Punctuating Rhetoric

It is perfectly clear that in an Act of Parliament there are no such things as brackets any more than there are such things as stops.

                                                                                                Devonshire v. O’Connor, QBD, 1890

To be a great writer:

Know everything about adjectives and punctuation

                (rhythm)

Have more moral intelligence—which creates true authority in a writer.

                                                                          Susan Sontag, Journals and Notebooks, 2/6/1974

 

History has left its residue in punctuation marks, and it is history, far more than meaning or grammatical function, that looks out at us, rigidified and trembling slightly, from every mark of punctuation.                     

                                                                                      Theodor Adorno, “Punctuation Marks”

 

If only we hadn’t started reading quietly to ourselves.

                                                                            Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves

 

It is, therefore, a propitious punctuation that gives meaning to the subject’s discourse.

         Jacques Lacan, “The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis”

 

Punctuating Rhetoric, provisionally:

Perhaps it is time for a rest, if not even a full stop. Perhaps the spaces and spacing no longer serve; whether to gather distance, broker conjunction, displace pragmatism’s dry duties, or resist indulgent frill. Perhaps the cadence must change.

What’s left (and right) of the point, not least rhetoric’s point, the mark that it makes, erases, and governs? What remains—and what should remain—of the systems dedicated to making a point (for better and for worse)? Are these systems necessary, at least if there is anything to the concepts of expression, articulation, interpretation, and translation? Recalling Adorno, are these point-producing systems ours and/or do they amount to thinly-veiled ideologies of “lucidity, objectivity, and concise precision”? Does their necessity betray their aspiration—as Derrida asked, thinking indirectly about punctuation: “What is the good [the point?] of going where one knows oneself to be going and where one knows that one is destined to arrive?” And yet, might the constraint of such systems (whether as concepts, rules, forms, modes[,] and styles) work to point out that which now runs on and on; the “open” networks that afford no breath, that slash without pause, and so often seem to puncture pointlessly? Or perhaps this is a virtue!

Time and space are on the table, not least in untimely hopes and historically cramped forms of expression. So too are the conditions, possibilities, and values of meaning – the rule, excess, and cost of proper and proprietary expression. Begin a digression. Fashion an aside. Introduce a pause, a hesitation, a break. Puncture. Mark a relation, or break one. Streamline. Push. Bring to an end. Arrive at or refuse a point.