Can you summarize War and Peace in a tweet? If you can, does that mean that Tolstoy wrote far too many words? Now that we can all tweet and blog, does that make everyone a writer? They say that everyone has one novel inside them, and one wit added that in most cases that’s where it should stay. On the other hand it’s probably the case that Oxford has more published authors per head of population than any other city in Britain. So if you’re in Oxford it’s a good place to start! Oxford World Book Capital will be encouraging the people of Oxford to write – be it their life stories at the Oxford Centre for Life Writing, a play specially commissioned by Blackwell’s and the Creation Theatre Company, or a race to write 50,000 words in the National Novel Writing Month (there’s nothing like a deadline to concentrate the mind!)
You’re probably familiar with the game that asks you to turn, for example, CAT into DOG by changing one letter at a time (CAT – COT – DOT (or COG) – DOG). Ever tried it with whole words, that is, at the level of semantics. linking words by linking concepts? How many steps would it take to get from CAT to SPACESHIP? to VACUUM? to CUCUMBER?
Somewhere on the main website I flagged as my favourite book Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. One of the most mind-boggling verbal tricks in that book is the chapter which is palindromic at the sentence level – so we can read from the first sentence in the chapter to the last, or vice versa, and it will make sense in either direction. ‘A man, a plan, a canal – Panama!’ is child’s play by comparison. Hofstadter takes his cue in several respects from Lewis Carroll. In his alter ego of Charles Dodgson Carroll was no mean mathematician and logician, and mathematico-logical conundrums permeate the Alice books – for example the White Knight’s distinction between the song ‘A Sitting on a Gate’, which is called ‘Ways and Means’ though its name is ‘The Aged, Aged Man’ and the name is called ‘Haddock’s Eyes’.
From CAT to SPACESHIP? Well, curiosity killed the cat, curiosity is all about exploration, we explore space, so we need a spaceship. To VACUUM? We explore space, and space is a vacuum. To CUCUMBER? Use your imagination!