Tuesday, December 13, 2005

"Words have their class and their occasion," says William H. Gass in his essay "The Sentence Seeks Its Form" (which I've now found). He also says,

Mr. James has the very highborn tone that Mr. Micawber strives for, and if he were to read Mr. James (which as fellows common to the Universal Library, he might), the right airs could be donned and doffed as circumstances required. The right airs include a measured gravity, a mouth-filling motion, and a stately rhythm that suggests every word is formed out of politest consideration for every other, and that a Latinated diction has been chosen, which is so full of itself, so free of the contaminations of commonness, it can hardly bear to touch any subject whatever, and lights upon one, only to leave immediately for another, which it approaches with the same trepidation.
I have to admit that I don't know much about Gass and that my only reading of the essay was pretty hurried. In my next one, I plan to search for indicators of irony to convince myself that he doesn't actually endorse this view. We'll see if this works. Of course language is social, and so class is implicated every time it's used. It's Gass's valuation of politeness that sticks in my craw. It renews my worry that literature and politeness are, at least for now, functionally linked. (I like to think that one of the aims of my practice is to separate them.) Let's hear it for rudeness and, to recalibrate something I said recently, bad grammar.

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