ABOUT A SENTENCE
“Whatever else we know, we know there isn’t time to bullshit.”
– Eve Kosovsky Sedgwick
Writing language is the production of a necessary space and thinking about it feels a little bit like a child abrading herself with her own rough scab out of curiosity to suggest the immediacy and profligacy of the press of texts and powers and object-bodies we write in and through a set of priorities and imperatives by which I think I write I have rarely known Wordsworth’s tranquility perhaps I have avoided it instead I will carry out the “indispensible ruptures and transformations.”[i]
I was raised in the American area of a pervasive gas called anti-intellectualism and the only meaningful idea permitted was entrepreneurial capitalism or racism racism in the land-fill strained water running off the mountains or sexism sexism in my preparations for living better living through elemental carcinogenics like plastics they are a part of me but to me it’s queerness queerness has meant the development of an anyway bravery and queerness has meant privileged refusals to field the deep lobs of cultural identity and the imperatives of “sense” and queerness is working sentences through a queer poetics and has meant a recognition of my great capacities for love and destruction and that profound mistrust for categories and orders that begins with all language and with the space of the sentence some kind of fuckity familiar home where we are condemned by sentences and their states states and regimes of chronology and power more power in their sense of the senses.
There is an emergency in every encounter with the sentence as it possesses a profound evidence of control over sense and knowledge drunk-driven by the deep historical flesh memory of syntax—one of our most unstudied linguistic units—which I suggest quite often syntax makes people syntax harnessed into sentences they speak and we are helpless so so we march to our debt and to our deaths inside of what the sentence says so I’ve been fantasizing “sentences [that] take us not toward the recognition of language, but away from it.”[ii]
The sentence is a unit of prose and it was its sale that made prose art and we say “prose” and the dictionaries unfurl like the flag tongues of total boredom and utility with their staunch etymologies of prose explicatory hermeneutic prose and particularly prose fiction it’s a thing a real thing to define first than maybe define oneself against in all writing toward further evidence of Sontag’s mishappening desires for something “in place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art”[iii] (“Against Interpretation”).
Like Jill Johnston said in reverse about another subject (herself as lesbian): we need to view our sentences in strictly general terms with respect to sex[iv] and the sounds of sex as all sentences are related in that they all emerge in relation to our cores with greater or lesser proximity to our being the sounds we make within and outside of determined spaces and so indeed contrary to much thinking and reading there is sound in the sentence the sentence it is a sonic vehicle that belongs in the orifices of the sentence are poems that want performative sentences embodied the I wants embodied sentences performing the I wants her sentences to do even if what it is that they do is beyond us and still sticking out of us even if what they do is a fine impression of a dead arm and Alice’s illocutionary caterpillar revising the virtuous worker’s tale into a song of vanity and consumption—what have the “busy bee” and the “little crocodile” to say or do to one another—sentences with the prosody of a murderous handbag high on itself and burning with some sting and burning on the orchid and burning queer poetics are always at some stake lightly burning.
My sentences and my self we occupy the paranoid/schizoid position and sleep well on the reparative one described by Eve Sedgwick[v] because we have problems because despite and because of our deep love for and suspicion of one another for we have hysterically and pragmatically resisted being understood like is the model of Eve’s onanism a precondition for “good” sex “good” writing thus is the act of self-writing-self self-reading-self akin to no-reproductive futurism?[vi] and was the onanist ever actually one because what does it mean for a scholar for a reader for a writer to love part of a text to love part of a world or a word that thinks that you are full of shit to resolutely succeed fail to disregard in dominant thinking something as fundamental as the devaluation and disinheritance of massive fractions of a whole humanity in the formulation of claims the selection of evidence the handing down of a sentence to delimit capacities and so canons even personal ones tempt us into thinking that our resonant allusions are more than esoteric though for me the pleasure in the esoteric academic prosaic—the windy makes my best my joyfully depressive my manglingly informative disfigurative possible is what is It is to feel out the spaces and imperatives of the sentence than to destroy them to see what information survives in the obliteration of measure what unmeasured posture hides in the regime of the sentence what possible pasts meaning futures maybe I wish to live in the idea that to pursue justice would be to inhabit creative and theoretical practices that “emerge from queer experience but become invisible or illegible under a paranoid optic”[vii] so invested in the pursuit and maintenance of power.
I’d like to suggest an epic value in means without ends in the rejection of power to hear embodied intellect and feel beauty in the possibility of listening to the threads without the expectation of prescribed satisfaction i.e. the pain of projected anticipatory logic that we’ve been begged into begging all of these little syntactical paragraphical surrenders turn us into bobbins to think of readers as bobbins and writers as bobbins for language what orders do your packaging your punctuation your calm and “sense” impose for language for people this is for language but this isn’t a hero’s tale.
Even so I think we need to write sentences about all of the horrible and wonderful things we are implicated in but we must write the implications in the sounds maybe we must write the violences at the intersections where our syntax becomes sentences the locations of our cultural trainings where we must resist the tonal and postural appeals of cultural logics genres genres are sublimated cultural logics which circumscribe the writing body and dictate means and ends both against wherein theory is super cool because it can’t help but win and fail because it is trying to contort the aims of prose toward something that bends time and space but you halt this in your reading of it your reading reminds us that we look too much for comfort and assurance in the sentence and I look too much for comfort and we must admit we must admit that the senses all eight of them are prime but the world we’ve been trained to reference with them demands a new sensorium new associative synaesthetics newerbetter technological advancements in fucking—fucking with grammar makes shadow disjuncts to the operations of the easy maybe aches that dissolve the solid places because I never really know what I’m doing but maybe that is the point which infinitely stellates freedom from and for the thatness and whatness of the there and now.
Hey there are problems with the sentence and this is not the moment when the crowding of voices starts but it is when I notice them and those problems even and odd poetry shares which is that it is directional it rehearses a choosing that genders through its esteepment in genre which demands discrete marked bodies they say to the hero which family which love which sexual version which “unrealizable values” which “unacceptable social history”[viii] in order to formulate the identity appeal to make its marches along a deadbeat escapement marking time toward material gains toward the misogynistic death of the dank unfathomable period while there are rhythms there are orders to life akin to the rhythms and orders of narrative but what is represented and what isn’t represented so that we underestimate the human deficits produced by the demand for a forced continuity of subject and many prose texts exact this toll through the reliability of certain patterns of affect comfort shock and identification that are the bankrupt requirements of a social pleasure that is pleasure as a prolix observation but also a fact when really all kinds of “ ‘impossible’ subjects” have been producing “harrowing explosions” forever and ever.[ix]
The sentence Silliman found is between speech and writing which we forget so but sounds help but the demands created by the pretend world of understanding we have to admit our efforts at communication are limiting like the sexy new metaphor like for centuries vision is the answer vision is the blower of the mind vision just a metaphor that scotomizes that updates that entrenches the problem so maybe instead the sentence should be the problem and forgo its allegiance to the pretend world of the solution and Renee Gladman says “the sentence (bridge) interrogates as it performs; it fails as it performs”[x] so maybe the sentence should point to its own limits and hammer and stroke at them like a jerk like a lover like a human a sentence to empower the reader/listener to a great formative NO which is to say look to yourself and cultivate the strength to look to draw the line in space and step through it it it the ethereal funds to leap out of yourself toward the other the object-bodies one of which you already are toward receiving the beautiful and captivating and generative NO of the other in the stuff of the sentence and to know the terms through and by which you limit that other that creature that mess that glorious flaw you extend through your extension through your writing you’re writing your own glorious flaw can you feel it and you’re fearing toward the loss of fear and we will be vessels for the beloved NO designed by our own divinations of the significance of intimate refusals that magnify and modify in increments the flashes of chaos we invited ourselves to see in our fucked and fractured “sentences.”
[i] Cixous, “Laugh of the Medusa.” (880)
[ii] Silliman, “The New Sentence.” (82)
[iii] Sontag, “Against Interpretation.” (TK)
[iv] Johnston, Lesbian Nation. (78)
[v] Sedgwick, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading.”
[vi] Thanks to Kandice Chuh for this excellent question in regards to my “project” as a thinker/writer.
[vii] Sedgwick. (147)
[viii] Barthes, The Preparation for the Novel. (286)
[ix] Cixous, “Laugh of the Medusa.” (879)
[x] Gladman. “The Person in the World,” Biting the Error. (46)
Sara Jane Stoner s a writer, performer, and teacher at Brooklyn College and The Cooper Union. She has an MFA in Fiction from Indiana University and is currently a PhD student in English at CUNY Graduate Center. Recent writing can be found or is forthcoming in Spinning Jenny, ESQUE, and the Poetry Project Newsletter, among other places.