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(picnic, lightning)
May 6, 2014 1:31 PM   Subscribe

The 5 Best Punctuation Marks in Literature.
posted by kmz (38 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
I: concur.
posted by jquinby at 1:38 PM on May 6


Okay, I concede: The most famous ellipses of all time is not in "Prufrock." It is not in literature at all. It is in the text crawl at the beginning of Star Wars (“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …”), which I can’t read without hearing that crashing first chord of John Williams’s score, and which I admire even while wishing George Lucas had seen fit to include one more comma.

Ms. Schulz is clearly quite discerning in matters of punctuation.
posted by TedW at 1:42 PM on May 6 [3 favorites]


One of the top 10 punctuation sins: putting quotation marks around a quotation that's in block quote format, when those quotations are not in the original. As she does in four of these five selections.
posted by beagle at 1:49 PM on May 6


"The most famous ellipses ... is"?
posted by rory at 1:51 PM on May 6 [3 favorites]


One of the top 10 punctuation sins: putting quotation marks around a quotation that's in block quote format, when those quotations are not in the original. As she does in four of these five selections.

One of the top sins of pedantry is blaming an author for something probably done by an editor or a layout person.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:10 PM on May 6 [10 favorites]


"And the award for the most famous ellipsis goes to ..."
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:16 PM on May 6 [7 favorites]


"(picnic, lightning)" is indeed one of my favorite bits in all of literature. Or, as Prof. Appel put it in class once, "His mother dies in a parenthesis."
posted by dnash at 2:17 PM on May 6 [10 favorites]


Much discussion at languagehat's blog on Marley was dead colon to begin with.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:35 PM on May 6


Bring back the interrobang!
posted by quincunx at 2:38 PM on May 6


(picnic, lightning)


"And that, kids, was when I decided I was going to read Lolita, after years of procrastination."
posted by MoxieProxy at 2:41 PM on May 6 [15 favorites]


No Joyce? I call fowl.
posted by goethean at 3:00 PM on May 6


Call me, Ishmael.
posted by iotic at 3:10 PM on May 6 [8 favorites]


For a silly moment I thought I might see Stein. She's too powerful, does what and goes where she pleases with punctuation. Gertrude Stein on Punctuation.
posted by rockyrelay at 3:47 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


I am sad to see that Vonnegut's asterisk did not make the cut.
posted by The otter lady at 4:26 PM on May 6 [11 favorites]


In case anyone's curious, Nabokov kept the parens in his self-translation of Lolita, «Лолита»: "Обстоятельства и причина смерти моей весьма фотогеничной матери были довольно оригинальные (пикник, молния) [...]."
posted by languagehat at 5:08 PM on May 6 [5 favorites]


Levi's final period brought tears to my eyes. At that moment, I realized it could indeed have been the same carbon flake originating in Dr Levi's pen.
posted by Jesse the K at 5:14 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


I am sad to see that Vonnegut's asterisk did not make the cut.

What an asshole.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:25 PM on May 6 [13 favorites]


My second favorite bit in Lolita also involves a parenthesis:
"No," I said, "you got it all wrong. I want you to leave your incidental Dick, and this awful hole, and come to live with me, and die with me, and everything with me" (words to that effect).
It's how that "words to that effect" just destroys everything before it. "Yeah, all that flowery romance novel language I just said I used? Well, it's not a direct quote. And probably not even close to true. But anyway..."
posted by dnash at 5:48 PM on May 6 [6 favorites]


A former US poet laureate titled one of his books with the words in Nabokov's famous parens.
posted by anothermug at 5:56 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


Marley was dead: to begin with. (What happens next will astound you!)
posted by Pudhoho at 6:00 PM on May 6 [7 favorites]


> "And that, kids, was when I decided I was going to read Lolita, after years of procrastination."

For all that people say this book is about, the story itself is about so very much more, and unexpectedly hilarious. Most of the book takes place on a road trip across tourist-trap America-- you'd never pick up on that sort of fact at a book-burning.

After you read it, you'll be recommending it to a friend you'll get a look that says "I didn't know you were into that." It's too bad that a book recommendation has to start with the reader on the back foot, but Lolita and Nabokov have been unfortunately tarred.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:12 PM on May 6 [3 favorites]


*
posted by Ogre Lawless at 6:45 PM on May 6


The Dickens example is a little off, because, as is frequently the case in the nineteenth century, the colon is dramatic (or "rhetorical") punctuation (loooong pause here). Not surprising, given Dickens' interest in theatrical performance. I just took a look at the MS of A Christmas Carol and the colon does belong to Dickens, but you have to be very careful when working w/19th c. punctuation, as it was frequently inserted or changed during the typesetting process, independently of the author, and then approved during the proof stage. The punctuation in Thackeray's published fiction, for example, usually isn't "his," and this is also true of Charlotte Bronte's work. (Don't even get an editor started on what's going on with Wuthering Heights, which has fifty thousand layers of punctuation-related intervention and no MS against which to check anything.)
posted by thomas j wise at 6:52 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]


#5 is great; Primo Levi just moved up my list.

Btw, all of you Lolita fans do know that Nabokov's Pale Fire is a much more fun, strange and hilarious read, right?

Here's all you need to know, from a 1999 NY Observer review that called Pale Fire *the* novel of the 20th century:

...I want to pause here for the benefit of those who have not yet tasted the pleasures of Pale Fire . Pause to emphasize just how much pure reading pleasure it offers despite its apparently unconventional form. Following a brief foreword, the novel opens with a 999-line poem in rhymed heroic couplets formally reminiscent of Alexander Pope, but written in accessible American colloquial language at least on the surface. Please don’t be intimidated by the poem’s length or formality; it’s a pleasure to read: sad, funny, thoughtful, digressive, discursive, filled with heart-stopping moments of tenderness and beauty.

Following the poem (entitled “Pale Fire”) which is identified in the foreword as the last work of John Shade, a fictional Frost-like American poet, another voice takes over: the commentator Charles Kinbote. A delightful, deluded, more than a bit demented voice whose 200 pages of commentary and annotations on the poem constitute the remainder of the novel. Kinbote’s voice is completely mad–he is the ultimate unreliable narrator, the mad scholar colonizing the poem with his own baroque delusion–but also completely irresistible. Kinbote weaves into his footnoted annotations on the poem the story of his own relationship with the poet, John Shade...

And now, having absconded with the dead poet’s manuscript of “Pale Fire,” holed up in a cheap motel in the mountains, Kinbote attempts to demonstrate with his commentary that Shade’s last masterpiece is really about him , about Kinbote, about his own tragic and romantic life as King of Zembla, his flight and exile. All this despite the fact that, on the surface, neither Kinbote nor Zembla appears anywhere in “Pale Fire,” despite the fact that the poem seems on the surface to be John Shade’s attempt to come to terms with his own tragedy, the suicide of his beloved daughter Hazel Shade–and his efforts to explore the possibility of contacting her in the Afterlife, across the border between life and death which has exiled her from him.

As I said, it only seems complicated and cerebral. In fact, reading Pale Fire , both novel and poem, is an almost obscenely sensual pleasure. I guarantee it.


I'll stop derailing this fun link now, but anyone who enjoyed the odd puzzle that is Lolita should love Pale Fire. It's the better Nabokov novel.
posted by mediareport at 6:59 PM on May 6 [16 favorites]


I recall a review of the corrected edition of Joyce's Ulysses commenting that in his previous edition, he was certain that the final period of the book was slightly larger than all of the other periods in the book, and that he had assumed that this had some hugely symbolic meaning. Then the new corrected edition came out, and...it's just a normal-sized period.
posted by goethean at 7:17 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


anyone who enjoyed the odd puzzle that is Lolita should love Pale Fire.

Yessir. I still remember reading the last paragraphs of Pale Fire years ago, and doing a figurative if not literal (it was close to 40 years ago) "holy fuck" at the brilliance of the (non)revelation of the ending. What a piece of work.
posted by anothermug at 7:30 PM on May 6


This may seem random to some, but I'm sure at least a few of you know what I'm referring to when I say:

NO, I DON'T WANT TO TAKE YOUR DAMN SURVEY, GET YOUR HATEFUL LITTLE WINDOW OUT OF MY WAY DAMMIT.
posted by JHarris at 8:32 PM on May 6 [3 favorites]


I mean, it's like a Koala bear crapped a rainbow in my brain - well done!
posted by Flex1970 at 9:23 PM on May 6


I am very surprised to learn of the apparent similarity between Lolita and Sam and Max Hit The Road.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:08 PM on May 6 [4 favorites]


> anyone who enjoyed the odd puzzle that is Lolita should love Pale Fire. It's the better Nabokov novel.

This is your opinion, and that of some others, but it is by no means commonly accepted, and it is in my view only tenable by those who see literature (or at least Nabokov) as a source of cool puzzles and playing with form rather than as a window into the human heart. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the heck out of Pale Fire, investigating its interconnections and hidden jokes is a tremendous amount of fun, but I don't think it's a patch on Lolita (and calling it "*the* novel of the 20th century" is just silly). Furthermore, I see it as one step on the unfortunate path Nabokov was taking in his later years of succumbing more and more to the temptation to overcomplicate everything and privilege form over content. (This is not, of course, a temptation unique to Nabokov; Joyce and Pound are notorious examples.) I personally think Дар (The Gift) is his greatest creation, but Lolita is certainly (to my mind, and it's not a particularly controversial opinion) the greatest of his books written in English.
posted by languagehat at 8:54 AM on May 7 [3 favorites]


.
posted by benzenedream at 9:03 AM on May 7


no hope for Saramago here ;) he wouldn't have punctuation-as-emoticons either...
Enjoyed the article, as well as the Gertrude Stein piece.

posted by childofTethys at 9:25 AM on May 7


This thread, and sunburnt's comment, has finally driven home to me that Lolita is about 'pedophilia' in exactly the same way that the dictionary is about 'punctuation'. There sure is a helluva lot of it in the book, after all.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:17 PM on May 7 [2 favorites]


TRUE!—nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 9:30 PM on May 7


I will 'fess to being in the Pale Fire camp.


But


(tiny SPOILER here)



I have always thought the death of Charlotte Haze in Lolita one of the most striking literary murders ever. It was possibly the one time in my life that I put a book down, stared at the ceiling, and said: damn.
posted by chavenet at 1:33 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


succumbing more and more to the temptation to overcomplicate everything and privilege form over content

Those great two words and a comma in parentheses demonstrate to me why the privileging of form over content is in fact one of the main criteria for a work being considered literature (or literary) at all. If Nabokov had privileged content -- the "window into the human heart" that you refer to -- then why not just make Lolita a scholarly monograph on travel or pedophilia or psychopathy and be done with it? It's the form and the language that make it great. If the author is privileging content, then he could dispense with the heartless, concise beauty of "(picnic, lightning)" and have a whole paragraph that thinks it explains things much more clearly: "I didn't care much for my mother, and in fact one rainy day when we were all on a picnic it was not without some joy experienced on my part that a lightning bolt ..."
posted by anothermug at 3:52 PM on May 8


You clearly did not understand what I meant and I don't have the patience to try to explain it to you, so I will just suggest you assume you are not the only one in the room who truly gets Nabokov. I will give you a hint, though: "privileging of form over content" does not mean "using form well." I will also do you the favor of not pretending to think you believe it means "ignoring content altogether" and thus will spare you the kind of condescending rewrite you favored me with at the end of your comment.
posted by languagehat at 5:20 PM on May 8


Guys, clearly Nabokov intended (picnic, lightning) as a Python tuple, like duh.

(Of course Dickens wasn't nearly so conversant with Python, he left out the braces in the dictionary definition in the article, and he doesn't adhere to Pythonic style in naming variables or even use legal names. Properly, it should be {marley_was_dead:to_begin_with}.)
posted by JHarris at 1:06 AM on May 9


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