Saturday, November 13, 2010

Scott Nearing

I said the following things when I gave you this assignment:
  1. it may appear to be simple, but it is not;
  2. you need to think about what caused what in order to connect things; and
  3. this kind of biographical note causes the people in my office more trouble than any other kind of writing.
As you know by now, Scott Nearing was a real person. Let me add here that the admiration of young people expressed in the paragraph is also real and is not limited to his adopting "the simple, rural life."

Did anyone look him up to find out about him? That is something my boss often reminds us to do when we're editing biographical notes. He urges us to find out things like major events, major publications, awards and other forms of recognition, and so forth and to use what we discover to edit the note. These awful summaries--I say "awful" because they reduce someone's life, ambitions, ideals, travails, et cetera to a few sentences--are horrible creatures to deal with, especially after being handled by the kind of amateur who wrote the paragraph I gave you.

If you had looked up Nearing, you would have found that "Community Party" should be "Communist Party" and, as I said on Tuesday, he lived to be a hundred years old and had a full, rich life. While you were editing, you also should have asked yourself when "today" was in relation to the exploitation of child labor and the advent of World War I.

Sometimes when we are given a piece of writing that is lifeless and naive, we assume its subject is lifeless and simple. When editing biographical notes, we have to be on guard against the following:
  1. assuming that the writer has given emphasis to the right things--and the degree of emphasis is correct;
  2. assuming that simple declarative sentences following one another do not have links or connections; and
  3. accepting without question phrasing like "He had a public fight against child labor."
As I said in class, we have a fight with our mom, but we use different syntax when writing about a fight for the public good.

P.S. This image is from Americans Who Tell the Truth.

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