Thursday, 16 July 2020

Open Letters Are A Graveyard of Prose


Graeme Wood enumerates the sins of the open letter. My favourite? They are badly written.
Open letters tend to be composed inclusively, so as many people as possible will sign them. They can bear no traces of their individual authors, and the easiest way to scrub those traces is to write in a numbing, anonymized style, free of idiosyncrasy and wit. (If you seek idiosyncrasy and wit, read the articles that my Atlantic colleagues who signed the letter write under their own names.) This process deadens the language, and the result in the case of the Harper’s letter is a graveyard of prose, without a single pungent phrase or sentence worthy of quotation. Humor is especially forbidden. Martin Amis signed the letter, but I have read enough Amis to know he would never have written that letter if he thought that on some literary Judgment Day he would be called before God to answer alone for its style.

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