U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Jacques Barzun On Writing

Two months ago Jacques Barzun—former Columbia University professor, historian of culture and ideas, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom (in 2003, with Julia Child among others)—sat for an interview to discuss the art of writing.*

I offer this for your consumption because I profited much, in theory at least, from Barzun’s challenging 1975 book on the craft of writing titled Simple and Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers.** I say “in theory” because he held forth ideals with which I still struggle. As a bonus, at the 45:00 minute mark in the interview Barzun also discusses why he chose cultural and intellectual history at the start of his career. Here’s the interview via Vimeo:

* The conversation was led by Jack Jackson at the SoL (Source of Light) Center, University Presbyterian Church, San Antonio, TX.
** Surprisingly, two paperback versions of Simple and Direct seem to be in print with two publishing houses: (1) One with University of Chicago Press, revised in 1985, and (2) another in print with Harper Collins’s Harper Perennial imprint. Here’s the TOC from the Chicago Press version: …
– Preface to the Revised Edition
– Preface
– Introduction

I. Diction, or Which Words to Use
Time Out for Good Reading I
“Working and Thinking on the Waterfront”

II. Linking, or What to Put Next
Time Out for Good Reading II
“Aristotle on Detective Fiction”

III. Tone and Tune, or What Impression Will It Make?
Time Out for Good Reading III
“Language Defined”

IV. Meaning, or What Do I Want to Say?
Time Out for Good Reading IV
“Hints for Sawing”

V. Composition, or How Does It Hang Together?
Time Out for Good Reading V
“The Law as Guarantee of Free Speech”

VI. Revision, or What Have I Actually Said?
Time Out for Good Reading VI
“Two Gifted Amateurs”

VII. To Use or Not to Use
Time Out for Good Reading VII
“How to Be Respected at an Inn, Hotel or Pub”

VIII. Take a Little Thought
Time Out for Good Reading VIII
“Writing Less—and Better?”

– Exercises
– Hints Toward Improving Sentences Quoted
– Index of Words, Topics, and Authors

PS: I suppose this post could be considered a sort of addenda to Scott McLemee’s useful reflections yesterday at InsideHigherEd on the 2003 book, Critical Intellectuals on Writing (SUNY Press). – TL

One Thought on this Post

  1. Barzun seems to prefer of 4th ed. of S&D, because it is more like the 1st ed. than the two editions in between are. The two 2007 Vimeos relating to Barzun are also worth a look.

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