Change of Perspective

Musings on Writing, Reading, and Life Narratives

Fiction writers and literary critics speak of point of view. Social scientists are more likely to discuss perspective. But both of these terms refer to essentially the same construct: the consciousness behind the perception and narration of experience. Each individual’s point of view is unique, and point of view shapes the stories people tell to themselves and to others about themselves and their relationships with their environment. The same event narrated from two different perspectives will produce two different stories.

A change of perspective can expand our perception and reframe our thinking about our experiences. We can all benefit from an occasional change of perspective.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

One Heck of a Sentence

Becoming Cary Grant:
In 1931, Archie Leach—onetime latchkey kid (when he was nine he came home from school one day to find his mother missing; his two-timing, alcoholic father had secretly committed her, despite her apparent sanity, to the Country Home for Mental Defectives; she would be lost to Grant until he was thirty-one) and erstwhile vaudevillian (from fourteen to twenty-three he’d performed as an acrobat, juggler, stilt walker, and mime; his experience in acrobatic troupes honed his phenomenal physical grace and exquisite comic timing, and inculcated in him his universally praised generosity and team-spiritedness as a performer)—interrupted his well-paying if unremarkable Broadway career to try Hollywood.
Surely I'm not the only one who finds this sentence impossible to read. What prompts someone--a writer for The Atlantic Monthly, no less--to lay down a sentence like this? Parenthetical elements are used to set off ideas that are interesting but not quite necessary for the point at hand. Here the writer ( Benjamin Schwarz) is trying to squeeze into a couple of parenthetical asides information that warrants its own paragraph of introductory development. Or, if this information doesn't warrant its own paragraph of development, then please, Mr. Schwarz, leave it out.

The former English teacher in me still believes that a reader should never have to read a sentence twice to follow its point. To follow this sentence, after we've come to the end we have to go back and reread it leaving out the whole section between the dashes. Perhaps Schwarz was constrained by a maximum word count (although, since it's The Atlantic, I doubt that). But if he wants to include this side material, there are much better ways to do it, all of which involve constructing a few more sentences. Sure, it's easier to write in this kind of free association way--and I have to give him credit, I'll admit, for knowing how to punctuate it correctly--but easier is not always better. I'll take clear meaning over flashy style every time.

© 2008 by Mary Daniels Brown