Sentence by Sentence
Fundamentally, reading is an act of moving from one place to another. As I.A. Richards, a twentieth-century rhetoric scholar put this, “Composition is the supplying at the right time and place of whatever the developing meaning then and requires. It is more than this though: .” Richards, who was an amateur rock climber (he scaled many of the Alps’ peaks), analogized a reader to a mountain climber. In order to make headway, a mountain climber must be supremely conscious not only of where she’s going, but also of where she’s been. The placement of the last foothold will determine where to place the next handhold, and all the while the climber must place both in a way that permits some measure of advance. Reading, then, has a Janus-like appearance (he was the Roman demigod who, because he could look backward and forward at the same time, made a splendid guard for doorways and gates.) Readers, in effect, look backwards and forwards in an attempt to make one sentence and another sentence cohere. As cognitive linguist and public intellectual Steven Pinker reminds us, “Whenever one sentence comes after another, readers need to see a connection between them. So eager are readers to seek coherence that they will often supply it when none exists.” (The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, 141.) To illustrate this principle, Pinker offers us the following bloopers, which are amusing because we wrongly infer coherence between the sequence of clauses.
Miss Charlene Mason sang, “I Will Not Pass This Way Again,” giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.
The sermon this morning: “Jesus Walks on the Water.” The sermon tonight will be “Searching for Jesus.”
Dog for sale: Eats anything and is fond of children.
We do not tear your clothing with machinery. We do it carefully by hand.
The patient has been depressed ever since she began seeing me in 2008.