Speaking of trying not to write badly, Anton sent me Section 51 of Part II of Adorno’s 1945 Minima Moralia translated into English. Here is some, clumsily cut up by me:

First word of caution for authors: check every text, every fragment, and every line to see if the central motif presents itself clearly enough.

One should never stint on deletions. Length doesn’t matter and the fear that there isn’t enough there is childish. One shouldn’t consider anything worth preserving, just because it’s written down.

The distinction between the desire to write with a density appropriate to the depth of the object, and the temptation for the abstruse and pretentious sloppiness, is not automatic: a mistrustful insistence is always healthy. Precisely those who wish to make no concession to the stupidity of common sense must guard themselves against stylistically draping together thoughts which are themselves to be convicted of banality.

The author should make no distinction between beautiful and factual [sachlichem: factual, objective, realistic] expression. One should neither entrust this distinction to concerned critics, nor tolerate it in oneself. If one succeeds in completely saying what one means, then it is beautiful.

Properly worked texts are like spider webs: hermetic, concentric, transparent, well-joined and fastened. They draw everything into themselves, whatever crawls and flies. […] It vouchsafes its relationship to the object, as soon as other objects crystallize around it. In the light that it sheds on its determinate object, others begin to gleam.


Authors settle into their texts like home-dwellers. Just as one creates disorder by lugging papers, books, pencils and documents from one room to another, so too does one comport oneself with thoughts. They become pieces of furniture, on which one sits down, feeling at ease or annoyed. One strokes them tenderly, scuffs them up, jumbles them up, moves them around, trashes them. To those who no longer have a homeland, writing becomes home. And therein one unavoidably generates, just like the family, all manner of household litter and junk. But one no longer has a shed, and it is not at all easy to separate oneself from cast-offs. So one pushes them to and fro, and in the end runs the risk of filling up the page with them. The necessity to harden oneself against pity for oneself includes the technical necessity, to counter the diminution of intellectual tension with the most extreme watchfulness, and to eliminate anything which forms on the work like a crust or runs on mechanically, which perhaps at an earlier stage produced, like gossip, the warm atmosphere which enabled it to grow, but which now remains fusty and stale. In the end, authors are not even allowed to be home in their writing.

This last point makes me want to write parodies of my writing. There are so many phases I’ve been through in writing, of using certain tones, and certain words, and avoiding certain sounds and words – and I must be in another phase now, which once again I won’t be able to identify until I’m through it. I read a brilliant and horrific parody by Doris Lessing in The Golden Notebook (at least I hope it was a parody. It must have been.) with phrases like “store-betrayed to the commerce-lust” and “I go to the city now to the gunmetal-writhing-grey streets” (1962:435), which get worse and worse until they culminate in:

I go on fated feet and the dust-echoes are swamp-dark in the loom of time. I got past the banana tree and red snakes of loving hatred are singing after me: Go, man, go, for vengeance to the city. And the moon on the banana leaves is crimson, singing Frrrr, frr, scream, cry and croon, oh red is my pain, crimson my twining pain, oh red and crimson are dripping the moon-echoing leaves of my hate. (435)

It’s all the hyphenated words that get me. Reading Lessing’s pastiche for the first time was excruciating because I know I went through a phase of thinking that constructing new hyphenated words was a great thing to do.

And Adorno’s description of crusts and mechanical workings developing and lingering until they’re fusty and stale makes me wonder what other habits there are in the writing I do, which need to be checked. I think it would do me some good, in a quiet moment, to try and hunt some out and run them to the ground in parodies.