re-reading

“Let us look back a moment at Hobbes and his language, which seems to unwind across the page in a continuous and dutiful line and seems to be presenting us with lively incidents from an old story. Yet the rules of English grammar, which determine word order and the direction of modification, require the reader to return, again and again, to what has gone before; to move the eye, that is to say, not at all like a stylus in a groove, but like a tailor’s needle, loop after loop. When phrases are well turned, we linger over them, which interrupts the narrative; and when predicates lead us back to their subject, we find ourselves looking over our shoulder as we go, instead of straight ahead. ‘Hereby it is manifest,’ Hobbes declares, and we must carry that boast forward over an entire paragraph. What is manifest? That men are, when without a common power, in a condition of war. Hobbes halts his thought to tell us what war is in terms of what weather is. In short, any complex idea is like a territory to be traversed, not the way a number of ticks reach their tocks, but the way we crisscross a neighborhood or inhabit a building, holding the whole in our head as we walk along one walk, watching a florist wrap a bouquet or, through a window, a barber shave.”

(William Gass, “The Story of the State of Nature,” p. 257 in Finding a Form.)

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