style, writing

who is thinking in these particular words, and why?

I have been writing comments by the window, if by “writing comments” you mean “reading the James Wood archive on the LRB.” Alternating between grading, laundry, and cooking requiring the use of the oven all day. The snow has stopped falling at present.

Here’s Wood arguing that Updike is too poetic.

Wood writes: “One of the dangers for the stylist* such as Updike – and one of the ways in which prose is unlike poetry – is that prose always forces the question: who is thinking in these particular words, and why? Point of view, a boring topic to most readers, is the densest riddle for the novelist, since words are either directly ascribed to characters (first-person narration) or indirectly ascribed to them (third-person narration). By contrast, the poet’s words are generally assumed to flow from the poet, who wishes, as it were, to draw attention to himself.* But the novelist may not, and should not, always want to. There is no doubt that the pleasantly alliterative phrase ‘in painful piecemeal’ is rather fine; but is fineness what is needed here, or does it slide a filter between the reader and the supposedly pained narrator?”

– James Wood on John Updike, “Gossip in Gilt,” LRB v. 23 no. 8 (April 2001)

* this is probably exactly why I like Updike so much, and why even his characters’ misogyny, on which Wood expounds further, does not disturb me as much as it would in someone else’s words. Style.

** Of course! Always.

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