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Saturday, June 19, 2004

 
Life Without Punctuation
In Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves, at one point in the introductory chapter, in which she is laying down her argument for the importance of punctuation, she invites the reader to imagine reading the page before him/her completely without punctuation. This reminded me that I actually have done so, in what is quite possibly the most annoying book I have ever read.

In the spring of 2001, I went to Chile for a semester. Because Grinnell did not have strict requirements for the kinds of courses I could get credit for in Chile, I ended up taking classes rather sparse in other gringos. One of these classes was a literature class which no one else in my program was taking because it was an overview of literature from Spain, rather than Latin America. The professor was a fussy Spanish man, who, by virtue of not actually being Chilean, had an accent much easier to comprehend, and had a penchant for ties with little hippopotamuses all over. He liked me, perhaps because he sensed, through my near-perfect attendance, a kindred spirit sharing in disdain of the typical Chilean college student work ethic. That is just a guess. I know for sure that he also liked me because I could actually spell and punctuate. He held my second exam up to the class as an example of what Spanish spelling should be. It didn't endear me to my classmates, but it did prove me one of Truss's "sticklers," no matter the language.

This is all by way of giving you some idea of the kind of person who would assign the book I am going to tell you about. The course did not focus so much on actual works of literature, but on literary style movements and the works that typified them. I can only imagine our professors delight when he thought of including Miguel Delibes Parábola del náufrago, the ultimate in experimental narrative, utilizing over 20 different narrative styles and stylistic devices. Plot-wise, it was also kind of trippy, since it's about a guy who wanted to be alone, so he planted privacy hedges all around his house, except they just kept growing and growing until they blocked all the exits, grew in through the windows, and he was trapped to die. I don't remember if he ever got free or not, because wading through all the styles took so much effort, I could only figure out the plot in reverse.

The different styles vaguely corresponded to shifts in point of view, so they went in discrete chunks, which would have been kind of like chapters, if the book had had any. One of these distinct experimental chunks was typified by its complete lack of punctuation. Or rather, its complete lack of traditional punctuation marks. Instead comma all of the punctuation was spelled out in words period Interestingly enough comma after the initial annoyance comma my brain became so used to skipping over those words in the same way as normal punctuation that it required another shock and transition to go back to actually seeing the marks period If you speak Spanish comma and ever want to torture your brain in a somewhat amusing fashion comma you should try to get your hands on that book period If comma on the other hand comma you only speak English comma you could just try writing this way comma because it is turning out to be rather more challenging than I thought period

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