Sunday, December 14, 2008

Doctor Doctor

I tried to comment on a blog post at New English Review, but can't see the reply. I don't want to lose it, so here it is:

In Westport, Connecticut works a physician named Doctor. He is Dr. Doctor. His wife is a doctor. Together they are the Doctors Doctor. The physicians who treat them when they are ill are the Doctors Doctor's doctors. Not exactly "onions, onions, onions", but factual.

Conan Doyle chose Watson to be a doctor. It convinces because we know some doctors to be clear and precise.

James Michener described his success as being able to get people to read to the end of the page. Not a fan myself, but his popularity and the heft of his tomes suggests that he had found the knack.

Are clarity and precision essential in getting people to read to the end of the page? Usually, I would say, even when seeming to write about nothing. The writing may be desultory, or have no main topic whatsoever, may have no point or direction, yet capture and hold the reader's attention. Still, on that random walk, one expects clear and precise narration.

Exceptions abound. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" comes to mind. Wonderful, but in part because of what is left unreported and unclear. "A pair of ragged claws" is imprecise, but effective.