taking the passive out of passive-aggressive

Saturday, May 07, 2005

I'm beginning to think the lack of commas has been good for my writing. At first it felt awkward--but with the help of parentheses and em dashes I adapted rather quickly. No more long discursive sentences. No more strings of useless adjectives. No more asides. I am now forced to think through exactly what I mean to say in advance. It requires far more discipline.

I always felt that the comma lent a lilting rhythym to sentences. For instance: in that last sentence I viscerally wanted to add a comma at the end and restate what I had just said in a different way. How useless! Who wants to listen to me say the same thing three times? The comma drove me to be show-offy. It caused me to write long indecipherable phrases. Now if I want to add rhythym to my paragraphs I am forced to create more complex and better-built sentences.

I finally understand what a slave I'd become to the comma. It had corrupted my style thoroughly. Nowadays even at work--where I have full comma access--I find myself avoiding the curly little monster. I believe that the comma is the halfway-decent writer's worst enemy. There might even be a Zen parable in there somewhere--something to do with being an acolyte and not knowing how to use a comma. And then becoming fluent and too precious with your commas until finally you reach satori and give up the comma altogether. (Or something. Look-the lack of comma hasn't helped my ability to create metaphors.)

Writing teachers take note: make your students write an entire essay without a comma. It doesn't rival Georges Perec*. But it can be terribly enlightening.
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*I'd have added a link there but the lack of comma also interferes with my html tags. Georges Perec wrote a novel without an E anwywhere in it (the english version is called "A Void.") It's pretty much unreadable--one of those virtuoso performances you can't stand to sit through--but admirable in some insane way. I suspect he wrote it simply because he was a man whose name contained too many e's. I often think about the guy who translated it into English--because the only thing worse than writing a book with no e's in French must be translating it into English. Whatever happened to Gilbert Adair? Ah--let's see:

"He has also written a parody of Pope's The Rape of the Lock, sequels to Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan and a number of books of non-fiction, including Hollywood's Vietnam (1981) and The Postmodernist Always Rings Twice (1992)."

"The Postmodernist Always Rings Twice"?? You've got to be kidding me.

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