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Recovery Project (3) Ron Silliman – The New Sentence (1977)

The qualities of the new sentence:

1) The paragraph organizes the sentences;

2) The paragraph is a unit of quantity, not logic or argument;

3) Sentence length is a unit of measure;

4) Sentence structure is altered for torque, or increased polysemy/ambiguity;

5) Syllogistic movement is (a) limited (b) controlled;

6) Primary syllogistic movement is toward the paragraph as a whole, or the total work;

7) Secondary syllogistic movement is toward the paragraph as a whole, or the total work;

8) The limiting of syllogistic movement keeps the reader’s attention at or very close to the level of language, the sentence level or below.

(page 91)

I first heard about this book approximately six years ago, in my first semester of graduate school at U Nebraska, when Marjorie Perloff (then president of MLA) came to Lincoln to give a talk that would end up being a formative moment in my education. That was where I first learned about L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, first heard the name Christian Bök, and first experienced a poem by Charles Bernstein — Perloff shared a particularly brilliant one called “Every Lake Has A House” (which you can listen to Bernstein read here).

When Perloff began talking about Ron Silliman’s collection of essays called The New Sentence, I remember writing a full page of notes — it never having dawned on me to think about sentences as anything other than means to clearly convey information.

This was before I knew the name Gordon Lish, before I had read Gary Lutz, Diane Williams, David Ohle, et al.

This was back when I struggled to write because I had no interest in writing “poetry” and deep down I knew I wasn’t interested in writing conventional stories either — I have always preferred composing word arrangements, a serious problem given that all of my instructors denied the validity of any prose writing that didn’t conform to their Aristotelian commandments.

Silliman’s book encouraged me, gave me hope, in effect gave me permission to do what I wanted to do: pursue word construction in spite of orthodoxy.

I know this post doesn’t tell you anything about the collection or about Silliman’s theory — sorry! — I just thought I’d share this bit about how personally important The New Sentence was for me as a writer, with the hopes that it might encourage others to seek it out.

  • A. D. Jameson is the author of five books, most recently I FIND YOUR LACK OF FAITH DISTURBING: STAR WARS AND THE TRIUMPH OF GEEK CULTURE and CINEMAPS: AN ATLAS OF 35 GREAT MOVIES (with artist Andrew DeGraff). Last May, he received his Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the Program for Writers at UIC.

4 thoughts on “Recovery Project (3) Ron Silliman – The New Sentence (1977)

  1. Hi Christopher. I appreciate this post. I read Perloff’s _Poetics of Indeterminacy_ around 2000 and that experience was also a formative event in my education. She has been such a great advocate of experimental writing and she herself writes with such lucidity about some very complex works.

    I just re-read “Every Lake Has a House”–what a great little poem: it’s like an extended chiasmus, a wacky rube-goldberg machine made of discourse…

    And _The New Sentence_ is classic. I love the idea of syntactical “torque.”

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