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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hilarious article on excessive signposting

here. Dyer, the author of the essay, brilliantly mimics Fried's signposting as he describes it:
What the reader discovers, however, is that Fried will continue to announce what he’s about to do right to the end: “Later on in this book I shall examine . . . ”; “I shall discuss both of these after considering . . . ”; “I shall also be relating. . . . ” Fried’s brilliance, however, is that in spite of all the time spent looking ahead and harking back he also — and it’s this that I want to emphasize here — finds the time to tell you what he’s doing now, as he’s doing it: “But again I ask . . . ” ; “Let me try to clarify matters by noting . . . ”; “What I want to call attention to. . . . ” But that’s not all: the touch of genius is that on top of everything else he somehow manages to tell you what he is not doing (“I am not claiming that . . . ”), what he has not done (“What I have not said . . . ”) and what he is not going to do (“This is not the place for . . . ”). On occasions he combines several of these tropes in dazzling permutations like the negative- implied- forward and the double- backward — “So far I have said nothing in this conclusion about Barthes’s ‘Camera Lucida,’ which in Chapter 4 I interpreted as a consistently antitheatrical text even as I also suggested . . . ” — before reverting, a paragraph later, to the tense endeavor of the present (i.e., telling us what he’s still got to do): “One further aspect of Barthes’s text remains to be dealt with.” There is, I would observe here, a kind of zero-sum perfection about the way the theatricality of the flamboyant, future- oriented sign- posting is matched by all the retrospection. The depths of self- absorption that makes this possible are hard to fathom.


Vance Maverick said...

Thanks for the pointer. I have attempted to read the book under review, and it is indeed as bad as Dyer says.

Dyer himself, at least in the long form, is no classical stylist. His Lawrence book is entertaining page by page, but you gradually realize that you're not going to learn much about Lawrence from it. It's a blessing that what you're given instead is anecdotes of Dyer's travels rather than an infinite regress of signposts, but only a relative blessing.

Jonathan said...

I've struggled through other books of Fried's. This particular review strengthens my resolution to avoid signposting in my own work. Maybe Dyer himself will be less metadiscursive in the future.

Clarissa said...

A practical question: in an introduction to a book, should one say "In Chapter I I will demonstrate. . . Chapter II will talk about", etc.?

Everybody seems to do that. Should I?

Jonathan said...

Good question. There is no need for heavy signposting even in an introduction. Use as light a touch as you can get away with and still tell the reader what you are going to do.

Andrew Shields said...

As you put it in a comment recently, Jonathan, it's harder to write well when you signpost.