Pre/Script: gesturestyluspunctum
“I grew up with a lot of punctuation myself, so I can understand your nostalgia for
parentheses,” the dashing Sister exclaimed to her dingbat friend across the periodic
—Harryette Mullen,
Sleeping with the Dictionary
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”
Nostalgia. History. Punctuation? Yes. Punctuation—ubiquitous, under-
studied, unconscious, undone, present, presentational, peripatetic, im-
ported, important. Repeated, albeit differently, in the epigraphs above,
is the issue of what is lost (in punctuation), which is to say, what is found
there. The dynamics of this discursive as well as cursive and recursive
formation give us pause in both senses of the term. How do these marks
function and how do we come to know them even before we understand
them? Whatever their value or number (are there nine marks? eleven?),
we cannot refute their (im)material existence.
Dear reader, you should know right away, here, upfront and in the
very beginning, that I do not count myself among those punctuationists
for whom prescriptivist rules rule (go Truss yourself should you wish to
be bound by convention!); rather, this study errs with the errant—tol-
erating and even encouraging circulation among artistic representations
of punctuation marks in a mode closer to those linguists who call
selves descriptivists (and even this may be inaccurate given my distrust
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