Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 26

After saying “Melly Christmas” with Alice (Blog # 17), it’s time to say Zappy New Year!
A little time-out was needed. Or, if you like, a 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 it 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.” So true. But I am sometimes grateful if someone hands me a comma and helps me stop myself and breathe…
To anyone who loves language (anyone here?), I recommend the most amusing little text by Stein, “Poetry and Grammar”. It’s a lecture she gave on her US tour 75 years ago; a love declaration to “words doing what they do.” (Lectures in America) This text opened several doors to me when I began reading Gertrude Stein. It hasn’t lost its punch.
She tells about her struggles with nouns and adjectives. She tries (not always successfully) to capture in a single sentence the emotional energy of a whole paragraph.The author with “a lifelong passion for sentences” wrestles with every part of the sentence from colons, semi-colons to capitals and small letters. “I have had a long and complicated life with all these,” she confesses.
“There are some punctuations that are interesting and there are some punctuations that are not.” Periods are interesting enough: “Inevitably no matter how completely I had to have writing go on, physically one had to again and again stop sometime and if one had to again and again stop sometime then periods had to exist. Beside I always liked the look of periods and I liked what they did. Stopping sometime did not really keep one from going on, it was nothing that interfered, it was only something that happened, and as it happened as a perfectly natural happening, I did believe in periods and I used them. I really never stopped using them.” The apostrophe’s use is a maybe: “Well feel as you like about that, I can see and I do see that for many that for some the possessive case apostrophe has a gentle tender insinuation that makes it very difficult to definitely decide to do without it. One does do without it, I do, I mostly always do but I cannot deny that from time to time I feel myself having regrets and from time to time I put it in to make the possessive case.” There is no question, however, about the question mark: “It is evident that if you ask a question you ask a question but anybody who can read at all knows when a question is a question as it is written in writing. Therefore I ask you therefore wherefore should one use it the question mark.”
Good question. Stay tuned.

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