Thursday, August 2, 2012

What's destroying our productivity this week?

Posted By on 08.02.12 at 03:40 PM

Evelyn_Saenz.jpg
  • Evelyn Saenz
I'll tell you what: this fucking Writer's Diet website, which was linked to in a recent New York Times blog post about "zombie nouns," adjectives or verbs or whatever that become nouns with the addition of suffixes ("-ism," "-ation," etc). The author, Helen Sword, mentions that academics love this practice especially, and I was reminded of the time I attempted to read, for recreation, Jose Esteban Munoz's book Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (nouns can become zombie nouns too, Sword notes, with the addition of a stupid suffix) but did not actually make it past the first paragraph. Here's why: "Queerness is an ideality . . . We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality." And so on—normal, intelligible, human-being words rendered not changed a bit, just with more annoyingality.

The point is: sure, that shit sucks. What's destroying our productivity this week is Sword's suggested antidote, the Writer's Diet website, into which one puts a chunk of one's writing and is coldly adjudged, by a fucking computer, on a scale of "lean" to "flabby" to "heart attack territory." The computer pointed out to me how fond I is of the word "is" and its relatives. In turn I inputted the first two paragraphs of Joan Didion's essay "Goodbye to All That," and found the computer claiming that Saint Joan, too, wouldn't be harmed by a little more time on the linguistic treadmill. "Flabby," it said. I felt vindicated by this—I made some "How do you like that!"-style gestures toward my monitor—but the computer didn't appear shamed. Anyway I've been doing this all week: offering a paragraph here and there for judgment and then feeling bad at the results. (My editor, bless her heart, consoled me that she thought the test was "kinda bullshit.") Then putting other people's writing into it and feeling a little better, or worse, depending. Rinse, repeat. Hell hath no fury like a passive-voice overuser scorned.

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