Saturday 10 July 2021

Summon a Sentence, Brian Dillon, Part the Second

Every few days I read another sentence and its scrutiny in Summon a Sentence by Brian Dillon.  I read with pleasure and ambivalence, a sentence/chapter at a time, writers I may not habitually read, like Annie Dillard, or once read, like Susan Sontag, or really like, like Janet Malcolm. I let myself into Brian Dillon's response to the sentences he has chosen as I let myself into chill water off a pier, then swim around happily in the currents, the flowing weed and the punctuation.

Janet Malcolm died recently. Brian Dillon says she borrowed a lot from fiction in her writing about writers, and maybe that is why I like her, while reading very little—lately—of any of the nineteenth century moral picture builders like Tchekhov; reading Janet Malcolm, with her lucid uncertainties, is more pleasurable, closer to my understanding of the world, than reading Tchekhov. Though she has sent me back to Tchekhov more than once. 

A Janet Malcom sentence involves me as a friend's conversation involves me. We have read the same books and suffered the same scrutinies. 

Even an omniscient narrator, a narrator who has spoken to everyone who will speak, who has hung around the studio and the parties and the neighbourhood for years, gathering her evidence, making her notes and her precise appraisals—even such a figure may be working with material that threatens to dissolve at her touch or fade beneath her gaze. A sense of tells us how close Malcolm has got to the heart of things, and how much she doubts the mystery of character is penetrable in the first place.

 It is such a pleasure to read this. Not a question of agreement or enquiry, just recognition.

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