My dissertation, "Marking the Untellable: A Theory of Reading Punctuation in the Work of Emily Dickinson, Marguerite Duras, and Clarice Lispector," provides a systematic and comparative examination of experimental punctuation in literature and film. My central argument is that extending literary analysis to innovative uses of punctuation reveals historical and cultural connections that are not fully expressed in the language of a text. My research builds on existing studies of punctuation, which are provocative but scarce. Although eminent theorists such as Theodore Adorno and Giorgio Agamben have published essays on punctuation, both comprise fewer than ten pages. Similarly, Christian Metz's analysis of punctuation in film limits its discussion to editing techniques. While more sustained analyses of punctuation also exist, they tend to focus narrowly on one writer, text, or film.
Using work by Emily Dickinson, Marguerite Duras, and Clarice Lispector, I explore how punctuation marks serve as historical-political residues that at once point to contemporaneous political-historical conditions and erase them. I argue that reading the shards of the (historical or experiential) untellable embedded in punctuation opens another dimension of literary and imaginative space wherein it is possible to consider ways of re-punctuating social and political life. The project is situated in relation to methodological debates about comparative modes of analysis, feminist analyses of the political in literature and film, and considerations of the political investments of experimental writing more generally.
After exposing the regulatory work of conventional punctuation, I show how creative uses of punctuation point to historical and political situations that remain unspoken within the text. Also, by showing how gender marks the construction of these counter-memories, I contribute new insights to feminist scholarship on the unique politics of these writers; I also expand the scope of what counts as the political in literary and cinematic work. My objective is to demonstrate how punctuation marks a space between the historical, the textual, and the personal as a space of interaction and interference, and as a dynamic and generative space out of which a new grammar of the political can be forged.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2011. Major: Comparative Literature. Advisor: John Mowitt. 1 computer file (PDF); vi, 293 pages.
Sweet, Stephanie Paige.
Marking the untellable:a theory of reading punctuation in the work of Emily Dickinson, Marguerite Duras, and Clarice Lispector.
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