Popular Posts

23 April 2010

One hundred and forty characters

Though I reluctantly participate in some forms of social networking I have not yet found love for Twitter.  I find it flagrantly absurd to consider that one’s every waking moment must be logged for all to consume, replete with asterisks, pound signs and asperands.  Furthermore, I find it illogical and impossible that anyone believes that they can effectively express oneself with any sense of clarity and completeness using only one-hundred and forty characters.
One-hundred and forty characters.  An arbitrary length determined by some mobile phone engineer as perfectly sufficient for human communication via text and adopted by an entire online community of people attempting to find meaning by narrating and documenting their meaninglessness - in one hundred and forty characters or less.  
I have only recently learned to text but I’m not good at it.  At all.  Even now that I have a phone with an actual miniature keyboard.  And it’s not only that the keyboard is too small even for those of lilliputian dimensions.  It’s because I don’t know how to say things succinctly. I once used the word “superfluous” in a text.  And I didn’t do it ironically. 
You might write, “I saw a cat.”  I would write,  “I glimpsed a creature of the feline persuasion.”
You might write, “There’s rain on the window.”  I would write, “I gather from the rivulets of liquid slinking like new tadpoles from the top of my window to the bottom that it is raining outside.”
You might describe someone as uptight.  I would describe that same person as so stiff and formal that Roman statuary break the bonds of permanent paralysis in stone to cover their exposed parts when she walked by.
You might describe someone as being in a hurry.  I would say they were moving in a manner suggesting a full bladder combined with the realization that they left the iron plugged in and placed squarely on a linen shirt.
Ernest Hemingway would spit upon my copy and then pour a stiff drink.  He wrote The Old Man and the Sea.  I would have written The Venerable Gentleman and the Briny Waves. No flowery adjectives for Hemingway; piss on them.  Make it short.  Make it mean something without really saying anything.
For sale: baby shoes, never used.
Hemingway would have made one hell of a Tweeter, though it is likely he would have refused to participate, citing the relentless banality of the world chronicled there.
And as far as authors go, I prefer the master of British wit, P.G. Wodehouse, to Hemingway, hands down.  After all, where Hemingway said, “There’s nothing to writing.  All you do is sit at a typewriter and bleed,” Wodehouse said, “I just sit at a typewriter and curse a bit.”  No contest.
In Wodehouse, one is not simply “fat.”  One is “a tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say 'when!'” Or one fits into the “biggest armchair as if it had been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing armchairs tight about the hips that season.”
Wodehouse has a way with words that I admire.  That I emulate.  A way with words to which I aspire.  Wodehouse is a master of the kind of descriptive prose I adore.  The elegant insult.  The turn of phrase. 
One of my favorite Wodehouse-ian moments appears in Right, Ho Jeeves! - an exchange of telegrams between Bertie Wooster and his Aunt Dahlia which engages the reader in their relationship whilst simultaneously lampooning the telegram's penchant for minimalism, which makes it incapable of fully functioning as a medium of true communication.

Come at once.  Travers.
Perplexed.  Explain.  Bertie.
What on earth is there to be perplexed about, ass?  Come at once.  Travers.
How do you mean come at once?  Regards.  Bertie.
I mean come at once, you maddening half-wit.  What did you think I meant?  Come at once or expect an aunt’s curse first post tomorrow.  Love.  Travers.
When you say “Come” do you mean “Come to Brinkley Court?”  And when you say “At once” do you mean “At once?”  Fogged.  At a loss.  All the best.  Bertie
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.  It doesn’t matter whether you understand or not.  You just come at once, as I tell you, and for heaven’s sake stop this backchat.  Do you think I am made of money that I can afford to send you telegrams every ten minutes?  Stop being a fathead and come immediately.  Love.  Travers.

Suffice it to say, Bertie doesn’t come.  But he sends a friend; Gussie Fink-Nottle.  The aunt unleashes, again in telegram form;

Am taking legal advice to ascertain whether strangling an idiot nephew counts as murder.  If it doesn’t, look out for yourself.  Consider your conduct frozen limit.  What do you mean by planting your loathsome friends on me like this?  Do you think Brinkley court is a leper colony or what is it?  Who is this Spink-Bottle?   Love.  Travers.
Not Bottle.  Nottle.  Regards, Bertie.
Well, this friend of yours has got here, and I must say that for a friend of yours he seems less sub-human than I expected.  A bit of a pop-eyed bleater, but on the whole clean and civil, and certainly most informative about newts.  Am considering arranging a series of lectures for him in neighbourhood.  All the same, I like your nerve using my house as a summer-hotel resort and shall have much to say to you on the subject when you come down.  Expect you the thirtieth.  Bring spats.  Love.  Travers.
On consulting engagement book find it impossible come Brinkley Court.  Deeply regret. Toodle-oo.  Bertie.
Oh, so it’s like that, is it?  You and your engagement book, indeed.  Deeply regret my foot.  Let me tell you, my lad, that you will regret it a jolly sight more deeply if you don’t come down.  If you imagine for one moment that you are going to get out of distributing those prizes you are very much mistaken.  Deeply regret Brinkley Court hundred miles from London as unable to hit you with a brick.  Love. Travers.
No, but dash it, listen.  Honestly, you don’t want me.  Get Fink-Nottle distribute prizes.  A born distributor, who will do you credit.  Confidently anticipate Augustus Fink-Nottle as Master of Revels on thirty-first would make a genuine sensation.  Do not miss this great chance, which may never occur again.  Tinkerty-tonk.  Bertie.
Well, all right.  Something in what you say, I suppose.  Consider you treacherous worm and contemptible, spineless cowardy custard, but have booked Spink-Bottle.  Stay where you are, then, and I hope you get run over by an omnibus.  Love.  Travers.

I shudder to think what Wodehouse would make of our sound-bite society.   I also wish like hell he were still around; Bertie Wooster and Aunt Dahlia could have some marvelous tiffs via Twitter.

DTravers  @WoosterB regret to inform you that Spink-Bottle unable to fulfill required duty.  Skype at once.
WoosterB @DTravers Skype down.  Connection not functional.  Jeeves on the case.  #verygoodjeeves
DTravers @WoosterB Poppycock. If you can twat, you can skype. Need immediate assistance w/Spink-Bottle’s newts  #sheturnedmeinto
WoosterB @DTravers Could not believe you not even if I knew you were telling the truth. #whatho.  
DTravers @WoosterB  Abysmal chump. It is young men like you who make a person with the future of the race at heart despair #uselessnephew

And so on.  Of course, with only one hundred and forty characters the insults are less poetic.   And less epic.  And much less amusing.   Difficult to find meaning in a sea of # and @ and /.
Ergo, I embrace words. And rococo description.  And redundant adjectives.  With my writing, I shall rebel against an entire culture learning to express itself in the most abridged way possible.  I refuse to abbreviate.  I spurn text-speak.  Categorically.  And emphatically.
And I think even Hemingway would have shuddered at lol, omg, and “you” replaced with u.
BTW?  7,806 characters: the equivalent of about 56 tweets.  #verbose.