Our beautiful, fat English language – zaftig comes to mind, Yiddish absorbed by our omnivorous tongue -- comes to us free of charge. We can play with it any time of day, the very words once caressed by Shakespeare, Swift and Keats. You don’t have to join the club. You’re born into it. Writers are privileged folk. They take their inheritance, lovingly mold it into pleasing new shapes and share them with the world. Sometimes they even get paid, whether in cash or readerly devotion.
“Literature ought to infuse us with delight, an effect Nabokov termed `aesthetic bliss.’” That’s me quoting me quoting Nabokov, which is more ingrown than I hoped to sound. I wrote that eleven years ago today, on Feb. 5, 2006, when Anecdotal Evidence was born. Every day since then I have posted my “ravings,” the word Guy Davenport used to self-deprecate his productions. For a writer, the delight I mention above is doubled. Thoreau said we are warmed twice by wood – when we chop it and when we burn it. So it is for writers – crafting our words and consuming the words of others.
In “Jig Street,” his coda to God’s Zoo: Artists, Exiles, Londoners (Carcanet, 2014), the poet Marius Kociejowski reports on an Iraqi friend who tells him English contains “a sense of justice” absent from Arabic. Marius asks: “What happens, though, when the language becomes all tottery with euphemism? When it becomes debased with all manner of friendly fire?” He might be speaking of the bookish precincts of the blogosphere. When not euphemistic it is most often angry, stupid and self-regarding. Marius goes on to consider what he calls “the moral ascendancy of the long sentence as opposed to the staccato bursts that compromise the language of everyday North American experience.” Marius has lived in England for more than forty years but was born in Canada. He revels in English and scraps of other tongues. He continues:
“American English has got its jive. Also it can be as sinewy, as beautifully wrought as the best English written here. What I’m saying is the language as ordinarily used, when reduced to the monosyllabic or else to a sputtering of arrested similes – like, like – only serves to abbreviate experience.”
Thank you to Marius, Dave Lull, Norm Sibum, Joseph Epstein, Helen Pinkerton, Mark Wait, Mike Gilleland, Bill Vallicella, Eric Ormsby, Terry Teachout, Bruce Floyd, Paul Dry, Nige, zmkc, Mark Marowitz and other readers who remind me that delight is the object, that language and literature are an endless feast and experience need never be abbreviated.