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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Multiplication of elements

A critic proposes to read Wallace Stevens's poetry

“more obliquely, as an instrument of analytic leverage that can help to articulate a critique of those gestures whereby criticism refuses or denies its own positioning within a framework that a gay theory might enable us to read”

That's just the end of a very long sentence. We have a noun phrase

"an instrument of analytic leverage"

then a relative clause beginning with three verbs:

"can help to articulate"

the object of this phrase:

"a critique of those gestures"

another relative clause

"whereby criticism refuses or denies its own positioning"

another prepositional clause

"within a framework"

another relative clause

"that a gay theory might enable us to read"

The multiplication of elements, eight nouns and eight verbs for example, makes the sentence difficult to process, though the gist of it is clear enough. Ineffective writing? Not really; it perfectly suits the sort of metacritical tone that the writer wants.

3 comments:

Andrew Shields said...

Still, the pileup is a bit much.

"Can help to articulate" could be "contributes to", as one quick way to tighten it up a little.

And maybe the whole "whereby" thing really deserves a sentence of its own, so that it's not as buried. That material is presumably pretty central to the critic's point, yet it's multiply subordinated. Grammatical subordination does not necessarily equal hierarchy, but it often creates hierarchical effects.

Vance Maverick said...

Andrew, I don't think you are disagreeing with Jonathan. J says the effect is intended, which (looking at the whole passage) I agree with. You say it's undesirable, which I also agree with...

Jonathan said...

I agree that it would be undesirable... for me. I try to avoid unnecessary pileups like this. This is classic queer theory from twenty years ago and I'm using it to make a point in a footnote to my own chapter. How the style betrays an excessively metacritical posture. What happens to poor Wallace Stevens? The author I'm sure would defend it in all its glory.