Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Readers of our national newspapers will have noticed two recent articles concerning the written sentence and the English language. On January 28 the National Post gave us Mike Doherty’s review of Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence, and How to Read One, while on February 18 The Globe and Mail did the same with Zsuzsi Gartner’s review of Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer.

While Doherty is quick to identify Fish as “a connoisseur, not a polemicist,” both could be said of Gartner, a sentencista who identifies as a “card-carrying cult member,” a phrase not unlike the one-too-many she packs into her fiction, teetering as they do in the middle of her long and thoroughly worried sentences, invariably falling off by the time I get to the period (gasping for air!). Malcolm Lowry, whose own sentences are often unwieldy and fragmentary, manages to create a different effect, where by the end of the paragraph they fall nicely into place, providing overtone, an experience I rarely have with Gartner.

Another bothersome aspect of Gartner’s review is related to something Doherty brought up, and that is context. Not once in Gartner’s article does she refer to the materiality of sentences in relation to content, an absence that seems in support of the romantic writer, one who develops their own style, their own voice, like those graduating from the "success-oriented" creative writing classes Gartner is also a card-carrying member of. Whatever happened to using style in relation to content, as content? Style and voice, like setting and character, are materials too. Must one always write the same way every time?

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