Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Mankind's Greatest Invention

"Surely mankind's greatest invention is the sentence." So begins John Banville's essay on Robert C. Richardson's books on Emerson, in what has to be my favorite quote of recent years, perhaps of all time.

When you're a writer, no matter how famous or obscure, whether you're one of the handful anointed by income or crowned by royalties to bear the title of writer, or you're a wretch like me, insultingly underpaid for squeezing into dubious forms, sooner or later, what gives you the buzz and the meaning, is a sentence you see and hear that you've written.

Oh sure, some get off on paragraphs, and there's the lucky few that get to play with chapters or scenes, and whole books, plays, sagas. But even they share the secret (and often secretive) gleam of a shining sentence, appearing under their fingers.

I wrote a review of a book about a writer who made very good sentences: Jane Austen. And in it I wrote a pretty nifty sentence, at least I like it. And for once I will violate the code and call your attention to it. It is mere cleverness maybe, but it is musical and funny, with a touch of cultural wit at the center. Or maybe it's just cute, I don't care. These days I must take my pleasure where I can. And pointing out a really elegant sentence is forbidden. That's up to readers to discover, and if they don't, well, everybody loses.

So in connection with Jane Austen's journey from obscurity in life to Jane-mania in the 21st century, I wrote this: She has the fame of the single name: absent Tarzan, she is our only Jane.

Good. Now I can put the clipping away with all the other forgotten sentences, and make some more.

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