Prof. Brooks Landon, U. Iowa, Ph.D. U. Texas at Austin. Building Great Sentences: How to Write the Kinds of Sentences You Love to Read (Great Courses) (2013). pp 16-17.

    When I say that Christensen thought that writing really mattered, I mean that he saw sentences as means to a crucial end, much more important than clarity or effectiveness. As he put it:

The end is to enhance life—to give the self (the soul) body by wedding it to the world, to give the world life by wedding it to the self. Or, more simply, to teach to see, for that, as Conrad maintained, is everything.

    His second, and more instrumental, belief was that traditional writing instruction had missed the point by advocating the subordinate clause and the complex sentence, and that “we should concentrate instead on the sentence modifiers, or free modifiers.”

  1. What's the source of this Conrad paraphase? Is it Lord Jim? Google yielded this:

My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel--it is, before all, to make you see.?

  1. What did Conrad mean?

1 Answer 1


1. What's the source of this Conrad paraphase?

Christensen is almost certainly referring to the quote you've found. The source of that quote is the Preface of Conrad's The Nigger Of The "Narcissus", which you can access online (as html) at Project Gutenburg.

2. What does he mean?

Conrad uses his Preface – "which is simply an avowal of endeavour" – to explore the nature of creative writing. He opens it boldly:

A work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art should carry its justification in every line. And art itself may be defined as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect. It is an attempt to find in its forms, in its colours, in its light, in its shadows, in the aspects of matter and in the facts of life what of each is fundamental, what is enduring and essential—their one illuminating and convincing quality—the very truth of their existence.

The artist, he says, speaks to "the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that ... binds together all humanity". More explicitly, he says "Fiction—if it at all aspires to be art—appeals to temperament" and goes on to say that if this appeal is to be effective, it must be conveyed through the senses.

In the fifth paragraph he cuts to the chase (I've put in bold the key words Christensen is referring to):

The sincere endeavour to accomplish that creative task ... is the only valid justification for the worker in prose. And if his conscience is clear, his answer to those who in the fulness of a wisdom which looks for immediate profit, demand specifically to be edified, consoled, amused; who demand to be promptly improved, or encouraged, or frightened, or shocked, or charmed, must run thus:—My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see. That—and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm—all you demand—and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.

To put it in modern parlance: his response to those who want immediate gratification is that his task is, especially, to make them see [i.e. see the commonality of human experience that he has previously described], and in so doing, he will not only give them the gratification they want, but maybe also a deeper experience.

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