The Power of Sentences

Sometimes I think Pilgrimage changed my way of reading. Or maybe my way of thinking. Perhaps both. I’ve always read slowly, meditatively, but this tendency has intensified of late. Maybe it’s age, or the coming of autumn.

This week I’ve been reading Jen Craig’s Panthers and the Museum of Fire and dwelling on its sentences, allowing their meaning to flow, layers of meaning emerging from her sentences on a first reading, and differently on the second, when the drum beat of newness is decreased. Her book already feels like a friend that I don’t wish to leave anytime soon. What strikes me most about Panthers and the Museum of Fire is the way Jen Craig uses sinuous, snakelike sentences to slow down and complicate the reading experience.

I like to think that Dorothy Richardson taught me how to read her prose, and in doing so made me a participant in the creation of prospect and meaning, with a satisfying double awareness, of not only the places her writing can take me, but also of the extraordinary artistry and integrity of the language that takes me there.

13 thoughts on “The Power of Sentences

  1. I like that concept of being a ‘participant in the creation of prospect and meaning’ – reminds me of what Barthes was suggesting in his notorious (and widely misinterpreted?) ‘Death of the Author’ essay: whose ‘voice’ are we reading/hearing at any point in a narrative. This occurred to me, coincidentally, yesterday when I was posting about an Elizabeth Taylor novel, and a quotation slid from direct thought into free indirect thought within two sentences – a brilliant shift of perspective, distance — prospect. I don’t know the Craig text you mention; must look into it. Have still not summoned the energy to start Pilgrimage, but it’s still there, on the shelf – vol. 1, anyway (the VMC ed., 1 of 4)

    • Yes, Richardson might have liked Barthes’ Death of the Author if she had lasted another decade or so; his idea that the author is a figure within, rather than outside, a literary text, chimes well with her own notion of literature.

  2. Lovely, and I’m glad to see someone getting so much out of Richardson. I was discussing reception theory and the reader’s role in constructing the text only the other weekend at the Iris Murdoch Society Conference!

  3. I have always been a slow, careful reader. Writing, and more specifically critically reading and writing my way through a text, has impacted my reading—and the type of work I am increasingly drawn to. The writer with whom I am most deeply engaged at the moment (and likely for some time to come) is Michel Leiris. I have a particular project underway and when I am finished with that I will begin to try to share some of my responses to his intensely introspective autobiographical work.
    I’d never heard of Panthers and the Museum of Fire but I am especially intrigued since my own pilgrimages to Glebe, twice during my recent stay in Sydney—the first in the company of Tristan Foster, the second following lunch with a poet whose book had drawn me to Glebe in the first place!

    • I could compare Panthers and the Museum of Fire to other books, especially what I’ve read of Pilgrimage, but its sentences breath slowly and deeply in their own unique way. Jen Craig also writes at – – an old favourite blog.

      I’ve got some Leiris awaiting my attention. His Phantom Africa will pair nicely with Gide’s Travels in the Congo.

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