william gibson on first sentences

WILLIAM GIBSON, by way of The Atlantic1

From the shelf beside me as I write this, three first lines wherein I heard the click, however variously:

“There is no greater human hazard than a defeated Irishman abroad.” — Not Quite Dead, John MacLachlan Gray 2

“And so let us beginne; and, as the Fabrick takes its Shape in front of you, always keep the Structure intirely in Mind as you inscribe it.” – Hawksmoor, Peter Ackroyd 3

“to wound the autumnal city.” – Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany 4

Each of these sentences confronts us with a new grammar, words arranged in a way we can’t yet understand. Yet this kind of intentional withholding that can be thrilling to encounter. As a reader, one of my greatest pleasures is being dropped into something that’s complex and carefully built. Since I haven’t got a clue what’s going on, I immediately start trying to figure out what the hell is going on. It’s similar to the pleasure of the whodunit, but it’s really more the pleasure of what the fuck?

— William Gibson

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  1. "The First Sentence Is a Handshake," William Gibson, The Atlantic
  2. Gray writes a blog titled No Right Angle.
  3. Ackroyd's Wikipedia entry.
  4. Delany's interview in The Paris Review, which I recommend.