January 25, 2011

"If the history of the American sentence were a John Ford movie..."

"... its second act would conclude with the young Ernest [Hemingway] walking into a saloon, finding an etiolated Henry James slumped at the bar in a haze of indecision, and shooting him dead."

22 comments:

ricpic said...

At least with Tchaikovsky you get some pleasant tunes, with James all you get is his tortured poncedom circling and circling but never making that final corkscrew up his arse.

Richard Dolan said...

The paragraph ends with this: "minimalist style becomes minimalist thought, and that is a problem."

And so it is. There is nothing minimal about Henry James, from whom you get much more than "tortured poncedom" (whatever that may be).

rhhardin said...

Flights of starlings have a way of flying which is theirs alone and seems as governed by uniform and regular tactics as a disciplined regiment would be, obeying a single leader's voice with precision. The starlings obey the voice of instinct, and their instinct leads them to bunch into the centre of the squad, while the speed of their flight bears them constantly beyond it; so that this multitude of birds thus united by a common tendency towards the same magnetic point, unceasingly coming and going, circulating and crisscrossing in all directions, forms a sort of highly agitated whirlpool whose whole mass, without following a fixed course seems to have a general wheeling movement round itself resulting from the particular circulatory motions appropriate to each of its parts, and whose centre, perpetually tending to expand but continually compressed, pushed back by the contrary stress of the surrounding lines bearing upon it, is constantly denser than any of these lines, which are themselves the denser the nearer they are to the centre. Despite this strange way of swirling, the starlings cleave through the ambient air at no less rare a speed and each second make precious, appreciable headway towards the end of their hardships and the goal of their pilgrimage.

- Lautreamont

ken in sc said...

I was introduced to Strunk and White by my Business Communications professor at the University of Alabama in 1974. I bought a copy and used it to good effect in my military career for about twenty years. When I became a public school teacher, I was surprised to learned that almost no one else had heard of it. My attempts to be brief and concise in my new career were considered simple minded and illiterate. This is just one of the reasons I retired early.

Lucien said...

"Pilgrim, whenever I hear somebody say 'etiolated' I reach for my revolver".

If the history of the american sentence were a Mel Brooks movie would Gertrude Stein get rich by selling the rights to "Horse, is a Horse, is a Horse, Of Course, Of Course" to Hollywood?

pavlova8 said...

I love the edumafacational quality of this entry and the comments - after I looked up 'etiolated' I was delighted to learn that someone else in the world is a fan of Strunk and White!

edutcher said...

Never a big fan of Hemingway and much less of James. The irony is, while I'm the first to say, "Get to the damned point", I've also got a strong attachment to Faulkner.

Go figure.

I, along with a number of prospective undergrads bound for Cornell, Penn, Princeton, et al., was force-fed Strunk & White in Fifth form and it did us no harm and probably some good. Too bad the intervening generations of Lefty academics never suffered the same fate.

T J Sawyer said...

RE: Your previous post.

Shorter Russell Jacoby on Erik Olin Wright. "He should have mastered Strunk and White."

rastajenk said...

Brevity is next to godliness.

virgil xenophon said...

TJ Sawyer/

He's not the only one--except it would be a fatal event. The head of every single Derrida/Foucaultist--inspired postmodernist/post-structuralist academic in the world would explode if they read a single syllable of Strunk & White.

Christy said...

If...were a John Ford movie...Poe would stumble in at the denouement and claw and bite Hemingway who would then froth and scream and die of rabies.

Funny, I find the Wallace approvingly quoted to be plodding.

Jonathan Letham writes such glorious sentences that I don't mind so much when the novel isn't good.

JMHO, of course, but I think The Subcontinent has the loveliest writers of the English language.

Another Strunk and White, and therefore, Poe fan. Those of you with master writing skills can safely ignore it, but the rest of us cannot.

(So can we blame Stanley Fish for the Gang of 88?)

Old N' Cranky said...

...I think you are a male Fish...i will stay with you 'til you are dead...

rcocean said...

The article reminded me of a Henry James novel I couldn't finish. Anyway, I did finish one HJ short story "Daisy Miller" - which I Liked - and one novel "The Ambassadors" -which I didn't. I sampled some of HJ's greatest hits - and found them no better than the "The Ambassadors".

HJ was damn good stylist. Elegant, yet crystal clear and never verbose. Sadly, his characters and stories bore me silly. TR wrote James off as a "Miserable little Snob" who wrote "Polished" "Pointless" stories - and I agree.

I actually like his travel writings. But as a fiction writer - I prefer Hemingway by a mile.

Trooper York said...

If the history of the American sentence were a John Ford movie...people would remember it and love it sixty years after it was first composed.

What these douchenozzles know about John Ford couldn't cover the head of a pin.

Lincolntf said...

Now that's writing.
While it's fun (and our birthright) to mock those who came before, Hemingway wrote the way language should be read. He hand-delivered what other authors were forced to send around the world.

David R. Graham said...

"Florida, you should pause, compose your thoughts, condense them to a comment or two, and then interact with the replies."

No, Florida is on a roll and going strong and in any case is a mensch, so back off the censorship. Who are you to advise him or her? Althouse owns this blog.

And he's making me smile in approval!

Kirk Parker said...

"I've also got a strong attachment to Faulkner."

Well, sometimes the point is to get to the point, and sometimes it isn't.

Kirk Parker said...

Oh, and what's up with dissing 'minimalist thought', anyway? Some of it's amazingly good--like this example:

"A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." -Antoine de Saint-Exupery

rhhardin said...

Bonhours said that only French has words occuring in exactly the same order as thoughts.

William said...

There was some character in a James' novel whose hobby was collecting bibelots. To this day I have not yet enountered a bibelot, much less a bibelot collector. The James' gang occupied a much more elegant and rarefied world than I have found in my time on earth. For a lot of people that was probably his attraction.....Hunter Thompson was the saloon drunk whose voice reverberated profoundly because his head was stuck in a spitoon.

Kirk Parker said...

rh,

Funny, Chomsky (indirectly) said the same thing about English.

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