Thursday, December 01, 2005

It's colons that the new BR has brought to my attention: a piece of punctuation whose epistemological implications I haven't pondered since reading Ammons' Sphere a few years back. But Hughes' prose, at least in the sliver I quote below, is driven by colons; and now in a review of Divide These by Saskia Hamilton written by Raymond McDaniel (branching out from his regular gig at The Constant Critic), I find these sentences:
[W]hat concerns Hamilton is not the story of what happens, but the ways in which we seek and fail to shore ourselves against those stories' consequences. In that sense, the wreck and ruination embedded in the daily, the epistemological pressure it applies, stands in for what occurs to the left of the colon's promissory mark. And what we wish to occur to its right is clarification, or a cure.
I love this kind of intelligence, the discovery of Archimedean points in language's smallest units. One of the many possibilities for inscribing not story, not narrative, but movement—surest evidence of life—in a sentence, a stanza, a paragraph. Most prosasically, I think of the convention of title and subtitle in academic books and papers, in which most often poetry—a fragment from the text under consideration—is followed after the colon by a description of the work the author intends to do to/on/with that text. It's a snapshot of the relationship between artwork and critic—the colon in its anatomical sense, a place of digestion. A purgative? Not especially pretty, colons, but they have their uses. The least "poetic" of punctuations except perhaps for its bastard brother, the semicolon, who has found new life in the Internet age as a sideways eye and wink in countless Instant Messages. Some graybeard once prohibited the use of semicolons in poetry when I was young, and I've mostly heeded his advice—dashes are more romantic, smack more of deletion, via negativa, the leap into breathlessness. To see a semicolon in an old edition of Dickinson is to wince. Perhaps they shall rise again as creatures of flarf and the anti-aesthetic; but for now I will confine my semicolons to prose. And my prose...?

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