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"We are still in desperate need of a passionate argument for a less punitive, more pleasurable life."

Carlene Bauer, on Ellen Willis (NYT)

The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that style may refer to the manner in which something is written, including a writer’s characteristic mode of expression, but a pattern of tension soon emerges from its series of definitions. Is style merely something superficial, referring to features “which belong to form and expression rather than to the substance of the thought or the matter expressed”? Or do we instead adopt the wisdom embodied in the old adage “The style is the man,” which implies that every aspect of character is written into each sentence a person writes?

My own suspicions gibe better with the second notion. Style is not extraneous; style is everything; one need not  be a pure Wildean aesthete to adhere to such a view. To some extent I believe this is true for all writing, not just for literary writing, and I would use the word temperament to sum up the complex set of intellectual, emotional, political and cultural traits that make up a given person’s identity as it is expressed in words. Temperament can be discerned with extraordinary clarity and economy in certain sentences or paragraphs (“The theatre is a better school of moral sentiments than churches”), and a reader’s selection of which bits of a writer’s work to foreground itself serves as one way of presenting an argument about that writer’s deep nature. It has always seemed to me (but then I have the soul of a copy editor) that the sentence is the key to the heart: that sentences embody ethos in a way that renders deeply ingrained habits of thought visible to the naked eye. As a corollary, a particular passage’s fissures and self-contradictions, its peculiar force or suppleness or stringency, may become the most interesting and revealing object of literary scrutiny, with style both subjecting itself to and facilitating acts of judgment.

— Jenny Davidson, Reading Style (a master class in close reading)

"That they should be sitting across from each other in the same way they had sat for so many years and that the habitual intimacy between them could have suffered so wrenching a violation without there being evidence of it, was harrowing to Sophie. If, all these months, she had so ardently lived a life apart from Otto without his sensing something, it meant that their marriage had run down long before she had met Francis; either that, or worse—once she had stepped outside the rules, definitions, there were none. Constructions had no true life. Ticking away inside the carapace of ordinary life and its sketchy agreements was anarchy."

Paula Fox, Desperate Characters

"In the middle of our conversation, my friend received a phone call from a Mexican woman now living in Paris. They were having an affectionate, friendly conversation. Then I heard my friend saying enthusiastically, ‘This city has a volcanic energy… . Yes, next time we’ll trade stories about the city… . It’s really beautiful here. Here, it’s poca madre, really fucking cool.’ Even someone working in a bar menaced by a drug gang, who’d just shared horrifying stories about his own experiences, hadn’t lost sight of the greater city. Like so many others, and like me, he is in thrall to the DF."

Francisco Goldman, The Interior Circuit

"I did not feel crippled by this knowledge; in fact, I was liberated by it: being an artist meant you were connected to other people—ghosts—who had been as moved by the enterprise of creating as you are now; evidence of their love was all the movies and performances and books and dances and music that informed your present so deeply and indelibly, acts of creation that stirred your imaginings to the point of making you wonder: How do I make the kind of film I want to see, write the kind of story or poem I want to read, perform the music, play, or dance that is expressive of the artist I’m meant to be?"

Hilton Als, "Ghosts in Sunlight," NYRB

"She was bloated; it must have been the beer. Her body was not her own any more, but had taken off in some direction of its own. In this last year she had discovered that its discomforts, once interpreted, always meant the curtailment, or end, of some pleasure. She could not eat and drink the way she once had. Inexorably, she was being invaded by elements that were both gross and risible. She had only recently realized that one was old for a long time."

Paula Fox, Desperate Characters

"'Data' and 'accountability' had become almost magic words: if administrators repeated them enough, it seemed they believed that scores should rise, even if there hadn’t been significant enhancements in instruction."

Rachel Aviv, "Wrong Answer," NYer

"the conservative literary wing"

This is so strange, I don’t know where to begin.

"Lonnie appears to reconsider. But he is really enjoying the talk. A smile plays at the corner of his mouth. Lonnie’s monotonous speech gives him an advantage, the same advantage foreigners have: his words are not worn out. It is like a code tapped through a wall. Sometimes he asks me straight out: do you love me? and it is possible to tap back: yes, I love you."

Walker Percy, The Moviegoer

"For children, the Friends of Coal Ladies Auxiliary runs a program called Coal in the Classroom, and produced a workbook entitled ‘Let’s Learn About Coal.’ For a lesson on economics, the book featured a cartoon character of a smiling lump of coal with arms and legs, holding open the door to a bank."

Evan Osnos, "Chemical Valley," NYer

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