Desks are terrible places, no matter how many wheels a chair might have.

March 14, 2011 § 2 Comments

If you peek inside my purse, this is what you see...

So bear with me, guys, and read this because it’s worth a discussion. Tiny discussion, then noises that resemble nothing wordlike, then candy and then sleep. Is he right, or on the right track, about sentences? My thought, having read his fiction, is that it’s too much like a sledgehammer when each sentence is a climax. He ends up forsaking story and narrative and, well, movement in this sentence-ical quest. Lorrie Moore can write a great line, but she has also mastered the ability to write a series of modest sentences whose accretion creates a meaning greater than any single one could be responsible for.

And now, comments? I’m out. I even used the word “accretion”, for fuck’s sake.



§ 2 Responses to Desks are terrible places, no matter how many wheels a chair might have.

  • J. says:

    okay, confession. i skimmed it. well, i read most of it but i skipped the parts where he goes on and on explaining the rhythmical and syntactical and magical whatevers of sentences. there’s a part of me that’s with him. i get it, i know a good sentence and good writing doesn’t just say something, but it sounds and feels and physically does something right. but, see, here is the part where i lose him: “Or, rather, if the words don’t manage to do this all by themselves—because maybe they mostly won’t—you will have to nudge them along in the process.”

    here’s where i push that stupid no button and it goes, “nononononono.” words can really always do it by themselves. it seems like in his long-suffering search for language, he’s more interested in what a writer can do with words than what words can do for the writer. those things, all those sentences he picks out, those are words that a talented person chose because really talented people can do that and make it seem like nothing. and it seems like nothing because these great and beautiful and perfectly thoroughly wonderful sentences often happen in the midst of sentences that are just great or good or, like you said, modest. and it’s not for lack of talent that modest sentences appear in great writing, but perhaps it’s something more like poise? not every sentence has to be flashy, has to be a climax, to constitute great work. is there anything worse than reading an obviously overworked and overwraught sentence? no. i think great lines should be rare and then heavily underlined on dog-eared pages and misquoted in facebook status updates because ultimately, the best sentences almost effervesce and then disappear. great sentences and good sentences and modest sentences and sometimes even some shitty sentences make up amazing stories and moments that follow you around forever one you’ve read them. work towards that. do that. i appreciate the concession he makes at the end, that “there can be a downside to the kinds of isolative attentions to the sentence,” but it seems half-hearted. i haven’t read his fiction, but even just reading the way he wrote the article (or lecture, whatever), i sense he doesn’t actually believe that. (“The book became a repository of the body’s off-trickles, extrusions, biological rubbish and remains; it became a reliquary of sorts.” I mean, really?)

    anyways, from the desk of j. burke: words alliterate and syllables stress when you’re not even thinking about it. that’s the work words do, a great writer just takes all that and makes it whole.

    also, i hate don delillo.

  • mbrilliant says:

    I thought I was the only one who hated DeLillo! I keep it to myself for fear of being kicked out of the Super Cool Readers of Contemporary Fiction club (have you seen the tattoo they gave me during hazing? It’s sweet.)

    You said it best when you said it first – you skimmed parts. What does that say about the power of sentences, and his in particular? Now, I’ll allow here that some of his sentences move me like crazy – here’s one:

    “I sang the way I still talk. Every song was the worst way I could think of to ask for what I did not yet know how not to want.”

    Right. It’s two, but give it a bit of leeway. The problem, for me, is that this sentence, placed as its own paragraph to conclude a story, doesn’t actually lend any substantial meaning to the story. It’s just a great line. A fucking great line, but so what? And I feel like Tao Lin does the same thing – he puts in all these beautiful, hyper-real, uber-poetic sentences that don’t always come together to make anything greater (kind of like the brownies Sophia and I made the other night, using applesauce as a binding agent instead of eggs. Don’t do that, okay?)

    As a comparison, I can’t even quote most of my favorite Lorrie Moore lines (yes, we’ll bring her up again). I can only think of an entire passage from Frog Hospital, at the end where our heroine describes her husband’s soul and how there are places deep within each of us where we’re always strangers to each other. There’s no standout line to tack up somewhere; there is just an amazing image and the subtle but final sense that a puzzle piece has been precisely snapped into place by an artist who knew exactly what she was doing when she left that piece for last.

    Lutz references Sontag and “lexical inevitability” and he considers this the goal of a writer, but I think you’re closer when you talk about the work words do. They confer with each other in your head without including you in the negotiations for the most part. They come out, often unbidden, in a tumbly way that has its own flow and sense – a good writer knows how to edit and shape, but she doesn’t need to nudge them or, really?, do the work of the words.

    And good gravy, when he starts in on consecution and recursion I just want to pat him on the back and ask about his childhood in a condescending tone. You don’t create that! You’re working too hard! Have a drink already! Do I need to get all psychodynamic on you and ask about this need to touch and touch and touch your sentences like an ever-unacceptable but ever-attractive penis? Jesus, dude. For the last time, no! (I’ve got one of those buttons, too!)


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