Monday, January 23, 2006

On the Declaration of Independence and Jonathan Edwards

After having read the Declaration of Independence out of boredom and procrastinative curiosity at CUPS tonight, I'm inspired toward using more precise language to express my ideas. Keeping this resolution would solve some problems, I think, as well as simply improving my accuracy in conversation. The English of the Eighteenth century, at least in my head right now, is the English language at its height. Reading the Declaration of Independence felt like reading Jonathan Edwards. The subject addressed by each sentence is incredibly exact and explicit and the writing achieves a kind of scientific quality as well as a kind of poetic beauty, much like good theology and good philosophy, that is, both are painstakingly accurate and breathtakingly beautiful. Long, undulating sentences that are admittedly difficult to take in upon first reading emerge, once carefully studied, as perfectly cut gems focusing a precise beam of light on their subjects. See, I'm even being influenced, as I always am, by the beauty of this vintage of English, and I'm butchering the style. How can I help it? I live in a language full of "stuff" and "and stuff" and "whatever" and "like" and, as a high school friend of mine put it, our conversations rumble with the "distant thunder of approximate words." Read Edwards or Jefferson and hear lightning.