Once again, it’s time for our monthly clash of the titans, a battle of semantic juggernauts — a sweat-drenched, take-no-prisoners, blood-guzzling thumb-wrestling match between the best of all the immortal clauses I happened to read and tweet in June. It’s the historic fourth edition of Shamblanderson’s Sentence of the Month Bonanza Throwdown Showdown. The stakes, as always, are suffocatingly high. This month’s winner will face off at the end of the year with Joe DiMaggio, David Foster Wallace, Bill McKibben and others in Shamblanderson’s Too-Big-To-Even-Be-Believed Best Sentence of the Year Bare-Knuckle Apocalyptic Imbroglio Faceoff. (I’m looking into making this a live event at Yankee Stadium or Madison Square Garden. I’ll pass on details as soon as I have them.)
Here are our winners from June:
A. “We must refuse the old stories that tell us to interpret social disasters as natural disasters.” (Junot Díaz on Haiti)
Díaz is pointing out that most natural disasters (tsunamis, earthquakes, floods) serve largely to reveal the social disasters that allowed them to be so horrific. For instance, the Indonesian tsunami exposed the destruction of natural resources (forests, reefs) that might have lessened the damage; Japan showed us, among other things, a government in thrall to the nuclear industry. So far, the 21st century seems determined to systematically expose every last one of our social disasters.
B. “One is prepared for friendship, not for friends.” (Roberto Bolaño, “Between Parentheses”)
Not only is this aphorism true, it’s also versatile: you can use its structure (“One is prepared for ABSTRACT CATEGORY, not for PARTICULAR MEMBERS OF THAT CATEGORY”) to talk about almost anything. One is prepared for Twitter, not for tweets. One is prepared for a readership, not for readers. One is prepared for love, not for lovers. One is prepared for pickling, not for pickles.
C. “He walked by the treeshade of sunnywinking leaves.” (James Joyce, “Ulysses”)
This contains much of what I love in Joyce: the hoppity rhythms, the juggling of vowels (ee, aw, I, eh, ee, ay, uh, uh, ee, ih, ih, ee), the odd compound nouns that both work together and pull against one another (shade, sunny) — all of which produces both a sense of precision and of not-quite-understanding.
D. “A melon just doesn’t look like a rutabaga.” (Haruki Murakami, “Pinball, 1973″)
Sublimely obvious obviousness.
Unfortunately, only one sentence can survive. Two stand out as particularly strong: Díaz and Bolaño. Both are excellent: pithy, brain-changing redefinitions of the way humans relate to one another. I’m finding it almost impossible to choose between them. Díaz’s strikes me as the bigger idea: a whole social studies course in 16 potent words. But Bolaño’s sentence is shapelier, in the classic aphoristic sense. It’s really a tossup. Both of them deserve to make it to our year-end showdown. Ties, however, are strictly forbidden in our bylaws. I’m agonizing here. My sentence-fondling muscles are starting to cramp up. I’m on the verge of flipping a coin. Instead, I’m going to have to invent some kind of semi-arbitrary tiebreaker. So let’s go with this: While I read Díaz’s sentence in its original language, Bolaño’s was in translation. Who knows what it looked like in the original Spanish? Weak, I know. But we have to make a decision, and that’s enough to give Díaz a .0000000001 percent edge.
Our supreme champion, then, for the month of June, is Junot Díaz: “We must refuse the old stories that tell us to interpret social disasters as natural disasters.” Congratulations! The prize is an atmosphere full of radioactive steam.
For the original report go to http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/06/sentence-of-the-month-bonanza-throwdown-showdown/