Jose Carillo's Forum


This section features links to interesting, instructive, or thought-provoking readings about the English language and related disciplines. The selections could be anywhere from light and humorous to serious and scholarly, and they range widely from the reading, writing, listening, and speaking disciplines to the teaching and learning of English.

How literary style was shaped by modernist approaches to rewriting

Revision is considered these days to be basic to good writing, but in her recently published book, The Work of Revision ((Harvard University Press, 360 pages), Hannah Sullivan, an English lecturer at Oxford University, argues that until the 19th century, revision was considered anathema to writing. Serious writers, particularly the Romantics who believed that writing should be spontaneous and organic, looked down on rewriting as a failure of inspiration. But in the early 20th century, a period that saw the advent of the typewriter, avant-garde writers started devoting themselves to laborious acts of rewriting. Those anxious to justify the value and difficulty of their work even made that effort a badge of honor.

Work of Revision

This major change in approach to the writing craft, Sullivan asserts, was partly driven by a new philosophy of what made good writing—literature that was less spontaneous and enthusiastic than it was startling and enigmatic. This philosophy can be gleaned from Ernest Hemingway’s description of his “principle of the iceberg” during an interview by the Paris Review: “There is seven-eighths of it under the water for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg.”

Now that writers do most of their writing directly on computers, however, Sullivan sees the new technology to be again changing people’s ideas about writing and revising. This is because instead of generating physical page after physical page, writers can now reread and reorder their manuscripts very quickly. This creates a living document that, increasingly, is not printed at all until it becomes a final, published product. Sullivan thinks that although this makes self-editing easier, this technology may paradoxically make it more difficult for writers to make the kind of wholesale revision that leads them to radically rethink their work.

Read Craig Fehrman’s review of Hannah Sullivan’s The Work of Revision in The Boston Globe now!

Hannah Sullivan is a Tutor and CUF Lecturer in English at New College, University of Oxford, teaching literature in English from romanticism to the present. She received her Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Harvard in 2008 and, before coming to Oxford, was an Assistant Professor in the English department at Stanford University. She also has a degree in Classics from Trinity College, Cambridge, and a Master of Research in Cultural Studies from the London Consortium.

In “Losing longhand breaks link to the past,” an article that came out in the June 25, 2013 issue of, Andrew Coyne laments the fact that the teaching of handwriting is now being phased out in many schools in the United States and Canada: “For today’s teenagers it’s at best a distant memory; for tomorrow’s it will be something akin to hieroglyphics.” Coyne argues that this is a pity because how people write affects what we write. “You compose in a different way using pen and ink than you do on a computer,” he says. “You think in a different way. It may even be that you are, to that extent, a different person, much as we take on a different personality when we speak a foreign language.”

Read Andrew Coyne’s “Losing longhand breaks link to the past” in now!

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