3

You said that the mind is like the wind, but perhaps it is we who are like the wind. Knowing nothing, simply blowing through. ― Haruki Murakami

In this, may Knowing nothing (participle phrase[?], adjective phrase[?]) modify we? And, may simply blowing through (adverbial[?]) modify we, too, as in how they seem like wind?

And in You said that the mind is like the wind, but perhaps it is we who are like the wind. Knowing nothing, simply blowing through., does this seem grammatical?

Do you write it like this?

You said that the mind is like the wind, but perhaps it is we who are like the wind ― knowing nothing, simply blowing through.

  • I think the question misunderstands the quote. Murakami is intentionally using sentence fragments in the original context. He is also echoing a haiku format: "Knowing nothing, simply blowing through." He uses fragments for emphasis and simplicity, and he echoes haiku as a distinctly Japanese framework for ideas. Which thus does not necessarily follow traditional English grammar. The given em-dash punctuation is an acceptable transformation of the Murakami quote. However, Murakami could have written the original in English - so why mess with the original? – Corvus B Mar 19 '16 at 3:55
3

There are a few points in your question that we should address differently.

Let's begin with the grammatical ones:

Is "You said that the mind is like the wind, but perhaps it is we who are like the wind. Knowing nothing, simply blowing through." grammatical? And what is Knowing nothing, simply blowing through? What does it modify?

  • Yes, it is grammatical. The latter part may be considered a fragment, but this is a stylistic choice, in my humble opinion. (Read more about this point below.)
  • Knowing nothing, simply blowing through is a participial phrase (also known as participle phrase).
  • Knowing nothing, simply blowing through modifies either the wind or we. It doesn't matter much which one you pick. The natural interpretation would be the wind (i.e., the wind, knowing nothing, simply blowing through), but I believe that you are free to choose to read it as if Knowing nothing, simply blowing through is modifying we because the message is "we are like the wind".

Let's now address the stylistic ones:

Can I use an em-dash instead, like this? You said that the mind is like the wind, but perhaps it is we who are like the wind ― knowing nothing, simply blowing through.

  • Of course, you can. There's nothing wrong with that.

Now, why is the fragment acceptable?
(Or even more appropriate because it creates an effect, and makes the message more powerful.)

  • To address this point, I'd like to quote one of my favorite books, Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style by Edward Tufte, and let the book address this point. It's a bit long, but it's worth reading, in my humble opinion.

[...] And what was probably regarded as the greatest of all student sins, FRAG. I remember a teacher long ago who announced that any student paper containing a fragment automatically received an F, unless the student had labeled the fragment "intentional."

Nowadays writing teachers are more likely to recognize that many professional writers use sentence fragments repeatedly and artfully, often several at a time, in criticism, journalism, fiction, biography, history, essays. Often the fragments are linked semantically or syntactically to words in the preceding and following sentences. Some are like appositives in their relation to words that precede or follow. Fragments are still usually avoided, however, in legal, medical, scientific, and engineering documents, treatises, articles, and even correspondence.
(page 43-44)

On page 44 is a good example (again, a little long, but quite pleasant to read):

Although a series of fragments can create a lyrical quality, they can become tiresome. But here in a vivid memoir, ten fragmentary sentences, each an elaborated noun phrase, form four paragraphs of metaphorical, poetic expression of relationships and experiences:

Lights reflected. Lights of white-hot friction, of gases burning, of the incredible burning of ice. Lights that strike, then vanish in a flash.

Lights that strike and go on even after flashing, having set fires. Lights that blot out, lights that dwindle. Lights that cycle predictably, and lights whose cycles you cannot foretell.

Lights glowing warm on wicks, inside glass chimneys. Beckoning the snowshoe-er from the windows of a cabin collared by snow.

Lights long lost—squelched throughout a long journey, like the light of a comet—then igniting finally in the soul. Soul igniting as the blue lights reflect its image back to it, saying, The light of nature, born of the universe, is in you.

​ Trudy Dittmar, Fauna and Flora, Earth and Sky, 216

There are several more nice examples in the book. I hope that the above passages and the example can convince you that (nowadays) many professional writers use sentence fragments repeatedly and artfully.

0

Just as you could use a ':'(colon) to join the two sentences in your quote,

...we who are like the wind: knowing nothing, simply blowing through.

you could use an '--'(em-dash) instead of the ':'.

...we who are like the wind -- knowing nothing, simply blowing through.

It will also mark emphasis for the final sentence. here

0

It seems you have multiple questions here:

1) Knowing nothing can certainly be called a participle phrase modifying we. However, I would be inclined to call it an adjective modifying we. ["A participle phrase is a participle along with any associated word or words, such as modifiers or complements. It can be used as an adjective to modify a noun or pronoun ..." The Chicago Manual of Style, 5.109]

2) Simply is an adverb modifying blowing through also modifying we as above. The participle phrase is acting as an adjective

1), 2) alternative: Consider: We are knowing nothing and We are simply blowing through. In this case we have a "special case" with a be verb making these present participles a conjugate verb with are. This makes simply and nothing standard adverbs. [The Chicago Manual of Style, 5.151] Personally, I would go with this explanation.

3) Punctuation is more style than grammar. An em-dash works perfectly well in your last example. However, you might also use a colon. Or imagine if Murakami answers the question with sentence one, but trails off on an unknown tangent; it might look like this:

You said that the mind is like the wind, but perhaps it is we who are like the wind. Knowing nothing, simply blowing through ...

However, if this is his prose, he is welcome to use whatever punctuation he wishes to best convey his point. I write fiction, but I still mostly don't use sentence fragments; I like the em-dash as you did. On the occasion, I will use fragments with poetry or song lyrics embedded in my story.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.