O Book Ends

Brian Dillon
Suppose a Sentence

A set of meditations on a set of sentences. The first author in the series is Shakespeare; the last is Anne Boyer. The one is entitled “What, Gone Without a Word?”; the other, “What How If”. Both muse about the status of a inscribed string of Os.

Dillon remarks that “In Shakespeare, last words are rarely the last.” Beginning with a version of Hamlet and going on to discuss other plays where the “O” plays a role in death scenes.

In the last meditation of the book, Dillon turns to ends and endings, again. If one reads quickly one misses the point demarcating the words of Boyer from the words of Dillon. It’s a thrill to go back and catch the closing quotation mark in the block of text and witness the mimicry at work in what follows. The whole last paragraph deserves extensive quotation:

Towards the end of Garments Against Women, Boyer recounts a narrative from Rousseau’s Émile, later retold by Wollstonecraft in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Rousseau had known, he says, a little girl who, eager to learn to write before she could read, continually inscribed the letter O with a needle — no other letter, just a parade of Os. And then one day she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror as she was writing and, finding herself awkward or ugly, promptly gave up her practice. According to Rousseau, the anecdote points to the natural vanity of women: a lesson Wollstonecraft dismisses as “ridiculous.” Here is Boyer: “Rousseau believed the O’s to be O’s, but every O could have been, also, every letter and every word for the little girl: each O also an opening, a planet, a ring, a word, a query, a grammar. One O could be an eye, another a mouth, another a bruise, another a calculation.” By a line of Os the girl might have meant: “I understand the proximate shape of the fountain.” Or: “Apples are smaller than the sun.” Or: “My mother.” O, o, o, o was a revolutionary code, and when she put down her pen it was because she had already written what she need to write.

And so Suppose a Sentence itself ends.

And so for day 3016

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