The Paris Review

The Sentence That Is a Period

In our eight-part series, Life Sentence, the literary critic Jeff Dolven takes apart and puts back together one beloved or bedeviling sentence each week. Artist Tom Toro illustrates each sentence Dolven chooses. 

© Tom Toro

How do you read a sentence by Gertrude Stein aloud? What she puts between periods is often fragmentary and repetitive, unhelpfully underpunctuated, reliant on a series of appositions and flat s to hold it together. There is a decision to make. You could read it with a take-it-as-it-comes evenness of tone, as though the point were to reject the sentimental habits of the speaking voice. Or you could read it as though you understood it, or even as though you were trying to convince someone that what it says is true. As

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