Thursday, 28 February 2008

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The Style of No Style A very smart man once wrote: I think one of [a particular author's] greatest gifts—one that will be enduring—is, paradoxically, the unevenness of his prose. It makes reading him much more disturbing than, say, reading Kafka, who always writes so well, even when he is turning into a giant bug. The fact that he writes well sort of insulates us, whereas in [this author's] case, the madness is evident in the unsteady prose stylings, and so feels more contagious on our fingertips. I'm currently re-reading one of this author's later novels and am inclined to agree. There's a lurching quality to his mostly competent, sometimes execrable, occasionally brilliant prose. Readers remain uncomfortable, never able to predict whether the next sentence will advance the plot; obliterate the illusion of immersion; or force them to pirouette, spot, and re-read. The prose isn't literary per se, but the effect is. (Think "Nausikaa.") To wit: "Look," the voice said. He looked—and saw that his control board, which contained all his communications gear, was on fire. "Jesus Christ," he said, and reached for the wall switch that would turn on the emergency fire extinguisher. Then he realized something. Something perplexing. The control panel was burning, it was not consumed. Most of you probably know where this is from, but if you didn't—if you encountered a passage like that in the wild—would you be so quick to dismiss it? The splice is artful. The comma's beat lulls you into expecting the ordinary, not something you haven't heard since Hebrew school.

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