Blog

I want to write like Edward Said

On Late Style by Edward Said

I just talked to a group of PhD students about style. The reading had been from On Late Style.  “Don’t try to write like Edward Said,” I said. “A thesis is ugly but functional,” I said.

But I left thinking, “Fuck this. I want to try to write like Edward Said. I want to write beautiful prose. I want to inspire, not footnote.”

I am not for a moment arguing that people can’t inspire through meticulously crafted qualitative research; nor that footnotes and stylish academic writing need to be antithetical (Chris Bigum @cj13 reminded me of Helen Sword’s “delightful book on stylish academic writing‘).  Instead I’m thinking about writing for research outputs vs writing belles lettres

I love reading Edward Said’s writing. I don’t think he’s always right, but his thinking always spurs my own. His writing, therefore, is both inspiring and generative.

That’s what I want to do. I want to think in new ways about Proust and Britten and Strauss and Adorno. I want to share those thoughts with others. I want to change the way other people think and write. I want to do it in prose that is readable, exciting, pleasurable.

I want to write work that depends on other thinkers, that reflects on other writers. But I want to do that through extended (but perhaps tangential) reflection; not through a citation.

I know how to write good academic prose. I know prose that conforms to the scholarly conventions, that clearly sets out an argument, provides evidence, that is well edited and fits within the field.

But today, and many days, that is not what I want to write. I feel I ought to. For my career it would make sense for me to. But I’d rather blog, or write poetry, or reflect on Beethoven and Said and human beings. The human beings I meet who are not research subjects. The conversations I have that are not interviews. The things I intuit, which are not known nor knowable, not quantifiable or qualitable, but are often true, or helpful, or right.

Again, there are reasons, important ethical reasons, why this is problematic. There are structural reasons why this is problematic. There are institutional and disciplinary reasons why this is problematic. I know. But I also know what my heart wants.

SHARE
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on facebook

Succeeding in a Research Higher Degree

Doing a Research Higher Degree (like a PhD) is hard, but lots of people have succeeded and you can too. It’s easier if you understand how it works, this blog gives you the insider view.

Contact

Related Posts

What to do on your weekend

So one issue with trying to take a break is that we get so much advice on how to work and very little realistic advice on what to do when we rest. Most rest advice that we do get, is aspirational. Here’s my regular, realistic insider’s view.

Read More

So what? Why does your thesis matter?

It’s a typical piece of advice to give authors of articles and theses, that you need to explain the ‘so what?’ of your contribution. But in English you can use this phrase in two very distinct ways depending on how you say it.

Read More

Get the latest blog posts