American writer Gary Lutz describes the moment in his early teens when he began to read “in silence and in private”:
Many of the words were unfamiliar to me, but the words fizzed and popped and tinkled and bonged. I was reading so slowly that in many a word I heard the scrunch and flump of the consonants and the peal of the vowels. Granted, I wasn’t retaining much of anything, but almost every word now struck me as a provocative hullabaloo. This was my first real lesson about language—this inkling that a word is a solid, something firm and palpable. It was news to me that a word is matter, that it exists in tactual materiality, that it has a cubic bulk. Only on the page is it flat and undensified. In the mouth and in the mind it is three-dimensional, and there are parts that shoot out from it or sink into its syntactic surround.
From The Sentence Is a Lonely Place, a lecture by Lutz published in The Believer in 2009. It’s a long read — almost 7,000 words — but before a paragraph has elapsed you’ll either have had enough or you won’t want to stop reading until you reach the end.
Thanks to @seventydys for the link.
Thanks for the link – added to the ‘to read’ pile. From that quotation alone I’m really looking forward to it…
You’re welcome, Steve. If you liked the excerpt above, you’ll probably enjoy the rest just as much.
Thanks, Stan, I really enjoyed that link. Too much of a provocative hullabaloo can be over-delivery of the self, but an effective touch of it here and there delights. An uplifting piece.
Thanks, Stan. It is definitely long for online, but it’s worth the read if you like poetry or poetic prose. It’s a nice followup to a book I recently read, Richard Hugo’s _The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing_.
It’s hard to imagine novelists on a deadline having enough time to write a good story with good language (interesting words, short sentences/fragments for action scenes vs. long sentences for slow descriptions, etc.) and then get down to the level of the consonants and vowels in many of the phrases.
Mise: Thank you for reporting back! I am glad you enjoyed it, and I agree with your assessment. Like chocolate heavy in cocoa solids, an indulgent richness can hit the spot but oughtn’t to be overdone.
Kevin: Yes: fussing over individual letters is not something that concerns many writers, nor should it necessarily, but Lutz’s is a perceptive and thought-provoking piece for those whose tastes and timeframes it suits.
I read the whole thing, but I didn’t care for it much. It’s part (perhaps the central part) of what I don’t like about much modern “literary fiction” that it’s all about the sentences instead of being all about the work. Poetry envy, I might call it.