The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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The Inversion of Language

An interesting phenomena which emerged from the Rove era is what I call the inversion of language. Of course, it’s been with us since the dawn of civilization, but the Rovian mind has added a couple of new twists. Let’s take the word “fascism,” for example. In the minds of some, this now means anyone who espouses not attacking one of our declared enemies. That is, it has become synonymous with appeasement. This is a very neat trick, which all lovers of language should appreciate. If you take one thing (fascism) and make it mean another (appeasement), the original meaning of the word is muddied and eventually lost. I don’t think Merriam-Webster will add this new definition to their dictionary just yet, do you? (If they do, of course, we’re in big trouble.)

Are we sliding toward fascism? Yes, say those on the left, and they point out the terrible parallels with historically fascist regimes (totalitarian leadership, stolen elections, control of the press, propaganda being dispensed by the government, uncontrolled storm troopers, etc.). Yes, say those on the right, and they point out how liberal lunatics can’t see the danger presented by fanatics and terrorists who are out to destroy us.

It’s a dangerous game to play–not just with language, but with political reality. The question, the deep and abiding question for all of us, is whether this schism is temporary or permanent.

December 23, 2007   Comments Off on The Inversion of Language


No matter what you think about Stephen King’s work, his book On Writing is interesting and worth reading. Much of it has stayed with me, though I admit I’m not smart or talented enough to always follow his advice. His idea of digging in the archaeological pit for as many of the bone fragments as possible is a nice analogy for getting everything you can out of a scene, paragraph, or sentence. His belief that writers are born and not made is deflating. You can go from mediocre to good, if you work really hard at it, he says, but not from good to great. Ah well. One piece of advice I found particularly compelling concerned adverbs. He hates them and uses them only as a last resort. If you think about it for a moment, you’ll see why. They add emphasis, mostly hackneyed emphasis, to something which is already clear. King even eschews adjectives for the same reason. It’s a nice lesson, especially for me, since I tend to state the obvious rather too frequently. It comes from seeking clarity, but is insulting to the reader, who already knows much more than I think.

December 23, 2007   Comments Off on Adverbs

Phebe Hanson

nsf-cover.jpgAsk anyone to name a famous Minnesota writer and the name Garrison Keillor will probably burst from their lips. Garrison is definitely an institution. I first started listening to him when, as a young man, he broadcast a program from the old University of Minnesota radio station (now called Radio K). He still had his full voice then and was just as funny. Garrison is good, but there are others you may not have heard of.

Phebe Hanson is one. She’s a true writer whom fame has not spoiled (perhaps because fame has never found her), a grand old dame in the Norwegian manner, full of good humor, wise sayings, and a persona larger than life. Her readings are special. If you can still find one, go to it. Her poems are like conversational anecdotes which are ironic, beautiful, and often touch the heart. Phebe has numerous friends in the arts community which she has always supported generously with her time. Bless you, Phebe. Do you feel the love?

Phebe Hanson’s books are published by the Nodin Press.

December 23, 2007   Comments Off on Phebe Hanson