To the Cultural Differences in Writing

In the book titled “Getting Your Writing Out of the Door: Strategies of Publishing in International Journals for European Social Scientists” (don’t ask; some books I read it will be even more embarrassing to admit I did) there is a universally familiar, palpable sense of superiority of the American thought in regard to any other thought.
 
“‘We’re different, we’re different, as you can clearly see,’ and just as clearly you can see that we’re better in every aspect.”
 
But, apart from it, there is one thing that I found curious: the author insists that there are major cultural differences in the ways scholarly writings are structured in “the West” and anywhere else.
 
In the Eastern cultures (the writer vaguely waves her hand towards “the East,” uniting it generously into one region), it is an affront to the reader’s intelligence to say everything you meant exactly like you meant it. There are beautiful digressions, anecdotes, and stories, and fragments that leave you genuinely puzzled by how they got there and what functions they bear. The reader is supposed to be an active participant in reconstructing the meaning of the text. The reader is supposed to put the book away and contemplate the universe gazing at the landscape framed by her window, slowly sipping tea with jasmine sitting on her straw mat, while cicadas around cool her forehead with paper fans.
 
In the West, says our writer, if you don’t explain at least three times what it is that you’re trying to say, exhaustively, first and foremost things that seem obvious to you, you’re not doing a good job as a writer. There are no digressions. Anecdotes and stories may be present, on occasion, but they know their place; they play the role of the evidence and illustrations to your main point. In the West, the reader has no time for tea. She is dressed in the robotic uniform and is too busy mopping the floor. The reader is supposed to put the book away and know exactly how to mop the floor, what instruments to use, and why she needs to mop the floor in the first place. She might be told how much more often those who mop the floor find themselves distracted by reading than they find themselves finishing their work on time, but that requires a separate article.
 
~
Interesting observation… I wonder where’s my green tea with jasmine. I think I had a tiny, beautiful octagonal tin box somewhere in this house.
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Susan Sontag

Sontag, Susan. On Photography. New York, 1999.

Susan Sontag foresees ruins as the result of actions and as the ultimate result of everything pictured by photography. “Many buildings, and not only Parthenon, probably look better as ruins.” Photographs themselves are mementos of what is passing, and thus the representation of debris of a disappeared moment.

Urbicide

Penski, Max. Three Kinds of Ruin: Heidegger, Benjamin, Sebald. Poligrafi, 2011.

Max Pensky analyzes “urbicide” of the European cities in the Second World War and the way urbicide was reflected in thinking of three key successive cultural figures: Heidegger, Benjamin, and Sebald. For Heidegger, it is a project of “re-pastoralization of Germany’s shattered cities,” Benjamin wrests “the power of the image of the ruin from the experience of the big city,” and Sebald seeks “to recuperate a discourse of the ruin as site of moral catechism.”

Austerlitz

Sebald, W.G. Austerlitz, London: Hamish Hamilton. 2001

In Sebald’s novel which verges on the border of fiction and nonfiction, the person named Austerlitz appears and reappears in connection to a desperate attempt to grasp the meaning of German concentration camps as perceived by relatives of victims. For Sebald, ruins are allegory of being. From fascination with abandonment and depopulated landscape to mental reconstruction of the stories based on their subtle traces, Sebald is engrossed with the idea of ruination in its historic and mnemonic dimensions.