Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 22, No. 3, 2023
  Current Issue  
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Jason McDonald
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Don Dewey
Howard Richler
Chris Barry
Gary Olson
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
  Music Editor
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Jerry Prindle
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
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Mark Kingwell
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somerville
Mona Eltahawy
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Navi Pillay
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward




David Solway is a Canadian poet and essayist (Random Walks). His editorials appear regularly in PJ Media. His monograph, Global Warning: The Trials of an Unsettled Science (Freedom Press Canada) was launched at the National Archives in Ottawa in September, 2012. His latest book is Notes from a Derelict Culture. A CD of his original songs, Partial to Cain, appeared in 2019.

I've been noticing lately that the English paragraph seems to be sinking gradually into the world of the minimal like Michael Crichton’s shrunken people in Micro, a practice that hovers between the silly and the technical. This is especially the case with many of the political articles of our day. The once-mighty paragraph that adorned our best writing in history and politics, as well as literature, is getting shorter by the day, often settling into the one-sentence fragment.

Not only a block of print on a page, the paragraph is a unit of thought, a means of conveying a description, a theory, a report, an impression, a complex idea, or a rhetorical flow with a degree of authority. It is holistic by nature and, as such, an aid to contemplation. It is not merely a stylistic tic or a passing literary convention that can be denatured for convenience. A paragraph properly leads to another when the mental trajectory it favors and permits is complete. It is, in its way, like a cerebral lobe that serves a particular function. One-sentence paragraphs are like lesions. Of course, a standard paragraph these days may run to two or three sentences, but the difference is not significant. The sense of continuity is stunted.

Some of our Top G bloggers and columnists — I won’t name names — now seem to believe the general run of readers to be incapable of sustaining interest without taking coffee breaks after the initial expression of a thought, and so have adjusted to this reductive paradigm. Others may even have adopted this truncated mode of writing not only expediently but quite naturally and unreflectively. For those who have studied the classics or cut their teeth on the great prose writers of the Western tradition — say, Sir Thomas Browne, John Milton, Jonathan Swift, Edward Gibbon, Arnold Toynbee, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Joseph Epstein, et al., and in fiction, James Joyce, Thomas Wolfe, Willa Cather, Walker Percy, Marcel Proust, and Thomas Mann (the latter two in translation), and many more of our illuminati, masters of the paragraph who continue to covet and explore the long arc of language — the tendency toward discursive abridgment is a sign of intellectual surrender to the shriveled sensibility of the modern era.

In “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell presciently warned of the decline of political and literary writing. His argument is even more relevant today than it was in 1946 when the essay appeared. Orwell wryly notes that “the struggle against the abuse of language” is regarded as “a sentimental archaism.” But the fact is that “our thoughts are foolish,” “unevocative,” “prefabricated,” and that our language has become slovenly, mere “verbal refuse.” Literary and expository practice is differentially the latest proof of Orwell’s grim assessment, in large part owing, no doubt, to the ubiquitous sweep of the Internet and electronic media that characterize a digital age drowning in emails and other ephemera and that have us squinting and scanning rather than taking time to absorb and ponder.

After having bought a typewriter, Friedrich Nietzsche observed in an 1882 letter that “Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.” This aphorism is equally true of the current writing-and-cognitive environment in which we inevitably participate. “The world of the screen…is a very different place from the world of the page,” argues Nicholas Carr in The Shallows, “attention splinters, thinking becomes superficial, and memory suffers.” As a result, “Authors will face growing pressures to tailor their words to search engines” and will find themselves “fated to eschew virtuosity in favor of bland but immediately accessible style.”

I’ve just finished reading three political articles by writers I greatly admire, one a well-respected American blogger, another a celebrated American author who has become a household name, and the third a young Canadian columnist of considerable acumen. The former two have grown adept at producing contracted, often one-sentence paragraphs, not always grammatically controlled, with irritating regularity. The latter has become a one-sentence junkie. Printing out his material requires four pages instead of one and a half, unless I glue his sentences together. The purpose seems to be to make a point, but the concatenation of points feels spasmodic rather than fluid.

In an age in which people are hooked on Twitter (280 characters, which may increase), “tweeting” rather than writing, there seems little embarrassment in acting like a cartoon canary rather than a serious person. Pace Elon Musk, Twitter should have died immediately under the withering hand of its preposterous and demeaning designation. Additionally, when people have come to rely on text messages and sound bites, read vooks (emails with embedded videos in virtual pages), and depend mainly on film, videos, and a carnival of images to dispense and acquire information, the long paragraph developing a complex thought quickly dulls the eye as it does the patience needed to follow and assimilate the slow and intricate effusion of genuine thinking. The one-sentence paragraph is a kind of mental spurt that evaporates on the page and makes it harder to knit together what should be a coherent whole. After all, we enjoy a long succession of green lights while driving; a red light at every intersection is a palpable annoyance. The opposite is now the case when negotiating a tract, treatise, article, documentary, essay, or book. The single-sentence paragraph becomes like a red light, creating stop-and-start traffic to the end of the page.

Obviously, there is a place for the one-sentence paragraph when it announces a bulleted list, indicates dialogue, introduces a new idea or a change of pace, or begins a piece of writing with a blazon and ends with a clincher. Were I a sports writer, for example, as I once thought of becoming after a stint on the sports section of my campus newspaper, I might have begun my report on the recent Super Bowl with a leading sentence like: “The Philadelphia Eagles won the game, but the Kansas City Chiefs scored more points.” My conclusion might have been: “Never lose heart, even if you win.” Both one-sentence items would have bracketed an analysis of different coaching styles and game strategies, the concept of “magic” (an epithet often applied to Patrick Mahomes), the changing quarterback style in the NFL, the sense of brotherhood among competitors, and the necessity of playing — or living — through pain: football as a life lesson. The one-sentence paragraphs would have functioned as parentheses, enclosing a more substantial analysis or report in paragraphs of respectable length.

As noted above, the one-sentence paragraph is merely an emblem of the proclivity to hyphenated thinking, of the general bias toward reductiveness. It symbolizes a trend that appears to be growing, which does not augur well for the future of Internet writing or even for the more traditional model of expository, descriptive, or narrative prose. It is a symptom of introspective decay, of thinking in fractions rather than in wholes. Thankfully, at least the majority of political analysts and culture critics have resisted the temptation for now, but I fear the writing is on the wall for our scribbling Belshazzars, signifying collapse. Mene mene tekel upharsin: “numbered, numbered, weighed, divided.”


By David Solway:
Recyling Plastic Myths
Among Broken Columns of the Twilight Kingdom
What Is Evil

The Necessity of Walls

Is Western Civ on the Way Out?
On Gravity
The Demonization of Carbon
Honouring the Higgs
Whatever Happened to Reading?
Hyphenated Sex
Skeptical Take on Queen's Gambit
Systemic Envy
Nonsensical Covid Rules
We Have Entered a Looking Glass World
The Socialist States of America
Feminism: A Self-Canceling Project
House Hunters: A Window on a Derelict Culture
The Tattoo: Sign of the Times
Where Have All the Alphas Gone?
They Burn Witches, Don't They?
Aboriginal Claims of Sovereignty
Toxic Feminism

The Scourge of Multiculturalism
Power of the Phrase: Hidden Persuaders
Is Islamic Reform Possible?
Living on the Diagonal
The Birds and the Bees
Free Speech Vs. Hate Speech
The Shaping of Our Destiny
The Scandal of Human Rights
Reconsidering the Feminine Franchise
A Melancholy Calculation
Canada: A Tragically Hip Nation
The Ideal of Perfection in Faith and Politics
The Mystery of Melody
The Necessity of Trump
Dining out with Terrorists
What About Our Sons
Identity Games
The Hour Is Later Than We Think
Caveat Internettor
Why I Like Country Music
We Have Met the Enemy
The Obama Bomb
Don't Apologize Dude
Winners and Losers
Why I Write
Praying by the Rules
Age of Contradiction
Snob Factor Among Conservatives
Islam's Infidels
David Suzuki Down
Infirmative Action
The Education Mess We're In
The Intelligence Potential Factor
Gnostics of Our Time
Decline of Literate Thought
Galloping Agraphia
Socialist Transfer of Wealth
Deconstructing the State
Delectable Lie (Multiculturalism)
The Weakness of the West
When a Civilization Goes Mad
Deconstructing Chomsky
The Multiculti Tango
Utopiah: Good Place or No Place
Palin for President?
The Madness of Reactive Politics
Liberty or Tyranny
Shunning Our Friends
A Culture of Losers
Political Correctness and the Sunset of American Power
Talking Back to Talkbackers
Letting Iran Go Nuclear
Robespierre & Co.
The Reign of Mediacracy
Into the Heart of the United Nations
The Big Lie
As You Like It
Confronting Islam
Unveiling the Terrorist Mind














Arts & Opinion, a bi-monthly, is archived in the Library and Archives Canada.
ISSN 1718-2034


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