Thursday, May 4, 2017

A page-ninety test

I bought the book a few years ago and never got around to reading it. So I took it from a shelf this week and began. I lasted six or seven pages before deciding to do a page-ninety test. It’s a Ford Madox Ford practice: turn to page ninety, choose the first paragraph of any real length, and read it to gauge the quality of the writer’s prose:

This is another of the ironies of the melancholy existence. In feeling fractured and fragmented, isolated and bereft, one actually comes to experience wholeness and unity. To suffer melancholy is also to understand its polar opposite, joy. Lacking joy, one broods on it more deeply than when one possesses this state. Contemplating this condition, one eventually comes to understand it more profoundly than one would if one were actually experiencing joy. In vacillating between sorrow and joy, one grasps the secret harmony between these two antinomies. Doing so, one apprehends the rhythms of the whole cosmos, itself a dynamic interplay between opposites. To get this fact is to move close to the core of the world, to become acquainted with how the universe works and breathes and is. In such moments as this — those instants when we feel connected to the whole — we return, in a strange way, to innocence.
Or we return the book to the shelf — or better, we bring the book to the nearest library sale or used-book store. In its redundancies (“fractured and fragmented,” ”isolated and bereft,” “polar opposite,” “whole cosmos,” “moments” and “instants”), inelegant variations (“this condition” for “this state,” “opposites” for “antinomies”), slackness (“actually” twice, “this — those”), and vague pseudo-profundities (“wholeness and unity,” “the rhythms of the whole cosmos,” “a dynamic interplay,” “the core of the world,” “the whole,” “in a strange way,” “innocence”), this writer’s prose is, for me, unreadable. I wish I’d figured that out before buying the book.

Related reading
Ford Madox Ford’s page-ninety test
My Salinger Year, a page-ninety test
Nature and music, a page-ninety test
The history of handwriting, a page-ninety test

[The book’s writer is a professor of English, or as he describes himself, “a literary humanist searching for a deeper life.” Though it’s not clear from this passage, he makes a sharp distinction between melancholia and depression. Still, “polar” is an unfortunate choice in this territory. And the whole passage strikes me very wishful thinking.]

comments: 6

MK said...

P. 3 (very first paragraph) might have done as well: "Our are ominous times. Each nervous glance portends some potential disaster. Paranoia most mornings shocks us to wakefulness, and we totter out under the ghostly sun. At night fear agitates the darkness. Dreams of empty streets flitter through our fitful heads ... etc., etc.

It is, of course, no evidence against the page-ninety test--just a confirmation!

Michael Leddy said...

Manfred, I’m laughing as I’m typing — thank you for that passage. It took me several tries to get through the first few pages. I kept thinking that the guy has something important to say, but, finally, no, not to me.

MK said...

"Our" should have been "Our's". I read another book by this author, called "Keeping it Fake" which I found slightly better, even though the title is rather suggestive of what you find in this one.

Pete said...

Please let us know the author's name so that we can do everything we possibly can to avoid ever sitting next to him on a cross-country flight.

Michael Leddy said...

I was trying to be tactful. It’s Eric G. Wilson. The book is Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy.

Slywy said...

This reads to me like a variation on Henry Miller's style, which is pretentious and overreaching in its attempts to strangle meaning.