Sentence by Sentence

A new book by Stanley Fish exalts the sentence. Fish, who is a literary theorist, academic dean, and New York Times columnist, argues that writers must love language. They must treat their prose as a craft, constructing it as carefully as a sculptor. For writers, the sentence is their clay. It is the elemental building block by which meaning gets conveyed.

One review of the book contrasts its encouragement of creativity with the more prescriptive writing guide, The Elements of Style. Students can often benefit from the pithy rules and an emphasis on clarity that The Elements of Style provides. Fish’s argument seems more suitable for the experienced writer. He recommends reading master author’s sentences closely and importing their rhetorical tricks.

Even formulaic academic writing can benefit from varied sentence length and structure. In the end, all scholarship aims to convince its readers of a certain point. Language is the primary tool we have to persuade.


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