Crises of the Sentence

Crises of the Sentence

Jan Mieszkowski

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9780226617053

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This book offers the first systematic account of modern literary and philosophical conceptions of the sentence. It opens by demonstrating that there is little agreement about what a sentence is, what makes one effective or elegant, and whether there are aesthetic or political grounds for resisting its organizational hegemony. The chapters explore a range of attempts to challenge traditional logical, grammatical, and stylistic paradigms. With Hegel’s speculative sentence, the Romantic aphorism, and the Marxist slogan, the authority of the classical proposition is tested as writers search for verbal formations capable of reshaping the relationship between language, thought, and action. Pitting lineation against the dictates of syntax, poets such as Whitman and Dickinson experiment with different forms of versification in crafting new patterns of discourse. With Flaubert, writing becomes a process of endlessly revising individual sentences, with no way to determine when one will be finished. Questioning whether we even know what a sentence is, modernists such as Pound, Stein, and Hemingway rethink basic compositional goals, beginning with the desire to write clearly and simply. The book closes by arguing that an investment in great writing has always been an ethical and political as well as an aesthetic commitment. If a fetish for great sentences has largely replaced the veneration of great books, little attention has been paid to the ideologies that underlie such stylistic ideals.