Um … Heller wasn’t the one talking about ‘The decline of American prose’. He had a character in a book meet another character who was in some ways similar to Cormac McCarthy. That was the satire. I laughed at the straw man he created, without losing any of my respect for McCarthy. The same way I laughed at the stand-ins for Hemingway and Capote in George Axelrod’s ‘Blackmailer’.
I will agree with mrt that maybe B R Myers who wrote the Atlantic article overstated his point. But he was calling ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ on a lot of (perhaps over-) lauded writers. It wasn’t the length of their sentences he was attacking. It was their sense. And their depth. Their obscurity. Their pretension. Their inscrutable metaphors. Here’s the bit that comes after the sentence quoted:
……. Today anything longer than two or three lines is likely to be a simple list of attributes or images. Proulx relies heavily on such sentences, which often call to mind a bad photographer hurrying through a slide show. In this scene from Accordion Crimes (1996) a woman has just had her arms sliced off by a piece of sheet metal.
‘She stood there, amazed, rooted, seeing the grain of the wood of the barn clapboards, paint jawed away by sleet and driven sand, the unconcerned swallows darting and reappearing with insects clasped in their beaks looking like mustaches, the wind-ripped sky, the blank windows of the house, the old glass casting blue swirled reflections at her, the fountains of blood leaping from her stumped arms, even, in the first moment, hearing the wet thuds of her forearms against the barn and the bright sound of the metal striking.’
The last thing Proulx wants is for you to start wondering whether someone with blood spurting from severed arms is going to stand rooted long enough to see more than one bird disappear, catch an insect, and reappear, or whether the whole scene is not in bad taste of the juvenile variety. Instead you are meant to read the sentence in one mental breath and succumb, under the sheer accumulation of words, to a spurious impression of what Walter Kendrick, in an otherwise mixed review in The New York Times, called "brilliant prose" (and in reference to this very excerpt, besides) …………
What I get from Myers’s essay is a call to arms for simplicity, for good old fashioned storytelling, for excitement, for plot, for clarity. And an end to reviewers who review sentences …..‘But if our writers and critics already respect the novel's rich tradition—if they can honestly say they got more out of Moby-Dick than just a favorite sentence—then why are they so contemptuous of the urge to tell an exciting story?’ ……rather than books. Sure he’s being deliberately provocative and taking some cheap shots and I'm not buying everything he says but look at what he says in the final three paragraphs of his essay.
From: jacquesdebierue <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Tuesday, July 14, 2009 6:32:38 PM
Subject: Re: RARA-AVIS: "Blood Meridian" by Cormac McCarthy
From the Reader's Manifesto in the Atlantic:
<<The decline of American prose since the 1950s is nowhere more apparent than in the decline of the long sentence.>>
Huh? This guy thinks the length of sentences is correlated with quality? And what decline is he talking about? There is nothing called "American prose", there is just writing, done by many different people. If the author means that we don't have, today, the equivalents of Faulkner, Hemingway and Steinbeck, well, that's not really an argument for or against anything. I think the general level of writing (in fiction, but also very notably in nonfiction) is much higher today than 50 years ago. Let's remember,also, that Hemingway and Faulkner were mocked for their "bad prose" for their entire lives, parodies were written and so forth.
I don't see the point in this article, frankly. All the efforts of E.B. White to tell people to cut it out, and now this reviewer longs for the long sentence?
I bet this Myers thinks that Elmore Leonard is a shit of a "prose artist"! LOL!
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