Content Tagged ‘William Styron’

Poetry of Light in August

June 22, 2015 | 8 Comments

America’s greatest essay

August 29, 2010 | 3 Comments

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a very bad novel, having, in its self-righteous, virtuous sentimentality, much in common with Little Women. Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty.”—James Baldwin, “Everybody’s Protest Novel,” from Notes of a …

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Writing’s ‘dangerous method’

June 20, 2010 | 9 Comments

On my recent European trip I dipped again into Writing with Power, finding it dense but savoring Peter Elbow’s hard-earned insights. He’d been such a poor writer that he had to drop out of graduate school, only returning years later. If he’d been a natural, he probably would not have noticed how he actually wrote successfully, when he did. Pre-outlining didn’t work for him, either.

Elbow advocates timed free-writing—ten-minute nonstop bursts to empty our heads of junk, to find nuggets, to warm up, to tap creativity, or to explore topics we’re writing about, like Aunt Mary’s screened porch in summer. He comes closer than anyone does to convincing me to freewrite. For instance, I’m a sucker when he gets all mystical and credits freewriting both with reducing writers’ legendary resistance to writing and also with preventing them from conquering their resistance. Here’s a sample of his thinking on this from Chapter Two of Writing with Power:

“To write is to overcome a certain resistance: you are trying to wrestle a steer to the ground, to wrestle a snake into a bottle, to overcome a demon that sits in your head. To succeed in writing or making sense is to overpower that steer, that snake, that demon. But not kill it.

“This myth explains why some people who write fluently and perhaps even clearly—they say just what they mean in adequate, errorless words—are really hopelessly boring to read. There is no resistance in their words; you cannot feel any force being overcome, any orneriness. No surprises. The language is too abjectly obedient. When writing is really good, on the other hand, the words themselves lend some of their energy to the writer. The writer is controlling words he can’t turn his back on without danger of being scratched or bitten.”

You’ve got to love a guy who comes up with stuff like that.

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‘Nat Turner’s’ narrative structure

January 8, 2010 | 2 Comments

William Styron creates dreamy world in his slave rebellion novel. The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron. Vintage. 480 pages. Eventually I realized that William Styron’s poetic descriptions of weather and landscapes in The Confessions of Nat Turner aren’t supposed to represent the world as we know it—or even as the characters know it, save perhaps for the narrator, Nat Turner—but to create a feeling in the reader of tragic grandeur, of a doomed place saturated with significance and …

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The poetic prose of ‘Nat Turner’

January 3, 2010 | 2 Comments

William Styron’s great novel showcases the strengths of lavish, incantatory words and sentences. The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron. Vintage. 480 pages. William Styron told interviewers he worked slowly, writing his thick books by hand, in No. 2 pencil, on yellow legal pads. In Sophie’s Choice his alter ego reads his sentences aloud, testing them, as he goes. Styron had an ear for rhythm and a fearsome vocabulary that he wasn’t afraid to unleash. The lovely word motes …

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A few more words

December 21, 2009 | No Comments

I own a few sacred words, words of such beauty I desire to be worthy of them. I adore these watery two: lacustrine, of or pertaining to a lake, and pelagic, of or pertaining to the open seas or oceans. The oceans are mighty places, you know, and pelagic fishes must swim faster than their lacustrine kin. We try to capture our feelings with words, and we think more precisely and deeply with them. Therefore knowing the meaning of bumptious …

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