Here is a quote from Blaise Pascal (1623-1692), French mathematician, Christian philosopher, inventor, scientist, and writer: “When a natural discourse paints a passion or an effect, one feels within oneself the truth of what one reads, which was there before, although one did not know it. Hence one is inclined to love him who makes us feel, for he has not shown us his riches, but ours.”
I understands what he means, though I had to read it carefully a couple of times.
Now a quote from John Updike (1932-2009), American writer and critic, talking about Pascal’s quote: “The writers strength is not his own; he is a conduit who so positions himself that the world at his back flows through to the readers on the other side of the page. To keep this conduit scoured is his laborious task; to be, in the act of writing, anonymous, the end of his quest for fame.”
It takes me longer to understand Updike’s quote. “the other side of the page” What page are we on here? It is also ironic that Updike says a writer should strive for anonymity when he himself achieved great fame. It makes me wonder if he forgot to scour his conduit. An electrician or plumber, depending on his conduit, would have helped.
To me both Pascal and Updike are saying that the writer is the conduit-by the act of writing- of making the reader understand and feel something he knew was there, but the writer awakens within the reader that feeling. The reader says yes, I understand, I identify, I see what you, the writer, sees. Then he buys your next book.
I am not as smart as Pascal, nor will I ever be the writer Updike was, but I still wonder why many sentences of great thinkers and writers are convoluted. It is as if they are not writing for the average reader, but intellectuals, professors, literary critics, other intelligentsia, as well as fops, dilettantes, and English major undergraduates.
It all sounds so highfalutin. I would like to understand by reading the sentence once, not twice, not analyzing why Pascal, for instance said, “natural discourse”? Could he have not said ‘artist’ or ‘writer.’ As I said, it is highfalutin. Writers need to know there are readers like me, the Maynard G. Krebs of the world, who seek to understand without a dictionary, Cliff’s Notes, a literature professor, or a balding banjo player named Jim.