You Got Style
· Pointed Takes on Style Delineated ·
July 2, 2004
· Punctuated Equilibrium: Louis Menand Takes On Lynne Truss ·
How exactly? Well, with a New York bang in that Bad Comma (6/28/04), like Menand's The End Note: The Nightmare of Citation (10/6/03), counterpoints a pair of classically-related compositional matters. They are, to be precise, vexed matters of common orthographical space (punctuation/citation rules) and verbal-logical time (personal/tonal rhythms). Generally, they are matters of eye and ear.
You may recall I tried to note them in Blue-End Note: Louis Menand Sings "Chicago Blues" — where I alluded to the late great Ray Charles (whose happy caricature graces the New Yorker's recent cover). In any case, as I start for some needed "Stylechoice" talk in Minnesota, I thought to adduce Menand's lead and to leave such matters for your critical analysis. Do maybe enjoy the challenge while I'm gone.
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January 18, 2004
· My Students Find "Interesting" Punctuations ·
Typically, after introducing my students to the two chief means of grasping punctuation ("regulatory" and "syntactical" I call them), I turn everyone loose diligently looking for "interesting" punctuations. My students take to the task well, finding in what they have first read for pleasure larger lessons in compositional technique.
For fun I have thought to share two such finds. Each comes from a now-dated class textbook handy for reference, Lynn Bloom and Edward White's Inquiry: A Cross-Curricular Reader. You, too, might find my students' punctuations "interesting."
Begging what I call "regulatory" questions, the first comes from Mike Rose's short essay, "'I Just Wanna Be Average'":
You can imagine my students' response. They like, of course, Rose's hyphenated boredom ("blah-blah-blah"), his paused, adjectival aside ("with studied, minimal effect"), his one solecism ("wanna"), and, mostly, his equivocal end-punctuation on "Average?!" "But is that right?" they ask, and I reply: "But of course! Was Rose here following some stuffy, single-minded grammarian's 'pointing rule'?"
My students take even more, however, to John Updike's "syntactical" stretch in his fine autobiographical essay, "At War with my Skin":
You can imagine my students' take. After traversing Updike's semicolonized lead sentence ("Svc; svc" is his pattern), they "gasp" inquisitively at a writer's deft style dashing their hopes for some subject-verb closure in his longer second sentence ("S — svc; svc — vc, c, c, c"). "Can Updike do that?" they ask, amused by his lengthy, comma-filled sentence ending. "Well, he did, didn't he? It's a stretch," I say, "but — hey! — if your old skin is rather inelastic, why not limber up your syntax? For Updike it's verbal gymnastics."
Students of course get my point, as they get, too, Victor Borge's in a still more stylish take on punctuation, happily recorded (even if without his accompanying story) partially online. Do enjoy.Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
December 18, 2003
· Mark, Mark, that Exclamation ·
I hope that since I posted last you haven't forgotten me! All this writing is tricky, especially during finals, and as I've had to lie low here after drafting a crafty holiday letter, I thought today to relieve myself of some unused energy! As you can see, I am trying!
And what should come to my aid but an old email from my sister! Yes — and here's how the lovely Stylesweet starts!
Well, I was intrigued and found myself taken, indeed, by Mark's style.
So what did I say? Only this:
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November 14, 2003
· Twain's Helpful Middle Marks: Colons and Semicolons ·
As I hold to such a view, I was taken by Barthelme's nicely-turned variation on an old writer's query, "How do I know what I'm going to say until I say it?" But I was also puzzled, for, in a later paragraph beginning "Style is not much a matter of choice," he paused then to ask: "Why do I avoid, as much as possible, using the semicolon? Let me be plain: the semicolon is ugly, ugly as a tick on a dog's belly. I pinch them out of my prose."
As I've lately written here, "I'm in academic Nirvana; I have died and gone to heaven!" I was fascinated. Being committeeless, as I explained, I was quite free to weigh the matter of choice and determinism with respect to what I sometimes call style's helpful "middle marks," colons and semicolons.
They are, of course, often tricky. In his fine book Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing, John Trimble suggests that they're in fact advanced: "The average college student isn't ready for semicolons," he claims, and by implication, only semi-ready for colons. His main example (one I've employed ever since Writing with Style first appeared in 1975) is from Adlai Stevenson:
Although we smile at the linkage, our pleasure comes mostly from Stevenson's semicolon. Try, in paradigmatic substitution, these other alternative linkages:
So why is Barthelme so determined, I asked myself, to pinch all semicolons out of his prose? Maybe because his dog, I answered, hasn't yet been trained to "mark" their utility.
Which raises novelist Mark Twain's famous use of the colon and semicolon together.
Your students, employees, friends, or colleagues might now value "Twain's Helpful Middle Marks." Taken together they mean, of course, "Smooth Sailing: Two Fathoms Deep."Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
November 5, 2002
· People \ Events \ Ideas \ Implications \ . . . ·
They came, trivially, from a friend's e-mail:
For the moment their meaning is at least patently clear to me:
So what of their Added Fourth & Fifth Dimensions?
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October 6, 2002
· St. Augustine Reading — Silently ·
Indeed, Bennozo Gozolli's St. Augustine Reading the Epistle of St. Paul — the tenth of seventeen famous frescoes in Sant' Agostino Church in San Gimignano, Italy, 1465 — is not here properly its apt expression or, better, visualization. Neither, for that matter, are Gozolli's depicted characters — St. Augustine and his intellectual friend Alypius — even the immediate subjects of my thought. Rather, they are Alberto Manguel and Stylish (my wife and intellectual friend), who, some years back in an extended review of Manguel's A History of Reading, wrote this intriguing paragraph:
My thought is simply this: just as we learned in the West gradually to mark words with visible writing spaces, so gradually we learned (as in the two scenes "depicted" and "described" above) to observe related reading silences. Both, of course, may just be twin aspects of a definition of style, appointed spaces and appointed times — marked, we might say, for reflection. I don't quite know what to make of them, save perhaps to recall E. B. White's famous dictum on writing: "Writing is an act of faith," he said, "not a trick of grammar." I think old St. Augustine would agree.Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
October 2, 2002
· (Un)pointed Takes on Style (Mis)delineated ·
The lesson was historical, beginning so:
It was like the Fall of Man when some "woman" naturally got the point about spacing, I said.
That's when we got flows like this:
You can image the bloody battle that followed — sharp swords of punctuation drawn — with half my class going at the other half's jugular, so to speak.
The noise was awful, and the blood worse (I hate to see young people sacrificing themselves so).
But judging from some Dear-John letters I then shared, you'd hardly know who won at last. You can see why for yourselves:
As you can see, punctuation is problematic.Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
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Punctuated Equilibrium: Louis Menand Takes On Lynne Truss
My Students Find "Interesting" Punctuations
Mark, Mark, that Exclamation
Twain's Helpful Middle Marks: Colons and Semicolons
People \ Events \ Ideas \ Implications \ . . .
St. Augustine Reading — Silently
(Un)pointed Takes on Style (Mis)delineated
Figures & Tropes
Grammar & Syntax