This may be the essential Obama gift: making complexity and caution sound bold and active, even masculine… or rather, it may be one facet of a larger gift: what Zadie Smith calls "having more than one voice in your ear." Notice the canny way that the sentence above turns on the fulcrum of what may be Obama's favorite word: "but." What appears to be a hard line – "My view is… that nobody is above the law" – turns out to have been a qualifier for a vaguer but more inspiring motto: "I am more interested in looking forward than I am in looking back." The most controversial part of the sentence – "people should be prosecuted" – gets tucked away, almost parenthetically, in the middle.
This reminded me that I wanted to blog about William H. Gass's excellent essay in the most recent Review of Contemporary Fiction. Beyond making me wonder why Harper's continues wasting him on author biographies, Gass's essay offered many intriguing alternatives to the familiar sentence diagram for visualizing a sentence.
He had never dreamed of anything
so fringed and scalloped,
so buttoned and corded,
drawn everywhere so tight and curled
everywhere so thick.
This is actually one of the tamer examples from the essay.
Of late Gass has showed greater and greater interest in flaying the sentence on the page, so as to better understand how the sounds and meanings come together to work as we read. It makes one hopefull that he will one day publish a book-length exploration of the topic.