This gets to the heart of the matter. “People need stories in order to grasp the inexplicable, to cope with their fate,” Mak wrote. “The individual nation, with its common language and shared imagery, can always forge those personal experiences into one great, cohesive story. But Europe cannot do that. Unlike the United States, it still has no common story.”
[...] The European Union has constructed common institutions, laws, and even a currency. It has created all the symbols of a nation-state, including a burgundy passport that places “European Union” above one’s own nationality, and a flag, even if it is only voluntarily waved at the Ryder Cup golf championships. It even has an anthem: Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” though it doesn’t have lyrics and most Europeans don’t know it is their anthem. What it lacks is a people who share a common culture, language, or narrative — or at the very least are able to identify with the political construct that has been created in their name.
When the security officer patrols down the aisle, the man in a red cap two seats down, wakes from the slight jingle of keys and turns a page in his picture book of galaxies, open in front of him on the table, to show the officer–before he passes–that he has every right to be here at this table.
When the officer passes the man pulls out a four-inch blade and sets it in his lap. Then he unrolls a packet of tobacco and fills slits of paper, licking the edges, and making four cigarettes. He places the cigarettes in a jacket pocket. With the knife he trims his fingernails. He returns the knife to his jean pocket and the tobacco to his backpack. He leaves.
Visitors walk on marble floors to the tip-tap click of heels and boots rising toward the open ceiling. Security officers in brown and tan uniforms patrol the aisles of bums and vagrants wearing black jeans and overstuffed backpacks with the prolonged smell of body odor drifting above the shelves and computer monitors.
The library is full of men, homeless or in school. Defeated men, cold and aching. They browse and skim the books. Nothing is ever what they need. They are not here for the books and neither am I. They are here for warmth, to pass time, for safety and sleep.
I sit at the corner of a long table with an open, dusty dictionary in the middle. The man who left was sleeping upright with the book on the table of dazzling lights and explosions of colors and gas.
It’s library-quiet with coughing and clearing throats and muffled conversations and the flipping of pages, but most of that is imaginary, what I expect to hear. Instead it’s all computer keys clicking, the blast of music when someone accidentally pulls out their headphones and then the silence as they re-enter the plug.
I am here for the quiet and for the meditation and to mourn our life . We are at a funeral, the bums and the men in suits studying government files. The women behind the counters, who answer questions from us confused ones, guide the procession: “Military is that way, DVD’s are downstairs, sign up for a computer at the lobby desk.”
To the left of me are rows of books about tiling, roofing, masonry, carpentry, and trim work. The books are old and full of information all available on the computers. The books take up space one foot wide and six feet high and one hundred feet long. Both the books and the men inhabit a public space. Outside the library the information is sent as data, wirelessly and through miles of cables, as the books sink farther into uselessness and obscurity. Us men, we’ll have not made our mark, unremarkable and failures perhaps in many ways. We will turn to dust and fall asleep forever. We will disappear into the evening rain.
I’m at home in the ancient artifacts, silent unless opened, immovable in bulk, policed and directed simply. A world slipped behind the present, catching up in decades.
I come to see what we were.
For we are all stories and words: Created, Once, in a wild haste. A burst of joy.
The sentence is the site of your enterprise with words, the locale where language either comes to a head or does not. The sentence is a situation of words in the most literal sense: words must be situated in relation to others to produce an enduring effect on a reader.
As you situate the words, you are of course intent on obeying the ordinances of syntax and grammar, unless any willful violation is your purpose—and you are intent as well on achieving in the arrangements of words as much fidelity as is possible to whatever you believe you have wanted to say or describe.
A lot of writers—many of them—unfortunately seem to stop there. They seem content if the resultant sentence is free from obvious faults and is faithful to the lineaments of the thought or feeling or whatnot that was awaiting deathless expression. But some other writers seem to know that it takes more than that for a sentence to cohere and flourish as a work of art.
They seem to know that the words inside the sentence must behave as if they were destined to belong together—as if their separation from each other would deprive the parent story or novel, as well as the readerly world, of something life-bearing and essential. These writers recognize that there needs to be an intimacy between the words, a togetherness that has nothing to do with grammar or syntax but instead has to do with the very shapes and sounds, the forms and contours, of the gathered words.
This intimacy is what we mean when we say of a piece of writing that it has a felicity—a fitness, an aptness, a rightness about the phrasing. The words in the sentence must bear some physical and sonic resemblance to each other—the way people and their dogs are said to come to resemble each other, the way children take after their parents, the way pairs and groups of friends evolve their own manner of dress and gesture and speech. A pausing, enraptured reader should be able to look deeply into the sentence and discern among the words all of the traits and characteristics they share.
The impression to be given is that the words in the sentence have lived with each other for quite some time, decisive time, and have deepened and grown and matured in each other’s company—and that they cannot live without each other.