Monday, March 05, 2012

Quote of the Day: Tom Piazza's Self-Exemplifying Sentences

Any writer will admire a good sentence. Sentences can lilt, and drift, and settle lightly down. Sentences punch. Sentences thrust, and parry. Sentences can extend out past the point at which they might reasonably have been expected to end, bending under the weight of first one dependent clause, then another, tiring the reader out, making her wonder when the line will end, but not, perhaps, without hope that the exercise will deliver some point, however small -- some perception or image that will arrive, at the very end, like, say, a caramel apple. Who would argue that the form of the sentence should not help deliver the sentence's meaning?

-- Tom Piazza, "The Devil and Gustav Flaubert"
(included in Devil Sent the Rain: Music and Writing in Desperate America, quotation at pp. 248-249)

In a way, quoting this, out of context, is desperately unfair to Mr. Piazza (who is, like myself, a sojourner at Hobart and William Smith Colleges this year, although our paths haven't crossed). I can easily image that for every reader who is utterly charmed by those sentences (the penultimate of which made me laugh out loud, literally, and mar the solemnity of the midterm exam I was proctoring) there will be another who finds the whole passage too clever by half, if not by five-sixths. But the essay itself, a brief but extremely interesting piece about Flaubert as the progenitor of the novel of style which looks down superciliously on its (excessively) flawed characters, is, precisely, a criticism of polished prose which is separated from (or disdainful of) human concerns. The point of this passage is to exemplify what it is, in fact, critiquing -- acknowledging the pleasures of it before going at it with incisors. Quoting it in isolation will lead readers to dismiss it for the very flaws it is designed to expose. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed it myself -- and, of course, the passage itself is about the real pleasures in this trope, so Piazza can hardly be too resentful of my highlighting them. So I thought I'd share it with all of you.

Meanwhile, it occurs to me that the self-exemplifying sentence (in contrast to its close cousin, the self-referential sentence, which this parenthesis itself is), is under-studied. Can anyone else think of any other good ones?

No comments: