“Let me be plain: the semi-colon is ugly, ugly as a tick on a dog’s belly. I pinch them out of my prose.” a quote by Donald Barthelme I just read here; and Beckett was no milder in his judgement: “How hideous is the semicolon.” I always sort of felt the same; but maybe just because Beckett said so; anyhow; lately I’ve been making friends with it. Agree it’s not the prettiest punctuation mark, but I like the pause it gives.

9 thoughts on “For the; semicolon

  1. i disagree on the uses of the semi-colon as a half-stop, something inbetween a comma and a full stop although one could eliminate all of them and just use – in dosages of up to three, generally.
    something that really irks me, handke does this all the time in german, is put a comma after brackets (….) where whatever is bracketed functions like that already. pretty the semi-colon is not of course

  2. vonnegut also mangles the semicolon in his hysterically funny oldtimer-book, “man without a country”;

    “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

    i quite like the semicolon myself. the more quirky add-ons to a keyboard the better.

  3. Hi Michael; interesting about Handke’s commas; hadn’t noticed. German commas really are very different from English commas anyway aren’t they? They still sometimes surprise me (the German ones).

    Generally speaking a dash would work I guess, but I sometimes use it differently than the semi-colon; not sure in what way – more as a separate afterthought I think. Recently someone wrote me repeatedly using a semi-colon after the header of the email (instead of a comma). That took some getting used to, but I kind of like it.

    Und Mr b: Thanks for the Vonnegut; we need more semi-colon quotes! Too bad he didn’t throw in any semi-colons, I like transvestite hermaphrodites

  4. Yes, thinking back on why Handke’s what seemed like over-use of the comma, or over punctuality annoyed me so much: I think it is because Handke draws my eyes so closely into his text, that reading becomes a kind of one and all. Which reminds me of his saying that until he started to really translate a lot – that must be around 1981 – he used to “slurp up” what he read. That indeed is what he seemed to do, the last time I saw him was in 1980, I stopped by in Salzburg on my way back from Sofia, and showed him a long poem by the Bulgarian poet Lobumir Levchev, who now lives in the U.S. and is published here, too, and I noticedjhow the text flowed into Handke’s eyes and how the brain, all its gears working at genius rate, were consuming it before pronouncing its judgment: “Good.”

  5. That is a great story! I wonder if that means Handke likes Gertrude Stein, with her emphasis on movement/continuous present (or for that matter Kenneth Goldsmith who likes to say that his books (and Stein’s work I think too) can be read by scanning, instead of close-reading them).

  6. i have encountered no mention of getrude stein in handke’s published diaries or elsewhere … but even now he seems to like what is called “concrete poetry” and some of the methods of the “wiener schule” – definitely an experimental outfit of the 50s to 70s – seemed to be also useful to him, with his serial procedures, which he can still resort to when apparently needed and useful. more important perhaps was the work of peter weiss in things like
    THE SHADOW OF THE BODY OF THE COACHMAN + THE CONVERSATION OF THOSE WHO WALK, these were also important to Susan Sontag who could/ would not possibly have written the utterly formalist THE WAY THINGS ARE TODAY, I may have that title wrong, the long ritualistic piece on so many dying of AIDS. Weiss continues to be important to many Austrian writers, for example the extraordinary Josef Winkler, who has two books out in English with Ariadne Press. Weiss occupies that median strip of modernist formalism, surrealism and realism, humanism.

  7. Truman Capote said that Henry James was ‘the maestro of the semi-colon,’ and I read a quote about James in a book on Borges that James’ ideal sentence had as many semi-colons as possible.

  8. I have not read James since the summer of 1955 when I worked as a lemon squeezer
    in the Liggets Paper Mill Restaurant in the Bronx Botanical Garden, a job during which I did nothing but squeeze lemons for lemonade for myself and my one or two co-workers and read all of Conrad and nearly all of James until the late James when I sensed such knowledge of the dark that I resolved to keep them for the end of my life. Into the dark as you head off into the eternal dark, perhaps james b harris is the sign that I should start to do so now and test the comment about James’s mastery of the semi! that is actually an interesting way of looking at it, rather than just throwing it out with the bathwater. xx michael roloff

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