In praise of pageantry

September 14, 2011 § 1 Comment

My prose, I acknowledge, is mostly hued with a variety of purples. It sometimes embarrasses me, in fact, that I so naturally gravitate to such a style, both in my own writing and in what I prefer to read. Indeed, I would be surprised if many a reader of this blog thus far has not already been put off, a little bit at least, as much by my many affectations as by my affections.

Oh, but if so, Paul West would like to have a word with you:

Human beings need pageantry every bit as much as they need austerity…. We hear it all the time for minimal prose, though, the complimentary epithets for which never vary: taut, clean, crisp, tight, terse, lean, as if all we ever wanted were the skeletal. Is it because humans dread obesity, or fullness, or the relentless tug of gravity, that the righteous cult of the vacant has done so well? It takes a certain amount of sass to speak up for prose that’s rich, succulent, and full of novelty. Disgust, allied with some anti-pleasure principle, rules the roost and fixes taste. Out of these narrow and uninspected notions, the self-righteous have wrung moralistic criteria for esthetic deeds, which is understandable in a basically puritan country that is profoundly corrupt but hates to admit it. Purple is immoral, undemocratic, and insincere; at best artsy, at worst the exterminating angel of depravity. The truth would seem to be that, so long as originality and lexical precision prevail, the sentient writer has a right to immerse himself or herself in phenomena and come up with as personal a version as can be. A writer who can’t do purple is missing a trick. A writer who does purple all the time ought to have more tricks. A writer who is afraid of mind, which English-speaking writers tend to be, unlike their European counterparts, is a lion afraid of meat. (Sheer Fiction)

Coming across this quote reminds me that I have badly overlooked actually reading even a page of any of the four volumes of West’s massive work. I’ve read some of his essays published elsewhere, and perhaps there is some crossover. But this is something I want to remedy soon, and suspect you may be hearing more of these efforts soon. For now, though, you should feast upon these excerpts from his “aphasiac memoir,” Shadow Factory.

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