Brian Dillon’s Suppose a Sentence (Book acquired, 14 Aug. 2020)

Brian Dillon’s Suppose a Sentence is a collection of 27 essays that each take a single sentence as their starting point. Organized chronologically by author dates, the collection begins with Shakespeare and Donne and works its way to Anne Carson and Anne Boyer (with Eliot, Stein, Beckett, Bowen et al along the way). When it showed up at Biblioklept World Headquarters last week I was intrigued, and admittedly jumped to the end to read the pieces on Carson and Boyer. In subsequent days I read the pieces on Shakespeare (Dillon takes his sentence “O, o, o, o” from Hamlet, but finds the vowels reputation throughout the playwright’s oeuvre) and Robert Smithson (in the middle of the book). I’ve decided to settle down and read in order at a leisurely pace—a chapter a day?

In the meantime, NYRB’s blurb

In Suppose a Sentence, Brian Dillon, whom John Banville has called “a literary flâneur in the tradition of Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin,” has written a sequel of sorts to Essayism, his roaming love letter to literature. In this new book Dillon turns his attention to the oblique and complex pleasures of the sentence. A series of essays prompted by a single sentence—from Shakespeare to Janet Malcolm, John Ruskin to Joan Didion—the book explores style, voice, and language, along with the subjectivity of reading. Both an exercise in practical criticism and a set of experiments or challenges, Suppose a Sentence is a polemical and personal reflection on the art of the sentence in literature. Whether the sentence in question is a rigorous expression of a state of vulnerability, extremity, even madness, or a carefully calibrated arrangement, Dillon examines not only how it works and why but also, in the course of the book, what the sentence once was, what it is today, and what it might become tomorrow.

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