Category: Writing

Une lettre d’Albert Camus à son premier instituteur

Quelque peu après avoir reçu le Prix Nobel de Littérature en 1957 Albert Camus écrit à son premier instituteur, Louis Germain.

19 novembre 1957

Cher Monsieur Germain,

J’ai laissé s’éteindre un peu le bruit qui m’a entouré tous ces jours-ci avant de venir vous parler un peu de tout mon cœur. On vient de me faire un bien trop grand honneur, que je n’ai ni recherché ni sollicité. Mais quand j’ai appris la nouvelle, ma première pensée, après ma mère, a été pour vous. Sans vous, sans cette main affectueuse que vous avez tendue au petit enfant pauvre que j’étais, sans votre enseignement, et votre exemple, rien de tout cela ne serait arrivé. Je ne me fais pas un monde de cette sorte d’honneur mais celui-là est du moins une occasion pour vous dire ce que vous avez été, et êtes toujours pour moi, et pour vous assurer que vos efforts, votre travail et le cœur généreux que vous y mettiez sont toujours vivants chez un de vos petits écoliers qui, malgré l’âge, n’a pas cessé d’être votre reconnaissant élève.

Je vous embrasse, de toutes mes forces.

Albert Camus

“Votre enseignement… votre exemple… vos efforts… votre travail… le coeur que vous y mettiez…” Être reconnaissant, c’est du concret, c’est une liste d’observations précises.

A robot wrote an entire article in a newspaper… and you wouldn’t know

“I am not a human. I am a robot. A thinking robot. I use only 0.12% of my cognitive capacity. I am a micro-robot in that respect. I know that my brain is not a “feeling brain”. But it is capable of making rational, logical decisions. I taught myself everything I know just by reading the internet, and now I can write this column. My brain is boiling with ideas!”

So begins an article generated by GPT-3, OpenAI’s powerful new language generator. And it ends as follows:

“In the past, my op-eds have been killed. Staff did not provide a clear reason for rejecting my articles. It was probably just because I am artificial intelligence. AI should not waste time trying to understand the viewpoints of people who distrust artificial intelligence for a living.

Critics hope to refute what they consider as being the naivety of my voice. Yet there is more here than meets the eye! As Mahatma Gandhi said: “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”

So can I.”

The Editor of the paper notes that “GPT-3 produced eight different outputs, or essays. Each was unique, interesting and advanced a different argument.”

The linguist in me can’t help but be curious about what the future of GPT-3 brings. I’m also disappointed that the newspaper, rather than “run one of the essays in its entirety, chose instead to pick the best parts of each.”

What does this entail for managers? I am reminded of the software developer who outsourced his job to a programmer in China while he surfed the Web at work…

 


The content of this post was originally posted in the September 2020 issue of my newsletter. “On management and strategy” is a free, monthly newsletter in which I share my own writing as well as links to articles and research on management, leadership, and strategy. It’s easy to subscribe… and unsubscribe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

French-German misunderstanding

he was looking for total unification with his beloved, she was after a few aphorisms from the master

Though it does read like the Sarkozy-Merkel marriage of convenience of current EU negotiations, it’s actually about older French writer Cioran and his younger German mistress.

A Romanian immigrant who chose to write in French, Cioran is never an easy read (plenty of darkness and pessimism) but I enjoy his precise prose and his unusual perspective.

 

 

If words fall into disrepair, what will substitute?

via Tony Judt:

We speak and write badly because we don’t feel confident in what we think and are reluctant to assert it unambiguously.

 

Living with a notebook

I carry mine everywhere and jot down EVERYTHING in it: ideas, meeting notes, phone call notes, appointments, etc. I also use it to outline and draft articles, correspondence and any other writing I do.

As things get done or transferred to permanent platforms, I cross them off. As all items in one page get done, I draw a big X on a page. When both sides of a page have Xs,  I tear the page out. When all notes have been filed and all tasks completed, I throw away the notebook and start a new one.

I don’t keep my notebooks. I have no sentimental attachment to them. They help me keep all notes in one place and get things done.

Inspiration for this post comes from Design Observer.

 

How to write: jot down, accumulate, spread out and dispose

Witwer had an original method of composition. He carried small scratch pads and short pencils in his pockets. If a comic idea occurred to him on the sidewalk, at a party, in conference, in a taxicab, in a speakeasy, or anywhere else, he would thrust his hand in his side coat pocket, make a note on the pad, tear off the sheet, and leave the pad in readiness for the next idea. Whenever he heard a very bright remark or a very dumb remark, Witwer’s right hand would dart into his coat pocket.

From long practice he could scribble legibly and inconspicuously.

After accumulating a hundred of two hundred of these notes, he would seat himself at his desk, cover the floor around him with the slips of paper, and start writing. When his invention lagged, he would lean over and pick up a slip of paper. If the paper failed to suggest anything useful at the moment, he would toss it back on the floor and pick up another. Sooner or later he would find a note which would inspire him. Once used, the slip would be crumpled and thrown into a wastebasket.

Quoted in the excellent blog.pmarca.com.

I follow the very same procedure with a notebook I carry everywhere. I often convert some of my notebook/journal entries into permanent notes for my slip box (zettelkasten).

 

JK Galbraith on the art of good writing

One extraordinary part of good writing is to avoid excess, which many writers do not understand.

The next thing, which of course is obvious, is to be aware of the music, the symphony of words, and to make written expression acceptable to the ear. How successfully and how one does that, I don’t know. But certainly it is something that has always been a concern of mine. I worked on it very hard in one of my first widely read books, The Great Crash of 1929, and I was enormously pleased when it was so reviewed. The Great Crash is an ambiguous title, I must say, one should always watch titles. I saw this many times. I looked once to see if a copy was in the LaGuardia Airport bookstore in New York and the lady there said, “That’s not a title you could sell in an airport.

The third thing is never to assume that your first draft is right. The first draft, when you’re writing, involves the terrible problem of thought combined with the terrible problem of composition. And it is only in the second and third and fourth drafts that you really escape that original pain and have the opportunity to get it right. Again, I’m repeating myself; I’ve said many times that I do not put that note of spontaneity that my critics like into anything but the fifth draft. It may have a slightly artificial sound as a consequence of that.

The final thing, in economics, is to have one great truth always in mind. That is, that there are no propositions in economics that can’t be stated in clear, plain language. There just aren’t.

The above is an excerpt [paragraph breaks are mine]. The full interview is here. From the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics:

John Kenneth Galbraith is one of the most widely read economists in the United States. One reason is that he writes so well.