Close Reading

by Mark English

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Young children are notoriously bad liars, but even mature and sophisticated users of language reveal themselves in ways of which they are all too often unaware. Listeners and readers inevitably make judgments based not so much on the literal meaning of what we say as on what they perceive to be our purpose or motivation for saying it. This is a well-known and universal phenomenon. But there are strands of thinking, in both Western and Eastern traditions, which take these ideas a bit further and see the analysis of linguistic style as potentially revealing the moral qualities of the speaker or writer.

One comment

  1. Certain facts that you know about a writer may reveal a style that is distorted by obsessive themes. John McGahern the Irish writer presents fathers and father figures which are brutish miserable tyrants but after his death it came out that he had a son whom he did not recognise and refused to meet. Was he trying to encounter himself in his writing? The other thing is that he though born in 1934 his characteristic social era seems to be that of someone born in 1914. The milieu which is presented as contemporary with the author suffers that dislocation.

    I must have a look at Kraus who shared commaitis with Wilde who once claimed to have spent most of the day putting a comma in and the rest of the day taking it out.

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