David Bentley Hart on the “More is More” Approach to Writing

David Bentley Hart is currently my favourite living writer. When I read his works, I frequently feel that I am in the presence of an irascible (and hilarious) genius. The below quotation, taken from this interview on Hart’s The Experience of God, is a very interesting counter to the assumption that prose writing should be as simple to understand as possible. It is also interesting to me that Hart neither likes nor reads any academic writing. He must have read a lot of modern academic theology in his time in order to produce works like The Beauty of the Infinite, but he obviously finds little that is engaging or spiritually enlightening about it. I’m sure the reason for this is that Hart believes that modern theology buys into various secular and anti-traditional paradigms (notably a rejection of the classical doctrine of God as held by the Fathers, Anselm and Aquinas, in favour of a personal Zeus-like deity) and so has impoverished and neutered itself as a result. Comments and opinions welcome as always!

When I was young I always assumed I would be a writer, mostly of fiction, and I have never had any other interest as consuming as that. It was an accident that I ended up writing any works of theology; my field was religious studies, originally, along with classics and literature, and at one point a purely personal search for God or truth or enlightenment—or whatever—sent me off along a path that led, for a while, to theology. But I have to point out that I abandoned formal theology about ten years ago and now write in as many different forms and on as many different topics as I can without courting financial disaster. As for why I write the way I do, I simply write in my own voice, without any particular rationale. I hate academic writing and rarely read any, so I suppose I never really learned the appropriately self-effacing style. I did try to make the most recent book much simpler in tone, for what it is worth; I suppressed my tendency to elaborate flourishes as much as I could. As for what writers most inspired me, that really is an impossible question to answer, because one learns from every good writer one reads, even those one may have no desire or ability to emulate. In English prose, I have always gravitated towards the “more is more” writers, to be honest, whether Sir Thomas Browne, Thomas De Quincey, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Vladimir Nabokov, or even S. J. Perelman (the list is very large). To me, the notion that one should strive for plain and direct diction at all times, no matter what lyrical, rhetorical, or comic effects one then has to eschew, especially when one has the glorious resources of the vast mongrel English vocabulary at one’s disposal, is like saying that an organist, no matter how grand the instrument at which he is sitting, must never pull out more than one stop. Sometimes the form is the message. At least, it should be. We are spiritual beings; we are meant to play and create, not merely to communicate simple ideas.