Thursday, February 7

Uberous prose

TLS reviews James Wood's How Fiction Works:

Wood is particularly good at analysing fictional register. He quotes from Philip Roth’s Sabbath’s Theater:

"Lately, when Sabbath suckled at Drenka’s uberous breasts – uberous, the root word of exuberant, which is itself ex plus uberare, to be fruitful, to overflow like Juno lying prone in Tintoretto’s painting where the Milky Way is coming out of her tit – suckled with an unrelenting frenzy that caused Drenka to roll her head ecstatically back and to groan . . . “I feel it deep down in my cunt,” he was pierced by the sharpest of longings for his late little mother."

“What an amazingly blasphemous little mélange that is”, he writes.

"This sentence is really dirty, and partly because it conforms to the well-known definition of dirt – matter out of place, which is itself a definition of the mixing of high and low dictions . . . since the comedy of the subject-matter of the sentence involves moving from one register to another – from a lover’s breast to a mother’s – it is fitting that the style of the sentence mimics this scandalous shift . . . . Sabbath’s Theater is a passionate, intensely funny, repellent and very moving portrait of the scandal of male sexuality, which is repeatedly linked in the book to vitality itself. To be able to have an erection in the morning . . . to be able to persist in scandalising bourgeois morality . . . as the ageing Mickey does . . . is to be alive. And this sentence is utterly alive, and is alive by virtue of the way it scandalises proper norms."

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