Notes from An Alien

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Tag Archives: Pico Iyer

Dear Reader, — Do Long Sentences Still Have A Place In Your Life?


Naturally, I’m not just addressing the Reader in this post—writers are the ones who make sentences; so

Dear Writer,

Do long sentences still have a place in Your life?

I must let you know Shalon Sims’ blog gave me the prompt for this post.

She quotes a sentence from Pico Iyer as example:

“Enter (I hope) the long sentence: the collection of clauses that is so many-chambered and lavish and abundant in tones and suggestions, that has so much room for near-contradiction and ambiguity and those places in memory or imagination that can’t be simplified, or put into easy words, that it allows the reader to keep many things in her head and heart at the same time, and to descend, as by a spiral staircase, deeper into herself and those things that won’t be squeezed into an either/or.”

That sentence comes from an article in the Los Angeles Times, The Writing Life: The point of the long and winding sentence.

Pico says, in that article:

“‘Your sentences are so long’, said a friend who teaches English at a local college, and I could tell she didn’t quite mean it as a compliment. The copy editor who painstakingly went through my most recent book often put yellow dashes on-screen around my multiplying clauses, to ask if I didn’t want to break up my sentences or put less material in every one. Both responses couldn’t have been kinder or more considered, but what my friend and my colleague may not have sensed was this: I’m using longer and longer sentences as a small protest against—and attempt to rescue any readers I might have from—the bombardment of the moment.”

Not even having to go near the Realm of Twitter, writers of blogs are frequently advised to break-up long blocks of words—use bullet-points—fracture the flow—all in the name of the agitated, distracted, time-sore Reader

In my own reading experience, my favorite long-sentence-writer is a Persian-born man who studied at Oxford, Shoghi Effendi.

Even though I’m a seasoned reader and even though I sometimes have to read his sentences more than once, as a writer, I can see no other way Shoghi could have produced the effect he does if he chopped-up his literary effort.

Once I got used to the sense profluence produced by his long sentences, I realized some of the intricate yet crucial connections between punctuation and thought.

Here’s just one of Shoghi Effendi’s long sentences:

“A community, relatively negligible in its numerical strength; separated by vast distances from both the focal-center of its Faith and the land wherein the preponderating mass of its fellow-believers reside; bereft in the main of material resources and lacking in experience and in prominence; ignorant of the beliefs, concepts and habits of those peoples and races from which its spiritual Founders have sprung; wholly unfamiliar with the languages in which its sacred Books were originally revealed; constrained to place its sole reliance upon an inadequate rendering of only a fragmentary portion of the literature embodying its laws, its tenets, and its history; subjected from its infancy to tests of extreme severity, involving, at times, the defection of some of its most prominent members; having to contend, ever since its inception, and in an ever-increasing measure, with the forces of corruption, of moral laxity, and ingrained prejudice—such a community, in less than half a century, and unaided by any of its sister communities, whether in the East or in the West, has, by virtue of the celestial potency with which an all-loving Master has abundantly endowed it, lent an impetus to the onward march of the Cause it has espoused which the combined achievements of its coreligionists in the West have failed to rival.”

Was that “too” much for one sentence?

Would it really have the same effect if broken into shorter sentences?

Is it technology that’s driving so many writers to accept the contention that readers want short sentences?

Is it something in the fabric of a world going insane at ballistic speed?

Is there something inherently wrong with long sentences?
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