2016年2月20日 星期六

How to Write a Thesis By Umberto Eco. Umberto Eco’s Advice to Writers

Umberto Eco’s Advice to Writers

“If we think that our reader is an idiot, we should not use rhetorical figures, but if we use them and feel the need to explain them, we are essentially calling the reader an idiot. In turn, he will take revenge by calling the author an idiot.”

In 1977, Umberto Eco (b. January 5, 1932) — beloved novelist, author of vintage semiotic children’s books, proponent of the “antilibrary”, intellectual champion of listslover of legendary lands — published a slim book for his students, titled How to Write a Thesis(public library). Although it was intended as an academic aid for graduate students of literature, it endures as a lively, friendly, and immensely potent packet of advice for all writers. Partway between, in both time and ethos, the Strunk and White classic The Elements of Style and the contemporary counterpart A Sense of Style by Harvard psycholinguist Steven Pinker, this tiny treasure makes a fine addition to celebrated writers’ collected advice on the craft.
While the book deals with the entire ecosystem of the writing process — from choosing a topic to conducting research to planning and revision — in one particularly potent section, Eco offers his most direct advice on the writing itself. After making a general case for the value of rewriting, he offers a number of specific pointers:
You are not Proust. Do not write long sentences. If they come into your head, write them, but then break them down. Do not be afraid to repeat the subject twice, and stay away from too many pronouns and subordinate clauses.
[…]
You are not e. e. cummings. Cummings was an American avant-garde poet who is known for having signed his name with lower-case initials. Naturally he used commas and periods with great thriftiness, he broke his lines into small pieces, and in short he did all the things that an avant-garde poet can and should do. But you are not an avant-garde poet. Not even if your thesis is on avant-garde poetry.
[…]
The pseudo-poet who writes his thesis in poetry is a pitiful writer (and probably a bad poet). From Dante to Eliot and from Eliot to Sanguineti, when avant-garde poets wanted to talk about their poetry, they wrote in clear prose.
Illustration by Kris Di Giacomo from Enormous Smallness by Mathhew Burgess, a picture-book biography of E.E. Cummings
With his signature blunt wisdom — a hard-earned bluntness — he adds:
Are you a poet? Then do not pursue a university degree.
(The great prose writer William Styron believed higher education is a waste of time for all writers.)
Despite admonishing against breaking up lines in the style of the avant-garde poets, Eco does urge writers to break their prose into digestible segments:
Begin new paragraphs often. Do so when logically necessary, and when the pace of the text requires it, but the more you do it, the better.
In another point of advice, he could have easily titled “You are not Hemingway,” Eco encourages students to seek feedback from their mentors and cautions:
Do not play the solitary genius.
Eco continues:
Do not use ellipsis and exclamation points, and do not explain ironies. It is possible to use language that is referential or language that is figurative. By referential language, I mean a language that is recognized by all, in which all things are called by their most common name, and that does not lend itself to misunderstandings.
[…]
We either use rhetorical figures effectively, or we do not use them at all. If we use them it is because we presume our reader is capable of catching them, and because we believe that we will appear more incisive and convincing. In this case, we should not be ashamed of them, and we should not explain them. If we think that our reader is an idiot, we should not use rhetorical figures, but if we use them and feel the need to explain them, we are essentially calling the reader an idiot. In turn, he will take revenge by calling the author an idiot.
Given my distaste for writers who use italics and exclamation points for emphasis — a way of falling back on font styling and punctuation as the lazy substitute for prose that makes a point — I was particularly delighted by Eco’s admonition against one of the key “bad habits of the amateur writer”:
[Avoid] the exclamation point to emphasize a statement. This is not appropriate in a critical essay… It is allowed once or twice, if the purpose is to make the reader jump in his seat and call his attention to a vehement statement like, “Pay attention, never make this mistake!” But it is a good rule to speak softly. The effect will be stronger if you simply say important things.
In this short video from the same Louisiana Museum of Modern Art series that gave us Patti Smith’s advice to the young, Eco offers a higher-order — and perhaps the most important — piece of wisdom to aspiring writers:

How to Write a Thesis brims with more of Eco’s practical, pleasurably stern yet sympathetic advice on the craft. Complement it with Eco on why unread books are more valuable to our lives than read ones and his captivating narrative maps to imaginary places, then revisit other excellent advice to writers from Susan Sontag,Grace PaleyAnn PatchettSusan Orlean, and Neil Gaiman.



How to Write a Thesis

Overview

By the time Umberto Eco published his best-selling novel The Name of the Rose, he was one of Italy’s most celebrated intellectuals, a distinguished academic and the author of influential works on semiotics. Some years before that, in 1977, Eco published a little book for his students, How to Write a Thesis, in which he offered useful advice on all the steps involved in researching and writing a thesis—from choosing a topic to organizing a work schedule to writing the final draft. Now in its twenty-third edition in Italy and translated into seventeen languages, How to Write a Thesis has become a classic. Remarkably, this is its first, long overdue publication in English.
Eco’s approach is anything but dry and academic. He not only offers practical advice but also considers larger questions about the value of the thesis-writing exercise. How to Write a Thesis is unlike any other writing manual. It reads like a novel. It is opinionated. It is frequently irreverent, sometimes polemical, and often hilarious. Eco advises students how to avoid “thesis neurosis” and he answers the important question “Must You Read Books?” He reminds students “You are not Proust” and “Write everything that comes into your head, but only in the first draft.” Of course, there was no Internet in 1977, but Eco’s index card research system offers important lessons about critical thinking and information curating for students of today who may be burdened by Big Data.
How to Write a Thesis belongs on the bookshelves of students, teachers, writers, and Eco fans everywhere. Already a classic, it would fit nicely between two other classics: Strunk and White and The Name of the Rose.
This MIT Press edition will be available in three different cover colors.
Contents
The Definition and Purpose of a Thesis
Choosing the Topic
Conducting Research
The Work Plan and the Index Cards
Writing the Thesis
The Final Draft

About the Author

Umberto Eco is an Italian semiotician, philosopher, literary critic, and novelist. He is the author of The Name of the Rose, Foucault’s Pendulum, and The Prague Cemetery, all bestsellers in many languages, as well as a number of influential scholarly works.

Reviews

“Although first published in Italian in 1977, before Eco (The Name of the Rose) became an internationally renowned novelist, this guide to writing a thesis—originally aimed at Italian humanities undergraduates—brims with practical advice useful for writing research papers. . . . His advocacy of index card files to organize data seems quaintly nostalgic in the age of laptops and online databases, but it only underscores the importance of applying these more sophisticated tools to achieve the thoroughness of the results that he advocates.”—Publishers Weekly
How to Write a Thesis is full of friendly, no-bullshit, entry-level advice on what to do and how to do it, illustrated with lucid examples and—significantly—explanations of why, by one of the great researchers and writers in the post-war humanities … Best of all, the absolutely superb chapter on how to write is worth triple the price of admission on its own.”—Robert EaglestoneTimes Higher Education
How to Write a Thesis remains valuable after all this time largely thanks to the spirit of Eco’s advice. It is witty but sober, genial but demanding—and remarkably uncynical about the rewards of the thesis, both for the person writing it and for the enterprise of scholarship itself. . . . Some of Eco’s advice is, if anything, even more valuable now, given the ubiquity and seeming omniscience of our digital tools . . . . Eco’s humor never detracts from his serious intent. And anyway, even the sardonic pointers on cheating are instructive in their way.”—Scott McLemeeInside Higher Education
“Eco is a first-rate storyteller and unpretentious instructor who thrives on describing the twists and turns of research projects as well as how to avoid accusations of plagiarism.”—Jan GardnerBoston Globe
“The book’s enduring appeal—the reason it might interest someone whose life no longer demands the writing of anything longer than an e-mail—has little to do with the rigors of undergraduate honors requirements. Instead, it’s about what, in Eco’s rhapsodic and often funny book, the thesis represents: a magical process of self-realization, a kind of careful, curious engagement with the world that need not end in one’s early twenties. “Your thesis,” Eco foretells, “is like your first love: it will be difficult to forget.” By mastering the demands and protocols of the fusty old thesis, Eco passionately demonstrates, we become equipped for a world outside ourselves—a world of ideas, philosophies, and debates.”—Hua HsuNew Yorker


A Guide to Thesis Writing That Is a Guide to Life


BY 


沒有留言:

網誌存檔