From Gerald Murnane’s “In Praise of the Long Sentence” (Meanjin, Autumn 2016), a crotchety but interesting essay:
In 1986 I was invited, along with several other writers, to give a short talk at the Melbourne Writers Festival on the subject ‘Why I write what I write’. I was not surprised when the other writers talked about childhood experiences, subjects that inspired them, or concerns that drove them to write. I chose to talk about none of these, and my short speech must have impressed at least one member of the audience, the then editor of Meanjin, Judith Brett, who published the speech a few months later. My speech began ‘I write sentences. I write first one sentence, then another sentence. I write sentence after sentence…’ I made no mention of grammar in my speech. I spoke more about such matters as the shape of meaning, the sound of sense, the contour of thought. These were all expressions I had learned from other writers’ efforts to explain why some writing, to put it simply, is better than other writing. I quoted a remarkable passage by Virginia Woolf in which she claimed: ‘A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it … and then, as it breaks and tumbles in the mind, it makes words to fit it.’ I wrote my speech 30 years ago, and I’m as pleased with it today as I was then, but I acknowledge that my essay, so to call it, is no sort of compelling argument for grammatically sound sentences. Rather, it seems to suggest that I trusted for most of my life in a sort of instinct. I trusted in a sort of instinct and looked only for apt or suggestive forms of words, and yet I never needed to violate the principles of traditional grammar. […]
Several times during the writing of this piece, I may have seemed to be trying to justify my use of long sentences. Certainly, I left off writing this piece now and then and pondered on my liking for such sentences and my interest in punctuation and traditional grammar. These preferences of mine may have a simpler explanation than I sometimes try to find. During the first ten years of my life, I was closer in time to the nineteenth century than to the present century. For most of my childhood I read books written long before my birth, books by R.L. Stevenson, Charles Kingsley, Charles Reade, William Henry Hudson. Even our English textbooks at secondary school recommended the prose of Charles Lamb, Thomas Hardy, George Borrow. I long ago gave up reading contemporary writers, but I still look often into Hardy’s novels or Lavengro or The Romany Rye. Perhaps I learned the subtle rhythms of left-branching nineteenth-century prose in the same way that the authors of that prose learned the rhythms of their Cicero or their Livy. I would be far from disappointed to learn that this is so.
Anyone who refuses to like or understand contemporary art is self-doomed to irrelevance (which is not the same as inferiority), and anyone who claims “to know more about sentences than Thomas Pynchon or Frank Kermode” is in some sense a blithering idiot, but I like his statement “that meaning for me was connection; that a thing had meaning for me if it was connected with another thing.” Via wood s lot.