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    Much-Tell Hotel

    mitchell.jpgThe writers among us should appreciate this Q&A from Ask Figaro: 

    Dear Figaro,

    Does the following sentence employ an incremental epistrophe?  

    In New York City, especially in Greenwich Village, down among the cranks and the misfits and the one-lungers and the has-beens and the might’ve-beens and the would-bes and the never-wills and the God-knows-whats, I have always felt at home. (Joseph Mitchell, Up in the Old Hotel,  “Joe Gould”s Secret”)

    Martin and Leia

    Dear M&L,

    Ah, Joe Mitchell, the greatest writer journalism ever produced (yeah, that includes, you, Mr. Hemingway).  Your collection of Mitchell’s New Yorker non-fiction mixes the hard-boiled with the lyrical like no other literature.

    The quotation qualifies as a polysyndeton, a figure that connects parts of a sentence with a repeated conjunction (“This AND this AND this…”). Mitchell uses it to make his list seem longer, and to bracket each item. It’s a subtle way of boldfacing each point.

    But that’s not all. He embeds his glorious polysyndeton, performing another figure called the parenthesis. (And you know what a parenthesis is.) Mitchell’s parenthetical tour de force gives the impression of a man who strays from the beaten path, both literally and syntactically.

    These two figures combine to give the impression of an inspired wanderer. Which is what he was.


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    Reader Comments (5)

    This is one of my very favorite
    The cherry trees, the wild pear, were laden heavily with feeders, and the pine was heavy with feeders, and the birds were fluttering and jousting from perch to perch in the silvery light that was shooting in shafts through the branches. He did not know how to name them, but the artist's eye in him was held unmeasuring and shuddering with joy at the manifold finches, the gold finches and purple finches; and the reckless blue jays swooping and scattering; and the cowbirds who strutted haphazardly; the grackles who poked; the crows poking with the grackles; the indigo buntings, one turned fully turquoise and one molting; the cardinal, male and female, singing from flaming beaks, "Chew, chew"; the doves swirling along the patio pave like aging waltzers at the Waldorf; wood-peckers pecking at suet and orioles with blazing wings and tawny-breasted towhees, black-capped chickadees, proud and prancing pheasants craning their ringed necks both curious and terrified, terrified and curious as they caught his eye and strode away.

    December 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMari-Elaine
    A fine topographia. What's it from, Marie?

    December 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    This sentence of yours, "Your collection of Mitchell's New Yorker non-fiction mixes the hard-boiled with the lyrical like no other literature", was so compelling and cool that I clicked over to Half.com and bought the book. I love gritty urban stuff, I love writing that sings and excellent storytelling. Thanks for steering me in the right direction!
    December 20, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine
    You won't regret it, Catherine.
    December 20, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    I'm looking forward to it! You know what, and I don't know why in the world I didn't think of this earlier, I just subscribed to your feed. I'm so used to being spoiled, getting your wonderful emails! Now I'll comment directly onto the site, so you don't have to copy+paste all my of glowing and enthusiastic input. Enjoy the holidays!

    December 20, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

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