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The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Monday, July 19, 2010

David Foster Wallace writes like me.

Apparently, David Foster Wallace writes like me. Of course, I could have said that I write like David Foster Wallace. The only - and key - problem with that, is that I have never read anything written by David Foster Wallace. The only thing I have ever read by him, is the title of his fairly lengthy work: Infinite Jest (1,079 pages) - and even that is a quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet, so I suppose that means I have never actually read anything by him at all.

I was informed of this literary resemblance to David Foster Wallace, by a new website which purports to match a writing sample to that of famous writers, indicating which one it most resembles. The software does this by analyzing the choice of words, and such characteristics as the length of sentences. Yesterday, out of an understandable curiosity, I pasted three different samples from my blog, into the box on the site and invited it to analyze them. Two of the samples were recent posts, one of them, an antique one, from the first days of my blog. It opined that all three were like David Foster Wallace's writing.

Now, David Foster Wallace was, reputedly a writer of genius. He was also given to being, as I understand it, rather complex, at times, in how he expressed himself, not being out of love with long, involved, sentences. Somehow, without ever reading him, there seems to be some resemblance between my work, and his own. It should be noted, however, that the software has a limitation at present: it only has 50 writers' work on board and so can only compare a writing sample with those 50 writers. This creates surprising results. For instance, Margaret Atwood's writing supposedly resembles Stephen King's (or is it that Stephen King's work resembles hers?) This strange opinion arises because no sample of Margaret Atwood's work is on file, with I Write Like.

So, out of the 50 authors in the system, my work most resembles that of David Foster Wallace. However, at this time, there is no indication how much it resembles his work. In future iterations of the software, the intention is to rate works by a percentage of resemblance to a writer. This would be more revealing. Right now, all that this system is saying is that, given a choice of 50 authors, including such writers as Edgar Allan Poe and William Shakespeare, mine is closest in style to David Foster Wallace's. Also note that this is a forced choice in that the software has to choose SOMEONE from the 50 possibilities, without, presently, showing how strong that resemblance is.

There is one thing I find disturbing about the website, though. That is its basic premise is that everyone is subconsciously imitating the work of others and that this programme is able to find out whom you are subconsciously aping. I find this both distasteful and untrue. According to this site, I am subconsciously taking after David Foster Wallace. Well, this is absolutely impossible since no man or woman could ever learn from someone they have never read (and probably never will read). I cannot be striving to achieve a style I do not know, have never encountered and never will encounter. If there are, in fact, true resemblances between David Foster Wallace and myself, then this is purely coincidental. It might just be, for instance, that he writes like me because once he was very interested in mathematics before turning to writing. So, too, with me: my first love was science, before turning to writing, so, perhaps the exposure of both, to logical worlds, lead to a certain way of expressing oneself, one dominated, perhaps, to a greater extent than most writers, by reason.

I Write Like compounds its crime against good sense, by suggesting that users go away and PRACTISE being like various writers and then come back to check if they have succeeded in imitating some great, famous other. Personally, I find the whole idea revolting. No true writer, of any kind, in any time, in any society in human history, would ever set out, consciously, to become like another. Should they do so, then such a "writer" is not a writer at all. Their words are not their own. Their thoughts are nothing but borrowed confections. Such a person cannot, accurately, be described as a "writer", but should, instead, be described as an acolyte, a devotee to another's thought, another's world, another's words. A writer who consciously imitates another no more resembles a creator, than does a typical worshipper the founder of their religion.

Thus, if it is ever said, by anyone, ever, that my writing resembles that of David Foster Wallace's please know this: I do not strive to be like David Foster Wallace, I have never read him, nor ever will (I have no wish to do so). Should there be any true resemblances, these are accidents of the mind, and probably a symptom of similar pathways through life. Remember this: not even the greatest genius - and David Foster Wallace is accounted by many as a genius - can influence someone who has never encountered their work and I never have.

No doubt the number of authors on the I Write Like database will expand. In time, perhaps, the site might point the way to a closer resemblance between my work, and another writer's besides David Foster Wallace. It doesn't really matter which one it is, for know this: I write like only one person in all this world - and that is myself. I do not make reference to other writers, or even pay any real heed to them. They are irrelevant to me for the simplest reason: I am only concerned with expressing myself in the way that is truest to my thoughts and I have absolutely no interest in how other writers may or may not have expressed themselves, or even in what they have expressed. My concern is only to be true to myself and my thoughts, in my writing. The only way to do this, of course, is to write like no other but oneself. The degree to which a writer consciously - or subconciously - strives to write like another, is the degree to which they are failing to be true to themselves. Thus, it is the degree to which they are failing to be a writer and succeeding in being an acolyte.

It is wrong to say that any resemblance I may have to another writer is due to a striving to be like them. I reject, absolutely, all other writers and their ways. Their thoughts are theirs and can never be mine - not only because I pay them no heed, but because they make no impression on me. My only concern, with regards to writing, is what I think, what I understand and how I naturally feel inclined to express it. I write instinctively, letting my words choose themselves with a delicious automaticity that comes from being able to feel just the right words to most fully embody a particular thought, feeling or observation. Such a mode of writing is most certainly not open to conscious influence and it is also not open to unconscious influence, either, since my writing is an expression of my true self. For another writer to impinge upon my written work, they would have to change my very self - and no writer has the power to do that, to me, at least. I write the way I do, because, in so doing, I am best embodying myself in written words. It is my self that shows upon the page, not some collection of external references. My only references are internal ones: glimpses of the self that now is and has become over the past forty-two years.

One day, perhaps, my writing might be well known enough for the owner of the I Write Like site to include a sample of my writing in his database. Should that happen, then any sample of my writing, entered into it, would produce the correct verdict: Valentine Cawley writes like Valentine Cawley. Until that time comes, the software will only ever make errors, by ascribing to me resemblances and influences that could not possibly be, in a causative way, because I have not read such a writer, and so have never even opened myself up to influence by them. Even if I had read them, my mode of thought about the world and my self, does not make me open to influence, in any way: I am closed to external thought, as if I sat contemplating on a mountain top, in some ancient retreat. Such intellectual isolation is how I prefer to be, for in this way, I can best be and embody the particularities of myself that distinguish me from all others who have ever been and ever shall be. That, in my view, is the most important thing a writer can do. For, after all, the self is an irreplaceble, one-off, chance creation that shall never be again. The writer should, therefore, do their best to capture that self, before it is lost to death, time and memory.

If you are interested to learn what I Write Like thinks of your writing, go to www.iwritelike.com and paste some text in the first box. This one is a trick, however since it always says you failed to write like Chuck Norris. The second box offered, upon the "try for real" link, will analyze your writing and compare you to a famous writer's work. You should paste a significant chunk of text - several paragraphs at least - to get an accurate comparison to the present database of 50 writers.

Ironically, however, although each of the three other blog posts I checked says that I write like David Foster Wallace, this post is flagged as being like H.P. Lovecraft. So, why the change? I think the answer is found in the presence of four words, above: "mountain top", "ancient" and "isolation". These would be recognized by the software as Lovecraftian word choices since he was obsessed with isolated mountain tops and ancient horrors. If I am right, which I think I am, then this software is not particularly accurate for normal lengths of writing: just a few words can make all the difference. Of course, if one entered a very long piece of work into it, it would probably become more consistent.

Happy writing, all.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, 10, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, 6 and Tiarnan, 4, this month, please go to:
http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html

I also write of gifted education, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, megasavant, HELP University College, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, Malaysia, IQ, intelligence and creativity.

My Internet Movie Database listing is at: http://imdb.com/name/nm3438598/
Ainan's IMDB listing is at http://imdb.com/name/nm3305973/
Syahidah's IMDB listing is at http://imdb.com/name/nm3463926/

Our editing, proofreading and copywriting company, Genghis Can, is at http://www.genghiscan.com/

This blog is copyright Valentine Cawley. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited. Use only with permission. Thank you.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 9:05 AM 

2 Comments:

Blogger E said...

The variability on this is too high for me. It claims I write like:
Jonathan Swift,
H.P. Lovecraft,
Dan Brown,
Cory Doctorow,
Isaac Asimov,
Arthur Clarke,
Edgar Allan Poe, and
David Foster Wallace -
with the most frequent judgments being Lovecraft and Brown. I'm a bit peeved that Swift didn't show up again after the first time I tried the page. I should have quit while I was ahead.

3:53 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi E,

Such variability indicates one of two things: either you are entering pieces which are TOO SHORT to come to a statistical conclusion - or your writing shows extreme variability. That would be unusual and in itself probably connotes a style.

Perhaps you should try a very long piece of writing - and then another very long piece of writing, from the same period in your life. The result is much more likely to be the same.

Good luck.

I did recognize that Swift is the greatest genius on the list...so no wonder you were pleased to be compared to him!

9:49 AM  

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