Cuteness Kills

Artist Maira Kalman’s whimsically illustrated version of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style was published last month, and now the situation is getting worse. Apparently a work of avant-garde musical theatre is in the works. Am I the only one who feels revolted by all of this?

My complaint is not that I consider the original text too sacred for interpretation. I have never worshipped at the temple of Strunk and White, though I will admit I can’t think of a better style guide for writers. My gripe is with the utter preciousness of Kalman’s artwork, which I’m sure violates E. B. White’s penchant for powerful subtlety and understatement. The man who gave the world a spider who spelled “radiant” in her web to save the life of a pig doesn’t need to be compromised by a painting of a sad-faced basset hound with enormous ears and big wet eyes. It’s just too damn cute, and cuteness kills.


As for the musical suite by a composer named Nico Muhly, I just listened to two samples and they didn’t help my writing one damn bit.

I don’t like to use the word “twee” when I’m insulting stuff, because to use the word “twee” is, more or less, twee. However, this stuff is twee. Anybody Strunkheads out there care to debate me on this point?

6 Responses

  1. S & W as Departure
    S & W as Departure Point

    An illustrated book and a musical about a writing book is mind-jarring and sounds like a straight to pulp book and box-office loser. It makes one wonder whether Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus will be next.

    Every writer must read Strunk and White once. It is small enough for anyone to carry and the tips on paragraphs aren’t written anywhere else, not even in Orwell’s Politics and the English Language. Stephen King quotes from Strunk and White in his book On Writing and mentions the importance of the active voice, though it gets short shrift in both books and almost everywhere else.

    John Trimble also grossly neglects the active voice in Writing with Style. Damned useful is Garner’s Dictionary of Modern American Usage which advises us not to use “viz.” though this writer finds “viz.” indispensable.

    Kerouac set down specifically a list of thirty “essentials” about his Spontaneous Prose method, viz. the following, Belief and Technique for Modern Prose.

    1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
    2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
    3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
    4. Be in love with yr life
    5. Something that you feel will find its own form
    6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
    7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
    8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
    9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
    10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
    11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
    12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
    13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
    14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
    15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
    16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
    17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
    18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
    19. Accept loss forever
    20. Believe in the holy contour of life
    21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
    22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
    23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
    24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
    25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
    26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
    27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
    28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
    29. You’re a Genius all the time
    30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

  2. Good catch, WW — yes, this
    Good catch, WW — yes, this is another style guide for writers I like a lot. Some fool will probably try to set this to music eventually too.

  3. Could’ve been better…Too
    Could’ve been better…

    Too bad it wasn’t illustrated by Ralph Steadman or R. Crumb.

  4. well-called, bill.cute, why
    well-called, bill.

    cute, why cute, one wonders.
    What’s wrong with stark line drawing to make things plain?

    Or even a glorious tribute by MAD magazine’s Sergio Aragones. I humbly refer you to: Sergio Aragones on wikipedia.

  5. Thank you warren… I’d never
    Thank you warren… I’d never seen these “essentials” before… That’s what I love about this site…As for the rest what’s next? Strunk & White on ice? Blech…Barney on Literary technique…”I love you…you love me…don’t say shit say twee – twee -twee…”

  6. Sergio Aragones! How well I
    Sergio Aragones! How well I remember those Mad Magazine illustrations. I bought a paperback book collection of his cartoons when I was in high school. It’s probably still at my mother’s house. Good call.

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