Every sentence you write should be a sentence that you could read aloud in a room without anyone ceasing to pay attention. We would all be mortified to tell a boring five-minute story at a dinner party, but plenty of people give boring forty-minute lectures in front of even larger numbers of people. Why? Don’t forget that you’re addressing real humans in your work. Humans have limited attention spans, so it’s important to pace your arguments and make sure that your readers remain interested, or even entertained. Bring in the jugglers and jesters now and then as nice interludes between difficult thoughts. Rhetorical failures are true intellectual failures, as Aristotle knew.
Choose good stylistic gurus. We all have favorite thinkers in our respective fields. But do you have favorite stylists? You should. That is to say, there should be a handful of authors you most admire as communicators. I wouldn’t make the case that José Ortega y Gasset is one of the greatest philosophers of all time, but would claim that he’s one of the best philosophical stylists of all time, and from reading his books often at a young age I learned a lot about how to make philosophy clear and communicable to a broader audience than 4 or 5 specialists. And then I met Lingis in person, and he’s a superb stylist, unnaturally gifted in this area. It’s good to have a few people like that. […]
No two people organize their thoughts about the same subject in the same way. What is obvious to you is not obvious to everyone else. People are different. Which leads me to the next point. If you feel like you have nothing original to say, remember the following point from Alphonso Lingis:
“Go outside on a starry night and get a sense for the vastness of the universe. And realize that your fingerprint is enough to make you unique out of all that universe. And then think about how much more complicated your brain is than your fingerprint. Your brain is wired to do something that nothing else in the universe can do. And if you don’t do it, it’s not going to get done.”
Lift your eyes towards the Sun; He is there in that wonderful heart of life and light and splendour. Watch at night the innumerable constellations glittering like so many solemn watchfires of the Eternal in the limitless silence which is no void but throbs with the presence of a single, calm and tremendous existence; see there Orion with his sword and belt shining as he shone to the Aryan fathers ten thousand years ago at the beginning of the Aryan era; Sirius in his splendour, Lyra sailing billions of miles away in the ocean of space. Remember that these innumerable worlds, most of them mightier than our own, are whirling with indescribable speed at the beck of that Ancient of Days whither none but He knoweth, and yet that they are a million times more ancient than your Himalaya, more steady than the roots of your hills and shall so remain until He at his will shakes them off like withered leaves from the eternal tree of the Universe. Imagine the endlessness of Time, realize the boundlessness of Space; and then remember that when these worlds were not, He was, the Same as now, and when these are not, He shall be, still the Same; perceive that beyond Lyra He is and far away in Space where the stars of the Southern Cross cannot be seen, still He is there. And then come back to the Earth and realise who this He is. He is quite near you. See yonder old man who passes near you crouching and bent, with his stick. Do you realise that it is God who is passing? There a child runs laughing in sunlight. Can you hear Him in that laughter? Nay, He is nearer still to you. HE is in you. HE is you. It is yourself that burns yonder millions of miles away in the infinite reaches of Space, that walks with confident steps on the tumbling billows of the ethereal sea; it is you who have set the stars in their places and woven the necklace of the suns not with hands but by that Yoga, that silent actionless impersonal Will which has set you here today listening to yourself in me. Look up, O Child of the ancient Yoga, and be no longer a trembler and a doubter; fear not, doubt not, grieve not; for in your apparent body is One who can create and destroy worlds with a breath. - Sri Aurobindo (An extract from “Whispers of Nature”, edited by Vijay, Published by Sri Aurobindo Society 1988, printed at Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press, Pondicherry) Posted by Sri Aurobindo Society, Singapore at 8:49 PM Thursday, April 2, 2009