Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Ever Read a Sentence You Thought Was a Masterpiece?

Ever read something at Aeon?

You probably know “aeon” means a long period of time; but, among its other meanings is “the personification of an age”.

I’m fairly sure that’s how this online magazine sees its mission

But, here’s some of what Aeon says about itself:

“Aeon is a digital magazine of ideas and culture…some of the most profound and provocative thinking on the web. We ask the big questions and find the freshest, most original answers, provided by leading thinkers on science, philosophy, society and the arts.”

I made sure I signed up for email alerts from them, to feed my general reading needs and to find articles to report on here

Today’s post is my first report from the Aeon-front.

The article is by Jenny Davidson“…professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, where she specialises in 18th-century literature and culture, intellectual history and the contemporary novel in English.”

The article is called, Simplicity or Style: what Makes a Sentence a Masterpiece?

Here are Jenny’s opening sentences:

“A great sentence makes you want to chew it over slowly in your mouth the first time you read it. A great sentence compels you to rehearse it again in your mind’s ear, and then again later on. A sentence must have a certain distinction of style – the words come in an order that couldn’t have been assembled by any other writer.”

Some of you may have wondered if Jenny intended any of those sentences to be “great”

Perhaps not, since one of the examples she uses is this:

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

You might know that’s from George Orwell’s, 1984.

Jenny says this about it:

“The sentence is initially unassuming, simply descriptive, but in the startling final detail Orwell achieves estrangement, establishing the alternate nature of the novel’s historical reality with economy and force.”

Another sentence example she gives is from William Gibson’s debut novel, Neuromancer:

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

If you want to think deeply about sentences, do go read the full article

Here are Jenny’s final sentences:

“If we think of a library as a city and a book as an individual house in that city, each sentence becomes one tiny component of that house. Some are mostly functional – the load-bearing wall, the grout between the bathroom tiles – while others are the details we remember and take away, perhaps recalling their texture and colour when we assemble our own verbal dwelling-place.”

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