Sunday, June 30, 2019

Sunday Papers: Geoffrey Wolff

"Language, or more properly, grammar, is the obstacle that blocks the path of anyone ambitious to fit within the skin of a cultivated Frenchman. English is a language in which literacy is achieved by the expression of a huge vocabulary, through the interstices of a loose and easy syntax. It is a language that prizes evolution and surprise, one that requires curiosity and diligence rather than the kind of compulsive analysis and repetition by rote that French children--to their later, greater glory--are obliged to suffer. In all languages, the illiterate may be recognized by their ignorance of approved syntactical arrangements, but in English, once grammar has been absorbed, only vocabulary and perhaps accent distinguishes one speaker from his "inferior." 

But in French, grammar is a tyrant. It is monstrously difficult, & within its labyrinths are hidden all delicacy and sense, all meaning, all purpose, everything we think of as literature. The grammar of literary French is not available for appropriation by an adult. It is the reward for a childhood nightmare in which the simple thread must first be unraveled from a tangle, and then again and again. French writers come from the unassailable elite whose mark of class is its linguistic style." 

On the turntable:  Lambchop, "Is a Woman"
On the nighttable Geoffrey Wolff, "Black Sun"

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