Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

More on style (part one)

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More on style:

I had forgotten until I started to read a new, splendid, translation of Don Quixote (by P. A. Motteux) that this, the greatest of novels, begins - before the Master of la Mancha becomes Don Quixote - before he becomes a fake knight on a sway-backed nag - with the Master allowing himself to be suckered in by the worst kind of prose styles: obfuscation and the urge for ornamentation gone awry. As a consequence, his life will be as much fake as the prose he admires is fake.

Quixote quotes from books he has been reading, books marked by two styles:

a) "The reason of your unreasonable usage of my reason, does so enfeeble my reason, that I have reason to expostulate with your beauty."

b) "The sublime heavens, with which your divinity divinely fortify you with stars, and fix you the deserver of the desert that is deserved by your grandeur."

(In our time, you'll find examples of a): in any six sentences by the philosopher, Hegel. And examples of b): which is what I call rhinestone prose - in sentence after sentence in Ondaatje's The English Patient.)

Widely read, and under the influence, so to speak, Don Quixote lives in

a world of disorderly notions, picked out of his books, crowded into his imagination; and now his head was full of nothing but enchantments, quarrels, battles, challenges, wounds, complaints, amours, torments, and abundance of stuff and impossibilities; insomuch, that all the fables and fantastical tales which he read seemed to him now as true as the most authentic histories.

There are knights in our literary world, armed cap-a-pie, with some even wearing the armour of their grandfathers, who, mounted on their steeds and in the name of honour, hand out prizes for this kind of stuff.

There is, however, another view of style.

To be continued.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Barry Callaghan

Barry Callaghan is an award-winning author, poet, editor and publisher. He is one of Canada’s most preeminent men of letters. His most recent collection of short stories, Between Trains, was published by McArthur & Company in 2007.

Go to Barry Callaghan’s Author Page