Sinister Syntax

I sense I may have caused confusion in my last post by neglecting to make an adequate distinction between unpleasant content and unpleasant style.

Regarding the latter: it is possible, I maintain, that a writer –  who may or may not be a lovely person, and may or may not desire to write about lovely things – may be naturally inclined to write in a manner suggesting unpleasantness. Where does this nastiness lie? It lies in the space between the commas, in the colons and the dashes, the paragraph breaks and sentence lengths. It lies in the way the long words hang over the short words; in the manipulation of alliteration and assonance; of onomatopoeia and colloquialisms. It lies in the strangely sinister syntax.

This is poorly explained, I know. How can I accuse a writer of an unpleasant style in such vague terms? It is a major accusation – and yet it stands. Some writers, I believe, employ semi-colons in a way that only be described as ‘evil’. I am not saying that they are evil, or that their writing concerns evil things. It is something in the way their writing walks across the page: the sadistic gait of their sentences. Their writing is simply disposed towards unpleasantness.

Sometimes an unpleasant style (which it not necessary unpleasnt to read, I might add) comes with unpleasant content, as in the case of Pyetr Turgidovsky. More often that not, however, the two remain apart – which is why they must not be confused. One can write about wonderful things in a style that is not wonderful. Furthermore, one can do this and yet still write something that is wonderful to read. I am not talking about a bad style, after all, but an unpleasant one; a style inclined to evil. And what is more wonderful than an inclination (but not necessarily a definite movement) toward evil?

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