Monday, December 14, 2009

Edmund Opitz on The Art of Thinking (1988)

Now that you have awakened a few billion brain cells and pumped some information into them, your mind will begin to churn out ideas and you’ll be thinking lots of new and exciting thoughts. What is it like to think? Let me quote a few lines from Jacques Barzun, a first-rate thinker: "Thinking is inwardly a haphazard, fitful, incoherent activity. If you could peer in and see thinking going on, it would not look like that trimmed and barbered result, A Thought. Thinking is messy, repetitious, silly, obtuse, subject to explosions that shatter the crucible and leave darkness behind. Then comes another flash, a new path is seen, trod, lost, broken off, and blazed anew. It leaves the thinker dizzy as well as doubtful; he does not know what he thinks until he has thought it, or better, until he has written and riddled it with a persistence akin to obsession."

Once you get hooked on thinking you’ll be irresistibly drawn into writing, and you'll quickly discover that almost no author who relies on the contents of his own mind alone ever wrote a readable essay, let alone a book. Every thinker and writer needs to know how to use reference books and conduct research, and the complete guide to this is the book, The Modern Researcher, by Jacques Barzun and Henry F. Graff. But you cannot stop there; you have to learn to write passable English prose, and there’s no easy way to do that. The most helpful book on writing, in my view, is Barzun's Simple and Direct. If you're interested in knowing how the ancient Greeks went about the chore of putting together a persuasive speech, look into Aristotle's Rhetoric.

— Edmund Opitz, The Liberating Arts,

See also Reverend Edmund A. Opitz.