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Monday, May 17, 2010

Splendor of the Paragraph

Guy Davenport's critical prose is about the best there is, a model of force and concision. It very individual, very much his, but at the same time not eccentric in any way:

Another problem of author and critic is that a work of art can know things the maker of it doesn't. When I wrote an icongraphic study of Grant Wood's American Gothic, I had several complaints--one in print from Hugh Kenner--that I was assigning to Grant Wood knowledge he didn't have. I replied that the painting knew these things for him. Of a study I wrote of Eudora Welty, Miss Welty replied, with great kindness and friendliness, that she did not intend any of the symbolism I saw in her work. This is, let us say, daunting, but again I think MIss Welty, seeing her stories in her way, which is always perforce inside outwards, does not realize the extent she has kept the contours and symbols of Ovid's Metamorphoses (which is what I was writing about) that we can see from the outside looking in.

"The Critic as Artist"

The structure of this paragraph is simple and easy to understand: a thesis and two examples. Each example consists of two sentences. The structure of thought is parallel, but the syntax and sentence length are varied. Notice how smoothy the sentences flow into one another, how the first example merits an aphorism (the painting knew these things for him) while the second requires a more elaborate (but clearly phrased) explanation. Imagine if all the sentences in this paragraph were as lengthy as the final one or as short as the first. By the way, the way in which sentences build from simple to complex is quite artful here.


Phaedrus said...

Davenport's prose has always both humbled me and given me great delight. Such complex understanding so lucidly given to the reader.

Jonathan said...

Yes indeed.