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Tuesday, March 06, 2012


Spoilers permitted

The subject of spoilers has come up in relation to these first-sentence analyses I'm writing. So, I'm making a ruling:

Spoilers are permitted. Read at your own risk.

This is not the usual internet convention, but there is a reason I'm making this ruling.

Reading is not a homogenous activity. There are many different ways to read a text - in a sense, there are as many different ways as there are readers, but also a single reader can have many different ways in which they read something. I've been thinking about this more since I read mmy's very interesting (and rather flattering) blog post on reading Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale from a different perspective based on the kind of close textual analyses I've been running here.

Spoiler warnings are a convention popular on the Internet, which are appropriate to two kinds of conversation common on the Internet, reviews and fan conversations. These analyses, on the other hand, are written from a semi-academic viewpoint, something there seems to be less of on the Net (though if anyone can point me towards some, I'd be keen to see it). The academic convention is different: you analyse on the assumption that your audience is familiar with the work you're talking about. If you worry about spoilers, you limit the amount of evidence you can cite to support whatever point you're trying to make, which is simply unworkable; you also tend to assume that your audience will, if they haven't read the work in question and are curious based on your essay, will be reading from a perspective that doesn't derive its primary pleasure from plot suspense.

So, nothing against reviews or fan conversations, but they're not what I like to read most. I like close textual analysis and I like the academic convention, so that's what I'll be doing here. Spoil away, and consider yourself permanently warned.

I've really been enjoying these and I think your approach makes perfect sense.

Are you still taking requests? I know you've done a lot of classic works but I'd love to see you take on the first line of Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby:

"They had flown from England to Minneapolis to look at a toilet."
This makes sense. Should I repost my comment on the Lord of the Files post de-rot13ed?

I really like these. I'm currently reading backwards through your archive of first sentences.

Suggestion for First Sentence Analysis: John Varley's science fiction tour de force Steel Beach, about a far-future news reporter. It's got a strong opening that sets the tone well, and strongly intrigued me when I first read it. The book as a whole is pretty great.

The sentence, and the next few of following sentences, is below:

"In five years, the penis will be obsolete," said the salesman.

He paused to let this planet-shattering information sink into our amazed
brains. Personally, I didn't know how many more wonders I could absorb
before lunch.
"With the right promotional campaign," he went on, breathlessly, "it
might take as little as two years.
He might even have been right. Stranger things have happened in my
lifetime. But I decided to hold off on calling my broker with frantic orders
to sell all my jock-strap stock.
The press conference was being held in a large auditorium belonging to
United Bioengineers. It could seat about a thousand; it presently held about
a fifth that number, most of us huddled together in the front rows.
I have to wonder how the current length of this "first sentences" series compares to what was originally intended... well, I'll make one more request for making it even longer, namely, "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell." Actually I suppose its first sentence is a bit similar to some of the earlier ones considered here but I figured I'd ask anyway.
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