Saturday, December 03, 2005

I quite like semi-colons in poetry, and to the extent that I find them inscrutable, I also find them beautiful. I especially like archaic usages of the semi-colon, and the bizarre sentences they allow, as found in eighteenth-century prose and undergraduate papers. If semi-colons don't display "poetic" beauty, then they do allow for a precision that excites me. I think it's the most indeterminate and yet absolute of marks; it's a piece of punctuation that flouts and points up the problematic conventions of the sentence as whole thought. And as much as this is one of the jobs of poetry, to allow us to think and feel with new grammars, new relationships between things, the semi-colon belongs here, is beautiful because true: a mark of closure and yet, at the same time, openness; equivalence and difference. It does wink, as if to say it knows our secret:

[From ‘Punctuation Marks’ in Notes to Literature, Volume 1. ed. Rolf Tiedemann and trans. Shierry Weber Nicholson. Columbia University Press. 1958. pp. 96-7. ]

The writer is in a permanent predicament when it comes to punctuation marks; if one were fully aware while writing, one would sense the impossibility of ever using a mark of punctuation correctly and would give up writing altogether. For the requirements of the rules of punctuation and those of the subjective need for logic and expression are not compatible: in punctuation marks the check the writer draws on language is refused payment. The writer cannot trust in the rules which are often rigid and crude; nor can he ignore them without indulging in a kind of eccentricity and doing harm to their nature by calling attention to what is inconspicuous – and inconspicuousness is what punctuation lives by. But if, on the other hand, he is serious, he may not sacrifice any part of his aim to a universal, for no writer today can completely identify with anything universal; he does so only at the price of affecting the archaic. The conflict must be endured each time, and one needs either a lot of strength or a lot of stupidity not to lose heart. At best one can advise that punctuation marks be handled the way musicians handle forbidden chord progressions and incorrect voice leading. With every act of punctuation, like every musical cadence, one can tell whether there is an intention or whether it is pure sloppiness.


Agnes Varda's The Gleaners and I is really fantastic: a wonderfully goofy and unabashedly personal sensibility that is surprising in a documentary. If you're interested in the politics and aesthetics of trash, in its possibilities and pathos, this movie is for you.


The Squid and the Whale is also great--perfect details, perfect timing, just enough humor to make the painful feelings of embarrassment for the characters sufferable. It's the apotheosis of its form, of the "indie" family drama that I would like to see less of but that when done well reminds me where I come from, and almost even tells me why.


Working on my 75 pages--an essay about waste and The Day of the Locust, an essay about Bernadette May and performance art, and one on Wittgenstein, Michael Palmer and Rosmarie Waldrop. By the middle of the month, I should be blogging again with more regularity.

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