channeling a master

Today something a bit different.

Recently, while studying Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student by Edward P. J. Corbett, I’ve been doing exercises in copying and imitation. The copying has been straight-up literal copying, in longhand, of paragraphs written by excellent writers of the past, while the imitation has been imitation of the form and style of individual sentences. Corbett offers both these techniques as ways of expanding and improving one’s own stylistic toolkit, and while it may be too soon to tell whether these exercises are having any discernible effect on my own prose, I feel that they are most beneficial. My latest idea is to try to carry this method one step further.

As you know, I have a prose sketchbook in which I occasionally “sketch” my surroundings. Yesterday I had it with me when I accompanied Kimmie to the Park Royal mall, and I sketched the mall around me while Kimmie shopped at Fabricland. My idea, based on the Corbett approach, was to try to channel the point of view and style of an exemplary writer and sketch my surroundings using his method, as much as I could in a spontaneous exercise. I thought I would try to imitate Thomas Pynchon, whose descriptive writing I have always found to be very powerful, even as it is also idiosyncratic, lurid, and funny.

I found that the writing flowed less than when I just sketch in my “own” style; I had to give it repeated pushes and make repeated efforts to try to borrow Pynchon’s way of seeing things. This was the result:

Sat 12 May 2012 ca. 12:45 pm Park Royal South

A gabble of voices with reverb in this wide commercial grotto, a mosque to the invisible but omnipotent god Mammon, a sense of semi-subterranean complexity, with galleries running off to unseen epiphanies with gods not yet named. A sense of neon and incandescent tubularity: the glow of cylinders suspended in shade where no photon arrives from the sun without reflecting from at least two surfaces first. The mall food-court sprawls as purely artificial as a spaceport, populated by unconnected denizens who behave with the simple decorum of the figures in the architectural drawings used to raise the original capital to build the place. A sense of commercial purpose, of continuous machinelike operation in which the actual staffing is only implicit, as with the monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey”: the intelligences behind all this remain largely unseen except for the odd security guard, leaving it all to run itself like a well-designed farm where the livestock, after such long conditioning, all know what to do.

This paragraph of course could never be confused with one by Pynchon, but to me it does bear traces of my effort to observe and write like him. In this paragraph he was my master and I was his apprentice. The exercise pulled me out of my habits and got me trying to do things in a different way, to me a new way.

And how would I characterize my effort to “Pynchonize” my writing? In no special order:

  • don’t be afraid to run on
  • reach farther for a more outlandish but maybe more telling simile or metaphor
  • fearlessly fold in references to religion, science, and technology
  • convey a dreamlike sense of the intimacy of one’s barely conscious experience
  • prefer taking risks to playing it safe in order to be understood

The best writers are bold, and Pynchon is that in spades. My current thought is that I will copy more of his paragraphs, and also imitate some of his individual sentences, and see whether these efforts make it easier for me to channel this master in my own writing efforts.

My intent is to post all my sketches, so if I do more, you’ll know about it.

Share this post—why not?
Tweet about this on Twitter
Share on Facebook
Share on Reddit
Email this to someone
This entry was posted in prose sketches and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *