Tuesday, November 24, 2009

andrew versus evil foes of mccarthy's the road, part I

in my last 17 point scale post, i described the evolution of andrew the counterintuitive apologetic. i portrayed myself as a noble knight of truth, dashing about the interweb correcting false impressions, even when the matter at hand was of no relevance to or even contrary to my own beliefs. i examined how these magnanimous traits led me (though perhaps circuitously) to publish a book that looks at atheism from a completely new perspective, that of the christian who seeks to dialogue with atheism rather than destroy atheism, the christian who seeks to learn rather than obliterate.

you should buy that book, "god is dead" and i don't feel so good myself
, and while you're at it, this one too--jesus girls: true tales of growing up female and evangelical! but now i'd like to introduce a bit of realism to that perspective.

i really do see myself as someone who questions positions from all sides of the fence, who in trying to stay objective, often finds himself at odds with people on every side. but that doesn't mean i'm coming from position nowhere, that i only fight for issues where i function as a blank slate. no, i'm also quite happy to play the apologetic for those things that i love.

and so, when a friend posted a facebook comment that challenged the magnificence of cormac mccarthy's
the road--which is being released this week to a theater near you!--i couldn't help but respond. the following defense is adapted from that conversation. where necessary, i have taken the liberty of modifying the arguments of those who would dare question the road into straw-men caricatures of their former selves so that they are more easily vanquished.

evil person on facebook #1: [storms into the room brandishing strunk's elements of style like a sword] how can i read this drivel? [stabbing at an imaginary copy of our beloved pulitzer-prize winner] there's no punctuation. there are no semicolons, hardly ever a colon, and no quotation marks in sight. how am i supposed to know who's talking?

andrew, self-appointed defender of the road: [nodding judiciously] yes, i can understand your frustration. mccarthy's punctuation style can be off-putting. and at first it may take a bit of work to negotiate who says what or even who says what when. but perhaps that extra dose of concentration is actually a good thing.

backing away from the sharp edges of strunk and white] i'm actually rather curious if, back when mccarthy was poor, his editor, albert erskine, ever pointed this out to him, ever said, "you know, cormac, there's these things called quotation marks, and if you use them, more readers might buy your book."

but i doubt it--it's really not that unique. lots of literary writers dispense with quotation marks and the like. last month, for example, i read
all the living by c. e. morgan, a young writer on the national book foundation's shortlist for important upcoming authors, and she framed her dialogue in exactly the same way.

cormac mccarthy: [sitting in the corner, legs crossed, speaking to oprah via wikipedia about how, "I] prefer declarative sentences.

evil person on facebook #1: wait, who's that? where did he come from?

andrew, self-appointed defender of the road: oh, don't worry, that's cormac. he usually doesn't like speaking to us literary types, but hold on, i think he's saying something about how he shuns quotation marks and the like because he sees no reason to--

cormac mccarthy: --block the page up with weird little marks.

cormac fades back into the internet]

andrew, self-appointed defender of the road: [turning back to the bewildered evil thinker] it may seem strange to sacrifice some measure of readability for the sake of aesthetics, but i really think there's something to cormac's claim. limiting punctuation really does in some minute sense put our focus back on the words, on what's really beings said. perhaps there's something more authentic about it, just like when, in the border trilogy, mccarthy slips into spanish. i can't read more than three words of spanish, and so i might miss out on some sense of what's really happening, but it's more real.

andrew, the 17 point scale blogger: [jumping into the conversation with a quick whispered plug] junot diaz, who we reviewed earlier this month on the blog, does the exact same thing with spanish in his pulitzer-prize winning first novel, the brief wondrous life of oscar wao.

andrew, self-appointed defender of the road: thanks, andrew. [now speaking in his best historian voice] and at least in our current age, i think most writers and editors, the elites who in some way or another, at least until the digital age changes publishing as we know it, decide what we experience as writing, agree. we've entered a period--not a quotation mark!--of what's known as down-style, a time where nearly every style guide encourages the limited use of commas, a time where hilarious websites like http://www.unnecessaryquotes.com/ make fun of the over and incorrect use of scare quotes. and so i guess all i can say is that if you want to read literary writing--i.e., good writing--you'd best get used to it.

stay tuned for parts II, III, and IV.