In the German style
I was told that I write in the German style. Actually, in fact originally I was told I write in the Greman style, although that was just a typo, But it did add to the confusion a bit. In the end, once that little issue was sorted out, I still went, “huh…? What’s the German style?”
Apparently the Germans have a style, not that I knew this, but my friend who had read some of my writing apparently did and made the comparison. Now, I don’t have any German connections in the family tree and the limit of my exposure to German is the odd war movie, 2 years in secondary school dabbling at learning a second language and being bundled through Germany as a 7 year old for several weeks on a family holiday. All in all I would say the sum total of my knowledge of the country amounted to a hill of beans, a very, very small hill. So where I might have acquired a German style from is rather beyond me. A German I am really not at all. My friend however, does have family connections back to Germany, has spent time visiting, and even speaks the language well enough to get around. No doubt she wouldn’t speak exactly like a native, but she has a certain look that would definitely let her slip right in. If she did her hair up in a plait that circled the top of her head and wore a Dirndl, no-one there would look twice at her. Well, they might look twice at her, but that wouldn’t be because she didn’t look like she belonged, so that’s a different story altogether. In this story, I was left thinking, well if anyone here is going to be writing in the German style, it’s rather more likely to be her than me. On the other hand, having that German connection does mean she should know of what she speaks. On this I need to acknowledge and bow to superior knowledge and investigate just what is this “German style”.
The Germans are wonderful people in general, albeit there is a definite cultural style. The rest of Europe likes to make jokes about them in respect of certain of their habits and modes of thought. To be French, or Italian, or Spanish, or English is to be different from the Germans in some odd particular ways. It shows up in the sense of humour, in the work ethic, in the prejudices, in how they go on holiday even. Little things, but definite. One of those little things is manifest in technology. Not so much in the actual physical nuts and bolts, but in the philosophy and mode of thought. As my friend explained the “German style” to me, I did recall that even in translation there is in a German technical document a density and intensity that is peculiarly unique to them. Looking at the original German script of a scientific document is even worse. If there was a gold medal for conjuncted words and length of words, the Germans have that won hands down. For a foreigner to try to pronounce the words is to stumble over the mouthfuls of syllables and roll their eyes in alarm. But more, the Germans write with the assumption that you know what they are talking about in the first place. That any background or introduction is unnecessary, that the argument is self evident and if you cannot follow what is being said then you are obviously not qualified to be involved in the discussion. Apparently, it seems I would make a good German after all.
So I have been told to think more carefully about my style. To write clear introductions, address distinct points and arguments, write clearly to those points – and most importantly, write in a style that engages, explains the background and assumptions, introduces and defines my essays fully and well right from the start. My apologies to any Germans, if I imply that they do none of those things. But for my part, I should try and avoid writing like a German technical document. A large part of that would be because I am not actually writing technical documents, but social and philosophical ones. I would like to engage every-man and every-woman in a broad based debate that is accessible and relevant. Just because it is sociological, conceptual and philosophical doesn’t mean it can’t be readable too. Perhaps shorter and less obscure words would help, haha.
Hmmm… I suppose I shall now have to go and see just what sort of style of writing the German philosophers had. Marx, Engels, Goethe, Hegel, Kant, Humboldt, Meinecke, Nietzsche[sic], Luther, Schiller, Steiner, Weber, Schelling, Arendt. That’s a pretty formidable and eminent list, you could do worse than aspire to them. And perhaps I can argue that if some of them wrote tortured and turgid prose, then why can’t I?
PS. Quoted from Wikipedia:
” Some of Hegel’s writing was intended for those with advanced knowledge of philosophy, although his “Encyclopedia” was intended as a textbook in a university course. Nevertheless, like many philosophers, Hegel assumed that his readers would be well-versed in Western philosophy, up to and including Descartes, Hume, Kant, Fichte, and Schelling. For those wishing to read his work without this background, introductions to and commentaries about Hegel can contribute to comprehension, although the reader is faced with multiple interpretations of Hegel’s writings from incompatible schools of philosophy. The German philosopher Theodor W. Adorno devoted an essay to the difficulty of reading Hegel and asserted that there are certain passages where it is impossible to decipher what Hegel meant. “