Henry James and J. S. Bach

Here in Washington Square Village I’m rereading Washington Square and am reminded of how wonderful Henry James is. Such perfect and perfectly hilarious use of words! Of course, some things he writes are explicitly funny, but the most exquisite are those that one could not say are funny outright and yet are, in some deeper sense, hilarious. This is exactly what Bach does to me. Nobody could accuse the cantatas or the Brandenburgs of being strings of one-liners… why do they bring such smiles of amusement?

I think the secret is the same in both cases: mastery. Bach and James are so utterly in control of their crafts that we sit back and enjoy. Our inner laughter is a response to their strength.

[19 September 2015]

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