The perfect short article?

In today’s Guardian Clive James writes about the trolling of Germaine Greer. I love James’ writing – so succinct and so powerful. Just consider the utter simplicity and myriad responses to the sentence: “It needs only a few words to make a melody.”

I post this as a shining example of the clarity and power of a short article written well. Hopefully, if this were a response to a short writing task for Edexcel it would get 10/10 – if any of my students emulated this writing, I would be so proud of them.

“My brain is not too fast on its feet lately, so I’ve been a fortnight figuring out what I think about how my eminent contemporary Germaine Greer got herself ambushed by ultra-feminist students because of her opinions about trans women. The only trans person I have ever known personally started life as the man who, when we were at Sydney University together long ago, taught me most about literature. His house was a library and he lent me books by the score. Decades later he started life again, as a woman. She wrote a book of her own, in which she said how miserable she had once been, and how happy she was now. On that evidence I would find Germaine’s opinion at least questionable when she says that trans women don’t stop being men. But there is no question at all about the activists who wanted to stop her saying so. They have no idea of what free speech is or what a university is supposed to be. As for the supposed irony that Germaine’s feminist writings helped to create her current persecutors, it’s tosh. They created themselves, like blog-trolls.

Indestructible microbial organisms, blog-trolls copulate with themselves constantly, producing offspring in the form of lethally insolent verbal tics. In a previous column I noted that the use of the word “methinks” was a sign to stop reading. It has since occurred to me that if you glance straight away at the end of any posting and find the two-word sentence “Just saying” you don’t have to read the confident statements that lead up to it. In any left-wing posting about politics, the use of the supposedly satirical term “US of A” is the sure sign of a dunce. In right-wing postings, any attempt to express the argument in the form of a poem should be taken as an instruction to stop reading instantly. If I had started looking for these signals earlier I might have saved a year of my life.

Is there a cure for the blustering carelessness of the web? Only on paper. This week, reading Yeats again, I wondered how he thought of a phrase like “the crumbling of the moon”. I suppose he was thinking about growing old, but he packed the regret into a murmur. It needs only a few words to make a melody. My granddaughter has a subscription to an effervescently inventive comic called Phoenix, which features a brigade of heroes dedicated to fighting against the forces of “anti-fun”. She and I agree that anti-fun must be resisted. But adults should retain their dignity. Just before Halloween I almost bought a scream mask for myself, but remembered in time that the children are supposed to scare the adults, or there’s no point.”
Clive James, 2015.