Of words and commas

Stumbled across a piece by Gertrude Stein on commas. It’s a blocky bit of text on screen but bear with it and hear its measure in your head as it is worth listening to in even the complex and unpunctuated parts:

“And what does a comma do, a comma does nothing but make easy a thing that if you like it enough is easy enough without the comma. A long complicated sentence should force itself upon you, make you know yourself knowing it and the comma, well at the most a comma is a poor period that lets you stop and take a breath but if you want to take a breath you ought to know yourself that you want to take a breath. It is not like stopping altogether has something to do with going on, but taking a breath well you are always taking a breath and why emphasize one breath rather than another breath. Anyway that is the way I felt about it and I felt that about it very very strongly. And so I almost never used a comma. The longer, the more complicated the sentence the greater the number of the same kinds of words I had following one after another, the more the very more I had of them the more I felt the passionate need of their taking care of themselves by themselves and not helping them, and thereby enfeebling them by putting in a comma. So that is the way I felt about punctuation in prose, in poetry it is a little different but more so …”

I liked that it made me think about how I use commas and that maybe I do use commas when better words would be better. Seems to me that words need to swing out on the line of their own cadence.

Even writing for the internet screen perhaps the writer’s voice can more clearly be heard without the dictatorial incisions of commas?

I tried cutting the commas from a piece I was writing for an academic journal and it plain didn’t fit in that piece. Perhaps it’s that the language in that format is pretty much prescribed and it’s hard to make something from it that feels crafted, there’s no heft to the words and the commas are needed to get through their giant’s causeway type blockiness. Or perhaps it’s just the flatly neutral tone on a boring subject that turned it to beige slops.

In the end I left it squatting on the page and shall have another go tomorrow most likely putting back all the commas I need to knock some sense into it.

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