Joseph Williams on breaking another writing rule, that you shouldn't interrupt your own sentence construction
I’ve mentioned Joseph Williams’ Style: Towards Clarity and Grace before—it’s the best writing guide for anyone who already fancies himself a good writer. While Williams’ book has its flaws—he apparently has no idea what a gerund is and keeps conflating it with a participle—Williams does a remarkable thing: he has it make sense that, when you’re a good enough writer, you can break every rule you learned in high school and college English.
My favorite example of this, as I was going back through the book tonight, is a quoted passage by anthropologist Clifford Geertz, a passage Williams introduces with:
Having emphasized how important it is not to interrupt the flow of a sentence, we should now point out that some accomplished writers do exactly that with considerable effect.
Then quoting Geertz‘s two very long, very hacked up, yet very elegant, clear sentences, he drives home the point that interrupted writing can be beautifully written:
To argue (point out, actually, for like aerial perspective or the Pythagorean theorem, the thing once seen cannot then be unseen) that the writing of ethnography involves telling stories, making pictures, concocting symbolisms, and deploying tropes is commonly resisted, often fiercely, because of a confusion, endemic in the West since Plato at least, of the imagined with the imaginary, the fictional with the false, making things out and making them up. The strange idea that reality has an idiom in which it prefers to be described, that its very nature demands we talk about it without fuss—a spade is a spade, a rose is a rose—on pain of illusion, trumpery, and self-bewitchment, leads on to the even stranger idea that, if literalism is lost, so is fact.