The agreeable eye

an eudæmonistarchives

sense & sententiousness

Gloria Swanson and a plate of beans, from Star Struck
Salome in the off hours.

Die Frage nach dem Sinn. Vergleiche:

“Dieser Satz hat Sinn.” – “Welchen?”

“Dieser Wortreihe ist ein Satz.” – “Welcher?”

Asking what the sense is. Compare:

“This sentence has a sense.” – “What sense?”

“This sequence of words is a sentence.” – “What sentence?”

—Wittgenstein (Philosophical Investigations, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe et al., §501)

People clamor to tell their stories in words.

This doesn’t make them writers.

Nor does it make their stories matter.

—Verlyn Klinkenborg (Several Short Sentences about Writing, 65%)1

Some time ago, I read a blog post about Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Several Short Sentences about Writing, although I can’t quite remember where.2

A first attempt at reading the book was so irritating that I returned it to the library immediately.3

I often read books about writing, though, because they increase my sympathy (empathy?) for the foibles of the writers whose work I am paid to copyedit.4

Authorial foibles are seldom endearing and are often irritating.5

Querying one’s irritation is part of the work of sympathy, so I decided to give the Klinkenborg another try.6

It was more irritating the second time around.7

Sources of irritation included (but were not limited to) the book’s

As a practitioner of lazy writing, let me stop with the discursive footnotes (for once) and tiresome line breaks. Rather, let me note that the strategies suggested for writing (no outline, all perspiration no inspiration, eternal line editing, and a constant fussing) is more or less how I myself get across a page. (My irritation with the book sneaks a glance in the mirror and recognizes the narcissism of minor differences.) But I do not write by the sentence (who cares about a sentence? only the one sentenced) – nor by the word or paragraph. I usually write by the pun and take as the starting point a play on words, a play with words, a bad joke, a dad joke, a rad joke: not a hook on which to hang an argument, but a cascade of sound that opens a window onto an unexpected meaning. Sometimes I come back to some sort of sense, but I am not a particularly sensible person in my prosing and have a lamentably poor regard for the comfort of the reader (or co-conspirator or myself), who tends to be dragged backwards (or sideways) through the tangles of what passes for a composition.

Klinkenborg also has a poor regard for the comfort of the reader (who is probably not a co-conspirator and is certainly not himself and, judging by the description given, seems rather a dull dog), but gives the appearance of pretending to care, rather like the host at a potluck putting a plate of beans in front of the resident Pythagorean: well meant, perhaps, and wholesome, but still missing the essential mark. It is not a bad book, and it might be the right book for some students of writing, but you could also read the following quotation, which more or less sums it up (more astringently):

The integrity of a piece of language, poetry or prose, is a function of its quality; and an essential element of its quality is the inseparability of idea and language. When a thing is said right it is said right, whether in prose or poetry, formal discourse or cursing the cat. If it is said wrong, if it lacks quality, if is stupid poetry or careless prose, you may paraphrase it all you like; chances are you will improve it.

—Ursula K. Le Guin (‘Reciprocity of Prose and Poetry’, in Dancing at the Edge of the World, pp. 107f.)

  1. Taking this out of context makes it sound more, well, unfortunately contemptuous than it was intended to be (I am assuming that he wishes to make the point that one must put in the work to convince the reader that one’s story matters), but seems to be typical. []
  2. Situational opening that makes use of vagueness as a rhetorical strategy to reduce any apparent disagreement with the author of the post mentioned: why would one want to offend a complete stranger simply because one is not impressed by a book they appear to have liked? The truth value of the sentence is entirely open to interpretation; it is also not important. []
  3. Expository. []
  4. Expository. Unnecessary. I love unnecessary sentences. Perhaps the only true sentence in this post. []
  5. 100% linking sentence. []
  6. Pompous generalization followed by exposition; a bloated sentence with a double chin and incipient gout. []
  7. Insipid observation. []
  8. You were wondering why I have been annotating each sentence, weren’t you? Well, I just wanted you to know that I was giving each sentence a good think before I put it in this post and I have justified each sentence to the full extent to which any sentence is justifiable (i.e., not at all); cf. unflattering suppositions []
  9. Pedagogy can be the pits; cf. banal advice. []
  10. This was advice that could perhaps have been applied to the book itself. Some sentences were clunkers. But that could be a result of the formatting: not every sentence deserves to be given the attention of a fragment from Heraclitus. To sloppily repeat myself (because the point bears repeating): not all reading needs to (or should) be close reading; cf. formatting. []
  11. The lack of clarity about the audience seems to be one of the broader structural problems of the book. It repeatedly uses phrases like ‘as you learned in school’ before presenting an exercise that one would have done in school (e.g., circling all the parts of speech in a favored bit of prose). One assumes an undergraduate audience, but the marketing seems off; cf. misrepresentation []
  12. It also misrepresents the intention of their use; for me, at least, they provide not the illusion of logic, but a variation in rhythm, a hedging about and a setting off: there are some ideas or feelings or notions that one does not wish (or need) to approach too closely. But I also always aspire to build ‘a maze with nothing but dead ends’, 67%; cf. the second person []
  13. Kids these days, amirite? Cf. tone []


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