February 2, 2011

"The only people for me are the mad ones..."

"... the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes 'Awww!'"

A sentence written by Jack Kerouac, submitted in a contest to pick the best sentences, chosen as one of the 3 best sentences, by Stanley Fish, who has written a book called "How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One," which I just bought, and you could buy too, using this link, causing Amazon to send 8% of the purchase price to me and making me go "Awww!"

36 comments:

Scott said...

Okay, diagram it.

Scott said...

I bought an LCD television on the Instapundit link and I didn't even get a thank-you note.

Coketown said...

Would you be terribly upset if I bought something that wasn't stupid? Anyone putting Gertrude Stein on any list of good sentences--let alone the best sentences of all time--is a pedantic retard. "I read incomprehensible gibberish; I must be educated. Being but one and only one, not two, but one in the same as one who goes to, too, one being in the same as you, too." Look, I'm brilliant!

If you see any watches or mellotrons come through, it was me.

Skookum John said...

What the hell was he talking about? It's only in the last few years that they have succeeded in making any fireworks that could remotely be called "blue", and still pretty feeble at that.

TheGiantPeach said...

Something fishy... or I am just confused. I went to the link, and I had to read through five sentences (not the promised three), and not one of them was Kerouac's.

rhhardin said...

That's Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Burn your tiger at both ends.

ricpic said...

Use short sentences.

--Ernest Hemingway

The Concrete Dog said...

a stanley fish sandwich wld be terible


im writin a bokk called how to rite a sentence wen u cant read one

its fr americn high school graduets

edutcher said...

ricpic has a point. The sentences in the link are long, but, except for the John Bunyan one, have no real bite.

You could find something better in Saki, Oscar Wilde, or Mark Twain, if you're looking for humor.

Ralph L said...

Someone turned that thought into the catchy new Katy Perry song "Firework." In the video, people have fireworks coming out of their chests as she sings "Aww, Aww, Aww." There's also a fat chick in a bikini and two pretty boys kissing just for Kerouac.

"She was a good cook, as cooks go, and as cooks go, she went."
- Saki

Bob said...

More interesting would be for Althouse to make a post under which commenters could subscribe their favorite (literary) sentences. Not a sentence of their own, but from a noted author like Kerouac, etc. (Not to say that Crack isn't a noted author, but ya know what I mean.)

Lucien said...

But Nabokov's sentence from Pnin, referenced in the same Slate piece was a whole romantic heart-rending story.

TheGiantPeach said...

"When our brave parents was ripped from Ireland, like teeth from the mouth of their own history, and every dear familiar thing had been abandoned on the docks at Cork, or Galway, or Dublin, then it was the banshee come on board the cursed convict ships, the Rolla and the Tellicherry and the Rodney and the Phoebe Dunbar, and there were not an English eye could see her, no more than an English eye can picture the fire that will descend upon that race in time to come."

from "The True History of the Kelly Gang" by Peter Carey (from memory, so the quotation may not be exact)

Ralph L said...

I found my favorite Faulkner bit, and it's two sentences:

I knew them too: the men and women still powerful seventy-five years and twice that and twice that again afterward, still powerful and still dangerous and still coming, North and South and East and West, until the name of what they did and what they died for became just one single word, louder than any thunder. It was America, and it covered all the western earth. — William Faulkner, “Shall Not Perish”

The end of one of his best short stories.

ampersand said...

"Guests, like Fish, begin to smell after three days.”
Pretty prescient of Old Ben Franklin.

phx said...

“To kill gives much thirst,” the man with the wineskin said to me.

Hemingway

Quaestor said...

If that's Stanley Fish's idea of a great sentence, then I have no confidence in his book on the subject. Sorry no 8% commission for you today, Ann. Awww...

BTW, Karouac's career is of little interest except as a landmark of the nadir of American literature.

The Crack Emcee said...

Bob,

More interesting would be for Althouse to make a post under which commenters could subscribe their favorite (literary) sentences. Not a sentence of their own, but from a noted author like Kerouac, etc. (Not to say that Crack isn't a noted author, but ya know what I mean.)

Thank you.

Ann,

Why is there an "insanity" tag in there? I know he used "mad" but that's not what he's describing - his sentence is talking about passion - something lacking from most. Maybe that's it:

You can't recognize it any longer. Helloooo!

urpower said...

A great sentence revises a previous one!! Here, Kerouac's fiery metaphor is modifying Walter Pater's "gemlike flame" into American fireworks. Elsewhere Kerouac explains, "Most Beat Generation artists belong to the hot school, naturally since that hard gemlike flame needs a little heat." Ms. Althouse, for all her admiration of snow, belongs to the hot school as well.

Sixty Grit said...

For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.

de Groot? Don't know, but that is a sad story, regardless.

Is Concrete Dog America's Politco's latest incarnation?

Luke Lea said...

I was too much of a literary snob to read "On the Road" back in my college days. But then, a couple of years ago, I listened to the 10 disc audio version on a long drive from Tennessee up to New England and back. I couldn't get the grin off my face or stop nodding my head from side to side. It probably wasn't fiction but that boy had typed out a classic in American literature to set along side of Huckleberry Finn.

Ann Althouse said...

I like the idea of paying attention to sentences. I like books that are good sentence-by-sentence. I hate reading a lot of so-so sentences just because put together, they make an interesting story.

And of course, I spend way too much of my time reading the truly shitty sentences that make up judicial opinions... which aren't an interested story either.

Ann Althouse said...

"Why is there an "insanity" tag in there?"

It's a constant struggle against the proliferation of tags. I try to keep a concise set. The question is: what do you want the power to aggregate?

William said...

Somewhat bizarre choice of sentences. Gertrude Stein and Walter Pater on the same list. I wonder if Stanley Fish reads in a red, velveteen reading jacket....Anyway most of the great sentences were written by poets. Sometimes a novelist gets lucky, but a great sentence in prose sticks out like a framed artwork on an airline conveyor belt.

S said...

"What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today!"

Okay, it's not a single sentence, but it's a great pair from Groundhog Day.

I'd also like to note that "Kerouac" and "Crack" are phonemically similar, if phonemically is a word. It wasn't clear to me whether Bob noticed that or not. I apologize if I just pointed out something that was only funny as long as it was unstated.

WV: "Pedity" is, of course, not a word. It's plausible as a word, though. "There might not be a tomorrow, seeing as - if you'll forgive the pedity - there wasn't one today." Or maybe it means pointing out something that was only funny until it was pointed out. Again, I apologize for my pedity.

1jpb said...

Speaking of Jack Kerouac, maybe Meadehouse should paddle, and then hike to Jack's hangout. [I've been there!]

Folks can use this place as a base while they explore/paddle/hike around Ross Lake. Remember to make reservations very early, the best dates are often reserved by folks who go up every year.

Robert Cook said...

I've tried to read On The Road twice, but I can't get past the first 40 or 50 pages. Frankly, the tone annoys me, the inflated "gee-whiz-ain't-the-cosmos-grand-and-all-the-creatures-innit" grandiosity is dull and self-aggrandizing.

I much prefer precursors such as Henry Miller and Louis-Ferdinand Celine. Miller has some of Kerouac's reverence-for-the-cosmos thing, but it is tempered by his earthiness and ribaldry, not to mention his muscular, superior prose. Celine is black, black, black--but funny--and he makes Kerouac look like a boy mooning over pictures of kittens.

I like Burroughs when he writes straight, but otherwise not am not too too on the beats, so-called.

Fernandinande said...

I generally start skipping ahead - maybe to the next book or whatever - when I see a sentence like that.

Robert Cook said...

On the topic of Miller, although I'm at work and don't have a copy of TROPIC OF CANCER to hand, I always thought the first few sentences of the book were great.

A great prose sentence I can pretty much recite from memory is from the opening of Burgess' A CLOCKWORK ORANGE:

"'What's it going to be then, eh?"' There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rasoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard, though dry."

Someone at the site discussing Fish's book quotes the opening sentence of A TALE OF TWO CITIES, a book I haven't read, but that famous opening sentence really is great, beautiful as prose and succinctly describing the timeless human condition.

Andrea said...

There are two kinds of readers in the world: those who like "sentences," and those who just want to read a story. I'm the latter kind. The writing shouldn't be crap, but it shouldn't get in the way of the story either. It's been my experience that a lot of so-called "beautiful, lyrical prose" can ruin a story just as much as bad writing can -- even more so, because no one goes on and on about bad writing the way the Sentence Fans go on and on about their favorites.

TheGiantPeach said...

I think people often focus on their favorite first sentences of novels. A first sentence can really set the tone for a book, and make the reader want to plunge ahead. So here is one of my favorites:

"Not everybody knows how I killed old Phillip Mathers, smashing his jaw in with my spade; but first it is better to speak of my friendship with John Divney because it was he who first knocked old Mathers down by giving him a great blow in the neck with a special bicycle-pump which he manufactured himself out of a hollow iron bar."

(Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman)

TheGiantPeach said...

Here is a great sentence from Cynthia Ozick, from a story in which she imagines what she would have thought as a young woman if she had encountered the person she eventually became. (Was that clear? The 20-something Cynthia Ozick meets the 60-something Cynthia Ozick without knowing who she is.) Anyway, this is how the young woman feels after the meeting:

"She would not have traded places with her for all the china in Teaneck."

phx said...

Dylan quoted (part of) that sentence in No Direction Home, and I don't think he attributed it. I didn't recognize it, so as I recall I thought Dylan was just making it up. After rereading On the Road I found it.

And after rereading On the Road I still didn't warm up to it. I also prefer Henry Miller. To me he seems more interesting, more profound. His sentences can be amazing too, but they can be total crap sometimes. I don't think he believed in editing much either.

Ralph L said...

I like Burroughs when he writes straight
You got a problem with rectal mucous?

Dickens is well worth your time. He's much wittier than I expected. As Wilde said, one would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing.

Mitch H. said...

My favorite literary sentence? "Pornography was permitted; poetry, never." Robert Cook's preference for Tropic of Cancer over On The Road made me think of that line... I hear that Kerouac's other books aren't much like On the Road, but I have less and less patience for fiction as I grow older, and no doubt will never read them.

As Kerouac sentences go, that one doesn't. There's something about how it loses direction and momentum as it progresses, until it sort of wobbles to a stop and then falls over with that limp "awww!" at the end, like a child pushed forward by an adult on an over-large bicycle, who can't quite reach the pedals and can't keep her balance.

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