Reading William H. Gass has set my mind to fire.
In the essay “The Sentence Seeks Its Form” from A Temple of Texts, Gass speaks of breath as giving life to language:
Breath (pneuma) has always been seen as a sign of life, and was once identified with the soul. Don’t fall for phrases like “gut feeling” or “coming from the heart.” Language is born in the lungs and is shaped by the lips, palate, teeth, and tongue out of spent breath–that is, from carbon dioxide. That is why plants like being spoken to. Language is speech before it is anything. It is born of babble and shaped by imitating other sounds. It therefore must be listened to while it is being written.
So the next time someone asks you…”Who is your audience?” or “Whom do you write for?” you can answer, “The ear.” I don’t just read Henry James; I hear him.
Breath that has sustained a life has been shaped into words useful to communicate a life…These words hope to find companions called a sentence, and the sentence, too, is seeking a paragraph it may enhance. The writer must be a musician–accordingly. Look at what you’ve written, but later…at your leisure. First–listen. Listen to Joyce, to Woolf, to Faulkner, to Melville. And to the poets, above all. (273)