Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Kind of Mandarin

Here a sentence:

The first is as a coherent, if incomplete, portrayal of our age unfolding on an epic scale: a grand parable of postindustrial culture or “late capitalism,” and an anguished examination of the lot of the poor (that is, white-collar) individual who finds himself caught in this system’s mesh.
It comes from an article in today’s The New York Times Book Review. I’ve avoided looking at that weekly appendix to the Sunday Times for at least a decade. Last week I read it again, much as I used to, namely selectively, reading the review if the book appeared in any way interesting. This meant that I read about three articles. That sample somewhat surprised me. Change, change everywhere, but not in this publication. It still uses a finely honed sort of Mandarin of which that sentence is representative.

I think there are many literatures of this sort. The ingredients are a certain view of the world and then a language carefully shaped over time to give that view expression. Talmudic commentary, Marxist analysis, and Rap come to mind. Writers and readers both strive to enter this world; the readers, half the time, are aspiring to be writers. The view shapes the language, the language the view—but you have to resonate with the view to enjoy the language. Of the three above—and with the Book Review Mandarin added as a fourth—only the Talmudic is simpatico for me.

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