Friday, August 05, 2005
Touching Every Word Once
What better way to spend a summer evening, as I did last night, than to read James Wood’s collection The Broken Estate:
When it comes to language, all writers want to be billionaires. All long to possess so many words that using them is a fat charity. To be utterly free in language, to be absolute commander of what you do not own—this is the greatest desire of any writer. Even the deliberate paupers of style—Hemingway, Paves, late Beckett—have their smothered longings for riches, and make their reductions seem like bankruptcy after wealth rather than fraud before it. Pavese translated Moby-Dick into Italian. Realists may protest that it is life, not words, that draws them as writers: yet language at rush hour is like a busy city. Language is infinite, but it is also a system, and so it tempts us with the fantasy that it is closed, like a currency or an orchestra. What writer does not dream of touching every word in the lexicon once? In Moby-Dick, Herman Melville nearly touched every word once, or so it seems.