Sunday 20 June 2021

Suppose a Sentence, Brian Dillon, Part the First,

Up at the pond in the not quite sun, reading sentences, and sentences about sentences that summon the reading places I have been in all my life, riveted, as by the whirligig beetles, and the strangeness of this warmth without sun, faltering but going on, like the sentences. Reading, is not quite the word. Sailing, maybe. Climb on board and make your way at the stem. Read another sentence. Less a sentence than a pond, a lake, a sea, a storm, a wind from other planets blowing.

Suppose a Sentence by Brian Dillon is a book for a summer: 27 sentences played and replayed in the light of all the reading in the world. 

How do you choose your 27 from so many. I used to give a lecture about sentences that had stopped me in my tracks, and led me on. I began with the Bible, then Robert Musil, Lewis Carroll, Virginia Woolf, Beckett.  Brian Dillon starts with Shakespeare, John Donne, Sir Thomas Browne, Thomas de Quincey, Charlotte Brontë. Chronological order is the most peaceful.

Sentence no. 28 is the one he wrote to start the book: a page and a half sentence on the subject of sentences. You are on board so you continue, held together by punctuation and bated breath, by whirligig beetles. And later, a movement of a Schubert quartet. A sentence of another kind. A Quartettsatz. In C minor.

Sentences that have folded you in, or let you ride, or removed you from your day exactly as much as you wanted? All along you thought you were an orphan and suddenly you have frères et soeurs massed together on the page, for about as long as it takes Schubert to change from major to minor. Painful; welcome; tortuous and violent.

I was pleased to get to Gertrude Stein. Her sentences fold you in, take you in hand. She is intimate and triumphant. Language is her armour and her sport.  

Sickness is Brian Dillon's default resting place. His sentence from Virginia Woolf, which he has copied out more than any other, is 181 words leading deeper and deeper into the state of illness. In this culture of wellness, illness deserves a voice. Without illness there is no wellness: Discuss. 

The Virginia Woolf sentence I chose was from The Waves:

That would be a glorious life, to addict oneself to perfection; to follow the curve of the sentence wherever it might lead, into deserts, under drifts of sand, regardless of lures, or seductions; to be poor always and unkempt; to be ridiculous in Piccadilly.   

Brian Dillon's Beckett sentence is also about sickness, injustice, medicine.

... that smile at the human condition as little to be extinguished by bombs as to be broadened by the elixirs of Burroughes and Welcome, — the smile deriding, among other things, the having and the not having, the giving and the taking, sickness and health.

I chose something more terse and symmetrical. 

 I have always liked arithmetic. It has paid me back in full. 

This pausing on sentences suits my style of reading. I like to find a place to rest, a place to stop reading. Much as I want to read, I also want to stop. I want to count the whirligig beetles again. 

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