Tuesday, October 9, 2018

All the virtues and all the vices of an age of words

From Death Under Sail by C.P. Snow. Page 60.
"He's not such an ass as he seems, of course. He'll collect his information perfectly efficiently. Unfortunately he'll also find it necessary to express his soul, which means we'll have to side-track him. He represents roughly all the virtues and all the vices of an age of words. He knows all his books: he's read every detective story that's ever been written; he reads all the trials; he's read all the books on criminology, including the voluminous Gross. That's good. If he stopped there, he'd be a useful man at his job. Unfortunately an age of words also means that everyone imbibes an immense amount of nonsense. More intelligent people than Aloysius Birrell show the same tendency. You heard him talk about 'tempo'. A word like that makes a comforting noise. When you've said it often enough you forget that its quite meaningless. You forget you only invented it to conceal your ignorance. We're all word-hypnotised. Philosophers and art-critics and parsons and psychologists - they're all of them Aloysius Birrells thinking that when they've said 'tempo' they've explained the universe.

"Yes," I said, which was the only reply to make any long speech that Finbow felt called upon to make.

"I must explain the vice of words some day, but Birrell's more important just now," Finbow went on. "He's got hold of lots of phrases about murder and crime, by the way. The favourite besides 'tempo' is 'murder by the most unlikely person'! He waves that about proudly."
"All the virtues and all the vices of an age of words" - And this was before 24/7 TV pundits on 350 channels and before Twitter and Facebook.

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