The Paris Review

The Schizophrenic Sentence

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

©Tom Toro

The question: Are you ill? The answer:

Kings do not collect the money, in this way the letters have been taken away from me, as I that at last of those that particularly believe as I at last chipecially think, and all are burned.

A sentence, an ordinary sentence, is an image of sanity. It collects the wits. A sentence that doesn’t work out can usually be written off as merely careless, or rushed, or as the stumbling of a non-native speaker. Sometimes, however, the failure is more ominous.. Kraepelin, or whoever took down the words, must have followed the usual cues of spoken cadence in deciding where the sentence started and stopped. In between, the relation of the parts is unsteady. Imagine someone you love calling you up late at night and speaking that sentence; it would be very frightening.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Paris Review

The Paris Review10 min read
The Soviet Children Who Survived World War II
Over the course of her career, the Nobel Prize–winning writer Svetlana Alexievich has tirelessly chronicled some of the most monumental events of the twentieth century, including World War II, the Chernobyl disaster, and the collapse of the Soviet Un
The Paris Review13 min read
The Crane Wife
Original illustration © Daniel Gray-Barnett Ten days after I called off my engagement I was supposed to go on a scientific expedition to study the whooping crane on the gulf coast of Texas. Surely, I will cancel this trip, I thought, as I shopped for
The Paris Review7 min read
I Am the Mother of This Eggshell
Sabrina Orah Mark’s monthly column, Happily, focuses on fairy tales and motherhood. When my grandfather was dying, he pointed into the gray hospital air and said, “Buildings.” “Drawn in light pencil,” he said. “All around me.” “Are they yours?” I as