Vital Signs

The Genius of Redundance

"Simplicity," the Russian proverb tells us, "is worse than theft." Meaning, economy is just another name for sterility.

This is an easy thing to believe as I write this in the middle of London, the Old World piling up stone all around me in a paean to the unnecessary. But what is necessary? As Tolstoy calculated in his famous story, no man needs more than six feet of ground.

It is the same when not just life, but expression, is in question. In college, we were always asked to write essays on Donne's "A Valediction of weeping." Remember?

On a round ball
A workeman that hath copies by, can lay
An Europe, Afrique, and an Asia,
And quickly make that, which was nothing, All . . .

I could never convince my professors that a "ball" is always "round" by definition, and "a round ball" is there fore redundant—as is the poet's strange need to anticipate a situation in which the cartographer, ready to get down to some serious mapmaking, suddenly discovers he has no supplies or tools. Besides, why "quickly"?

Anyway, the professors thought I was criticizing Donne. Indeed, wasn't "redundant" a bad word in the creative writing courses they had taken in their day, along with "rambling"? Yet genius always rambles—on and on, perpetually...

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