a psychological drug, but a complex means of communication for saying complex things.
A melodramatic or cacophonous text, besides being ugly, is false. (#1,959)

The writer never confesses to anything except what fashion authorizes. (#548)

A ridiculous sense of shame will not allow the intelligent writer today to deal with anything but obscene topics.
But since he learned not to be ashamed of anything, he should not be ashamed of decent sentiments. (#1,664)

When a language is undergoing corruption, its speakers believe it is being brought up to date.
In the youthfulness of contemporary prose there are views of carcasses. (#1,653)

The virtual admirer is what corrupts prose. (#696)

An illustrious author is not someone whom many people read, but someone whom many people believe they have read. (#1,205)

To live with lucidity a simple, quiet, discreet life among intelligent books, loving a few beings. (#497)

Words arrive one day in the hands of a patient writer like flocks of doves. (#2,518)

The traditional commonplace scandalizes modern man.
The most subversive book in our time would be a compendium of old proverbs. (#404)

I have no pretensions to originality: the commonplace, if it is old, will do for me. (#2,692)

A simple comma at times distinguishes a trivial remark from an idea. (#633)

A language's attrition is faster, and the civilization that rests on it more fragile, when grammatical pedantry is forgotten.
Civilizations are periods of standard grammar. (#1,825)

The only indices of civilization are the clarity, lucidity, order, good manners of everyday prose. (#2,636)

When we think that a writer’s “soul” interests us, it is merely because we are calling his talent “soul.” (#675)

A writer’s biographers tend to eliminate the person in order to occupy themselves with his insignificant life. (#968)

Without dignity, without sobriety, without refined manners, there is no prose that fully satisfies.
We demand of the book we read not just talent, but also good breeding. (#643)

The hand that has not learned how to caress does not know how to write. (#1,728)

It is not just to reproach this century’s writers for their bad taste when the very notion of taste has perished. (#1,123)

The imbecile is betrayed less by what he says than by his diction. (#2,695)

Confusion is the normal result of a dialogue.
Except when a single author invents it. (#939)

To understand a text, one must walk around it slowly, since no one gets in except through invisible posterns. (#2,096)

The only pretension I have is that of not having written a linear book, but a concentric book. (#2,574)

The fragment is the medium of expression of one who has learned that man lives among fragments. (#2,289)

The continuous discourse tends to conceal the breaks within being.
The fragment is the expression of honest thought. (#2,554)

I distrust the system deliberately constructed by thought; I trust in the one that results from the pattern of its footprints. (#1,924)

To accuse the aphorism of expressing only part of the truth is tantamount to supposing that a verbose discourse can express all of it. (#2,351)

The noblest things on earth may not exist except in the words that evoke them.
But it is enough that they be there for them to be. (#972)

When the desire for other places, other centuries, awakens in us, it is not really in this or that time, in this or that country, where we desire to live, but in the very phrases of the writer who knew how to speak to us of that country or that time. (#983)

The writer’s talent lies not in describing a person, a landscape, or a scene, but in making us believe he did. (#1,157)

The voice that seduces us is not the voice with which the writer is born, but the one which is born from the encounter of his talent with his language.
The mysterious person produced by his unmistakable use of language. (#1,660)

Words are the true adventures of the authentic writer. (#2,705)

A writer should know that only a few of those who look at him will actually see him. (#2,009)

We call the beauty of a language the skill with which some write it. (#1,395)

The writer invites us to understand his language, not to translate it into the language of our equivalencies. (#1,625)

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