Thursday, August 30, 2007

Realism and Romanticism

I wish I had more time to go into it tonight, but it amazes me, reading Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing, how big an apparent influence he's been on my work. I hadn't really thought about it before, because he's a fiction writer, but certainly the flowing, unpunctuated sentences are something I've admired.

For example, almost randomly, "He told the boy that although he was huerfano still he must cease his wanderings and make for himself some place in the world because to wander in this way would become for him a passion and by this passion he would become estranged from men and so ultimately from himself." Not a comma there. The entire weight of the sentence is suspended from the coordinating conjunctions and the subordinating conjunctions, if I've remembered my grammar correctly. And one relative pronoun.

The individual clauses, dependent and independent, become as beads on a string of language. And then the individual beads take shape--alliteration is a pattern across these "beads," especially the "h," and the "w." Also repetition, such as "passion" and versions of "he" the third person pronoun--and the neat thing about the latter is that sometimes the pronoun refers to the person speaking, and sometimes to the boy he is describing. The sentences, although seemingly aimless at first, with a heavy emphasis on the coordinating conjunctions, take on kind of interesting and clearly intentional patterns that provide not only a music, but a method of emphasizing key words and critical concepts.

Also, reading this particular novel, the middle of the Border Trilogy, which I am reading last, having read the first first and the third second, I am again struck by the way McCarthy can blend realism and romanticism. This is seen in big and small ways throughout his books--obviously, others have commented on this. The landscape is always alive and resonant of human emotion (romanticism) and yet is accurately described in its details (realism). Spiritual sensibilities, accompanied by characters spouting Very Big Ideas sit alongside very plain American cowboy observations.

But this blending of realism and romanticism also takes place at the level of the sentence, as seen above, I think. There's a real plainness to the sentence--the use of coordinating conjunctions flattens it, really--it's the simplest method of putting together independent clauses. Yet many of the words are latinate, scattered in with other plain, elemental words. And these latinate words tend to carry a lot of weight: passion, estranged, ultimately.

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