On tone

My favorite word to use when describing writing is “tone,” though actually looking the word up in the dictionary, I realize its definitions all relate to sound, not meaning. The closest implication of meaning i.e. rhetoric is: a particular quality, way of sounding, modulation, or intonation of the voice as expressive of some feeling, spirit, etc. I have either been using the word incorrectly, or — either on behalf of or bestowed from tone — I have simply used the word as a writer is given license to — all of which point to the problem I had in making this grid. Once I appointed an author his or her grave dot, I grew unsure of why I put them there; or rather, became littered with contrary evidence. Their coordinates merely represent my “gut” instinct, which I think, as writers, however, we are irrevocably liable for.

Writing is like being in a relationship: how the other person feels is really how it is. Let me just take one example, Ishiguro: he’s just over into the ironic side because he seems self-aware and almost critical/cynical at times; he also seems weary of “the novel,” and his attempts at them seem to be both homages and challenges. He’s in the figurative camp because — while his actual sentences are quite literal — he employs many oblique techniques (specifically, for him, reticence) by which the overall meaning of his books are portrayed. This is the kind of thought that went into each author. It will be hard not to notice the author who’s dead center, obviously a rhetorical exercise, perhaps tribute, which acknowledges his near-perfect tone. One may see all other authors as deviating from the kind of unexpected calm balance his manic obsessiveness and ceaseless skepticism of authorial resolve was able to bring about. The impulse would be to put him deep into ironic-figurative field, but his provincial inquiry into the human condition was rather, awesomely, conventional. If there is such a thing as a solemn pun, we may (or may we) all be his foster children. I feel like a bunch of people are going to tell me that I put so-and-so in the wrong place, then, using words like “a little,” “left,” “up,” “nudge,” etc., are going to describe where they would put the author, making me feel like they either skimmed over my inferred concession or ignored them. Or maybe thoughts are fun, so please. Though if someone mentions the disproportionate ratio of female to male authors, I will be first be embarrassed, then saddened. To not see the message in order to present one is often the failure of words.

written by excellent Jimmy Chen


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