Utne Blogs > Literature

Seeking Surprise

 by Julie Hanus


Tags: Great Writing, essay writing, surprise, children, literature, unexpected, wonder, Chris Bachelder, The Believer, Julie Hanus,

The Believer “In reading, we perform the nearly oxymoronic feat of seeking surprise,” Chris Bachelder writes for The Believer. Meditating on the pleasure of the unexpected, Bachelder connects the “vivid surprises” of good literature with those of childrearing, fusing the two kinds of wonder into a delightful short essay. Behold:

Life with young children is full of such unusual associations and combinations, both joyful and disquieting. (I once clipped a tiny sharp crescent of my daughter’s toenail directly into my eye; my daughter once called a tampon a cheese stick; my wife once unknowingly spilled some olive tapenade on our daughter’s infant head and then thought, for a horrifying instant, that the child’s brains were leaking.) It may sound paradoxical, but these peculiar moments with my daughter often feel familiar. The reason, I’ve come to suspect, is that the vivid surprises of child-rearing seem so similar to the vivid surprises of good literature.

Donald Barthelme wrote that “the combinatorial agility of words, the exponential generation of meaning once they’re allowed to go to bed together, allows the writer to surprise himself, makes art possible, reveals how much of Being we haven’t yet encountered.” Is there a better one-sentence defense and explanation and manifesto of art? It is combinatorial agility—not just of words, but of sentences, paragraphs, images, objects, events, concepts, and characters—that generates, startles, and reveals.

Source: The Believer