The French composer Claude Debussy is quoted as saying that, “Music is the space between the notes”. I think that’s a very apt recognition of the shared responsibility between artist and audience in unearthing the latent content of any piece of art, and I very much like it. Make your work too overtly programmatic, and you end up with stale self-parody, a la Norman Rockwell. Overburden it with too many layers of obscure, self-referential ciphers, like Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake”, and risk alienating your most enthusiastic audience.
But if you have a lot to say, it can really be difficult to avoid the “Finnegan” trap. The very fact that you are capable of generating enough observations worthy of communication, of making very fine distinctions in kind and degree, springs from a hypersensitivity that can seem emotionally overwhelming, and very much at odds with one of the inviolable principles of effective communication itself: clarity.
This is where a solid understanding of the rhetorical ecology will come in handy. In order to be truly effective, you need to be able to “play the music between the notes”, which is to say, have an appreciation for the various types of person who will read your work the context in which it will be read, today, tomorrow and 200 years from now, and what they will be looking to draw from it. And you need to accept the fact that some of your strongest, most affecting points will not be articulated by you, but by your critics.… Read the rest