Writing Style, History and Forgotten Emperors

How’s this for a name? Al-Sultan al-‘Azam wal Khaqan al-Mukarram, Jam-i-Sultanat-i-haqiqi wa Majazi, Sayyid al-Salatin, Abu’l Muzaffar Nasir ud-din Muhammad Humayun II Padshah Ghazi, Zillu’llah [Jannat-Ashyani], Emperor of India.

Rushdie's writing style as demonstrated through Humayun's successor.

The emperor Humayun

We’ll just call him Abu’l Muzaffar Nasir ud-din Muhammad Humayun II Padshah Ghazi, Zillu’llah [Jannat-Ashyani] for short.

He was a 16th century emperor of the Indian Timurid dynasty, (more commonly known as the Mughal Empire) and is actually known as Humayun, for short. Humayun ruled as the 2nd emperor of the Timurid line. I stumbled across him in a particularly obscure corner of the web and for some reason his name reminded me of the following masterful passage from Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence. Thenlo and behold!—the subject of Rushdie’s run-on sentence turns out to be the 3rd emperor of the Timurids, the direct successor to Humayun.

The emperor Abdul-Fath Jalaluddin Muhammad, king of kings, known since his childhood as Akbar, meaning “the great,” and latterly, in spite of the tautology of it, as Akbar the Great, the great great one, great in his greatness, doubly great, so great that the repetition in his title was not only appropriate but necessary in order to express the gloriousness of his glory—the Grand Mughal, the dusty, battle-weary, victorious, pensive, incipiently overweight, disenchanted, mustachioed, poetic, oversexed, and absolute emperor, who seemed altogether too magnificent, too world-encompassing, and, in sum, too much to be a single human personage—this all-engulfing flood of a ruler, this swallower of worlds, this many-headed monster who referred to himself in the first person plural—had begun to meditate, during his long, tedious journey home, on which he was accompanied by the heads of his defeated enemies bobbing in their sealed earthen pickle-jars, about the disturbing possibilities of the first person singular—the “I.”

In her book on writing, Steering the Craft, Ursula K. LeGuin writes that the smooth transition from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph is one of her primary concerns. She wants readers so thoroughly sucked into the story that they are unable to tear their eyes away. So much so that if she writes a sentence remarkable enough to stop admiring readers in their tracks, she deletes it. Clearly, Rushdie takes a different approach in his writing style.

Indian emperor 2As I’ve said before, I am a fan of LeGuin’s, and her approach is obviously a good one. Yet there are times I disagree. I love what some writers can do with language. A passage like Rushdie’s is akin to a painter whose brush-strokes are ostentatiously present: Van Gogh, Munch, or Cezanne. Those are the kind of “delicious” books you can wrap yourself up in like a blanket and settle in with for the night.

  • I’m pretty sure that’s the longest sentence I’ve ever read. Though still a fan of tight writing, I was impressed, if a little breathless by the time I reached the end.

    • I am actually a fan of tight writing, too. But every once in a while I like to see an author throw down with something splashy.

  • […] David Waid’s latest post offers the choice of two writing styles. Ursula LeGuin who aims at “the smooth transition from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph … She wants readers so thoroughly sucked into the story that they are unable to tear their eyes away. So much so that if she writes a sentence remarkable enough to stop admiring readers in their tracks, she deletes it.” Or Salman Rushdie’s with complicated, run on sentences that stop the reader in an admiring daze. As David Waid puts it so articulately about a Rushdie excerpt he includes: “A passage like Rushdie’s is akin to a painter whose brush-strokes are ostentatiously present: Van Gogh, Munch, or Cezanne.” What do you think? Don’t miss David’s post—short but thoughtful. Click here for David Waid “Writing Style, History and Forgotten Emperors”  […]

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