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.

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