All a man needs out of life is a place to sit ‘n’ spit in the fire.

On the Death of Journey Sentences

This has been sitting in my drafts folder for over two years (Feb 19, 2006) – time to publish, I say!

You’ve all read them; they are what I like to term, “Journey Sentences.”  They are the typical sentences from the earlier part of the 20th Century and before. Most them would start out like the following:

Having all the deftness of a barnacled fishing trawler and half the wit of a common ordinary housefly, which is to say, not a lot, and wishing to keep up appearances so that should a potential suitor ever be quite so oblivious to said traits and stumble or perhaps bumble might trip and land with such a thud as to cause an impression upon the earth from which his posterior might never escape, Grace quietly nibbled on her egg salad sandwich.

Hah! that was a hoot.  Look, I don’t even know if that was grammatically correct or whatever, and frankly, I’m not going to go back find out.  You get the point.  But ahh, the journey sentence, the sentence which begins and ends you know not where.  Half the fun was the journey and the folly.  Might you reread the sentence, absorb its richness for clever clues as to vistas one might find along the windy path.  Lovely.

Who has time for that?

In today’s society with its fast pace and ruthless efficiency, we have no time for journeys.  Where are we going?  We ask.  Tell me now, dammit!  I don’t have time for your foppery, your magic journeys of butterflies and candy coated magical literary foreplay.

Let’s just get to it, shall we?

Perhaps this style of prose had its place long ago when the well-placed and small gentry of leisure had more time on their hands. Reading was idle time, time for relaxation.

Then: They wrote these crazy mad sentences.
Now: We watch people eating bugs.

Or maybe the world was so arbitrary and ruthless that literature just reflected what was familiar.  Whether rich or poor, you or your kids/wife/husband might be dead in a week from some fever, infection, or God’s will.  You didn’t know where it was going or when it might end, so you needed to be vigilant in all moments.  Literature might have reflected the capricious nature of life.  Meandering verbiage reflected what was known of the world and our control over it, which is to say, not much and very little.

I note with amusement that Spanish speaking people still have a tendency to write this way in English as they do in Spanish.  There is a taste to the words, something intrinsic to them that renders them uniquely  important not just as constructs of a sentence.  Their order, the languid pace, the setup, the tendril-like clauses that reach out in all directions pushing and pulling and twisting all feel like some kind of full sensual body massage of prose.

Is it a Catholic centric culture that shows less willingness to own the future?  It is not my place, I might say.  I am but a conduit.  The journey is what it is, to endure, to accept the way as it unfolds according to God’s plan.  Should it transpire too quickly, all enjoyment, all suffering, and by default all Grace is lost.

I’m not sure I buy it myself, but it does explain a lot.

1 Comment

  1. David

    While I enjoy any blogging endeavor that mentions Fear Factor, even obliquely, I’m especially fond of this posting, since it pairs said Fear Factor reference with an odd but effective Catholic allusion in an homage to one of my favorite literary devices (nearly on a par with dramatic irony, and far overshadowing, in this reader’s oh-so-humble opinion, onomatopoeia): the oft-maligned and woefully underutilized journey sentence.
    In other words: Suck it, Papa Hemingway. I’d rather read Dickens, Joyce, or Pynchon.

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