Every man who knows how to say what he has to say is, in his way, King of Rome
Today, during a break from feeling, I reflected on the style of my prose. Exactly how do I write? I had, like many others, the perverted desire to adopt a system and a norm. It’s true that I wrote before having the norm and the system, but so did everyone else.
Analysing myself this afternoon, I’ve discovered that my stylistic system is based on two principles, and in the best tradition of the best classical writers I immediately uphold these two principles as general foundations of all good style: 1) to express what one feels exactly as it is felt – clearly, if it is clear; obscurely, if obscure; confusedly, if confused – and 2) to understand that grammar is an instrument and not a law.
Let’s suppose there’s a girl with masculine gestures. An ordinary human creature will say, ‘That girl acts like a boy.’ Another ordinary human creature, with some awareness that to speak is to tell, will say, ‘That girl is a boy.’ Yet another, equally aware of the duties of expression, but inspired by a fondness for concision (which is the sensual delight of thought), will say, ‘That boy.’ I’ll say, ‘She’s a boy’, violating one of the basic rules of grammar – that pronouns must agree in gender and number with the nouns they refer to. And I’ll have spoken correctly; I’ll have spoken absolutely, photographically, outside the norm, the accepted, the insipid. I won’t have spoken, I’ll have told.
In establishing usage, grammar makes valid and invalid divisions. For example, it divides verbs into transitive and intransitive. But a man who knows how to say what he says must sometimes make a transitive verb intransitive so as to photograph what he feels instead of seeing it in the dark, like the common lot of human animals. If I want to say I exist, I’ll say, ‘I am.’ If I want to say I exist as a separate entity, I’ll say, ‘I am myself.’ But if I want to say I exist as an entity that addresses and acts on itself, exercising the divine function of self-creation, then I’ll make to be into a transitive verb. Triumphantly and anti-grammatically supreme, I’ll speak of ‘amming myself’. I’ll have stated a philosophy in just two words. Isn’t this infinitely preferable to saying nothing in forty sentences? What more can we demand from philosophy and diction?
Let grammar rule the man who doesn’t know how to think what he feels. Let it serve those who are in command when they express themselves. It is told of Sigismund, King of Rome, that when someone pointed out a grammatical mistake he had made in a speech, he answered, ‘I am King of Rome, and above all grammar.’ And he went down in history as Sigismund super-grammaticam. A marvellous symbol! Every man who knows how to say what he has to say is, in his way, King of Rome. The title is royal, and the reason for it is imperial.
Bernardo Soares, ''The Book of Disquiet''
(from Text 84)