Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Post-Punctuation World?

Perhaps no single emblem better epitomizes the perversity of my colleagues than the lowly quotation mark. Some rogue must have issued a memo, "Psst! Cool writers don't use quotes in dialogue anymore" to authors as disparate as Junot Díaz, James Frey, Evan S. Connell, J.M. Coetzee, Ward Just, Kent Haruf, Nadine Gordimer, José Saramago, Dale Peck, James Salter, Louis Begley and William Vollmann. To the degree that this device contributes to the broader popular perception that "literature" is pretentious, faddish, vague, eventless, effortful, and suffocatingly interior, quotation marks may not be quite as tiny as they appear on the page.
Lionel Shriver laments the demise of quotation marks in much modern fiction in the Wall Street Journal [via Literary Saloon].

This is an argument we've had on this blog before. And as I said back then, personally I'm not a fan of quotation marks (stuffy, old fashioned, unnecessary things!) and have no problem when authors such as McCarthy, Coetzee and Diaz drop them. (Though as I've said before, McCarthy's apostrophes are another matter!)

These authors are not a jot more effortful to read, I'd say, than Ms Shriver. (Members of my book club complained about needing a dictionary by them to cope with all the new vocab chucked up in We Need to Talk About Kevin. "No-one would really use these words in a letter," thay said.)

But maybe Shriver has a point that the lack of quotation marks is a bit of a turn off for the less convinced reader?


Yusuf said...

More thought provoking by Sharon thank you I really need to think about this are we reverting or is that relooking at kerouacs on the road

Anonymous said...

Are they serious?

He said, they said we said we could find the files by today, She said.

Who said what ?

And to pick a passage from below :

..always have their eye on their reputations and are too concerned with picking a highbrow author rather than a readable one. She added that they tended to made judgements based on how well the winning book reflected on them, often choosing the most obscure and self-consciously highbrow novelist, rather than considering the best entry. ... I don't think it's a good idea to have academics as judges on these prizes, she said. Academics always have their eye on their reputations and always have a vested interest to pick someone as literary and obscure as possible. I think academics are always looking over their shoulder.

Who said what? who doesn't think it's a good idea? who thinks academics are always.. etc.?

Madcap Machinist said...

Having experimented with writing dialogue sans quotation marks ala Saramago, I'd say that as a design constraint it presents some interesting challenges for the anon above suggests.

Anonymous said...

I still want my punctuation marks!

Argus Lou said...

Leaving out quotation marks shouldn't be a challenge to the writer and reader. If at all, it should occur naturally without inconveniencing both.

I mean what's the point of it if leaving them out is gonna trip you up, eh?

Satima Flavell said...

I find a lack of quotation marks confusing and pretentious. The current standard in Australia is the reverse of the one we learnt at school - these days most Aussie publishers like to use single quotes for dialogue, which makes them less obtrusive and space-demanding, and they reserve double quote marks for everything else, such as quotations from a book. This seems to me to be a reasonable compromise and much better than leaving them out altogether.

savante said...

I miss the quotation marks! They're like an old friend. Without them, I am lost.

bibliobibuli said...

as one friend remarked on my facebook page yesterday, the french have managed perfectly well without them for centuries and i don't think anyone complains ...

i honestly think though that it shouldn't matter as long as the reader doesn't get confused.

i actually hadn't even consciously noticed that junot diaz didn't use quotation marks 9i had to go back and check!) and there wasn't a single place where i scratched my head and said to myself who's talking. maybe it works so well here because the dialogue occurs within monologues and the same voice is carrying us through.

Anonymous said...

Well.. it's a gimmick, something people do when they're bored. I used to put anagrams and things in the books, because it gets boring and very factory-like to just keep manufacturing them things.