Snippets #34

James Wood-How Fiction Works

99

Nietzsche laments, in Beyond Good and Evil: “What a torment books written in German are for him who has a third ear.” If prose is to be as well written as poetry–the old modernist hope–novelists and readers must develop their own third ears. We have to read musically, testing the precision and rhythm of a sentence, listening for the almost inaudible rustle of historical association clinging to the hems of modern words, attending to patterns, repetitions, echoes, deciding why one metaphor is successful and another is not, judging how the perfect placement of the right verb or adjective seals a sentence with mathematical finality. We must proceed on the assumption that almost all prose popularly acclaimed as beautiful (“she writes like an angel”) is nothing of the sort, that almost every novelist will at some point be baselessly acclaimed for writing “beautifully” as almost all flowers are at some point acclaimed for smelling nice. (182)

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