When at the start of summer I confessed to friends I was going to attend a full week’s scholarly discussions devoted to punctuation, they looked at me with barely disguised condescension and asked if next year’s topic would be page numbers. I can attest, though, that the Zurich James Joyce Foundation’s 2011 August workshop, stylishly entitled “Pierced butnot Punctured” (aka “JoycePunk”) proved to be a delightfully unpunctilious Glassperlenspiel. The twenty-strong team of committed, dashing, elliptic, parenthetical semicolonials, fullstoppers, and digressive nonstoppers performed, under the guidance of Elizabeth Bonapfel, Tim Conley, and Fritz Senn, and religiously obeyed Senn’s First Law (that all talks must be communicated to, not read out at, fellow punks). Discussions included a string of quotato-quashing, polytropic con-, trans-, and per-versions of commas, dots, and interrobangs, which read across Joyce’s unorthodoxies of language.
If we can credit Don DeLillo, what the writer is working with is, above all, commas and dashes.1 After this opening comment, participants were guided through a history of punctuation by Bonapfel and [End Page 21] Björn Quiring. After learning about scriptio continua—the unpunctuated, performative text of antiquity where it fell to the voice to supply pauses and establish meaning—and the medieval period when punctuation was introduced for syntactic and interpretive disambiguation, we arrived at the early modern period with its standardization in printing, completing the transition from oral to silent reading (with Quiring focusing on the overlapping of rhetorical and syntactical punctuation patterns in the Shakespeare folios). Through such preliminaries, we reached the high waters of Joy(ce)Punk on Monday afternoon with John Paul Riquelme’s ambitious cataloguing of transformative, performative, synoptic, digressive, and other parentheticals in all of Joyce’s texts. Bill Brockman then diverted us to Joyce’s yet unpublished private letters and their “perverted commas,” and we discovered that quotation marks serve as a distancing device but also a means of emphasis—especially so when used as Joyce did in quoting the stentorial prescription of his ophthalmologist Alfred Vogt: “‘Vollständige psychologische Ruhe.’ Sez he!”2
During the Monday morning pre-histories of our obfusconsiderations, Sam Slote’s “espacementhefinalfrontier” demonstrated how Joyce’s “new book of Morses” (FW 123.35) comprehends the history of punctuation in terms of the relationship between author and reader: thus, from an abundance of paper wounds and foliated gashes that defines the text’s style and grafts the author’s signature on the text, we proceeded to a scriptio continua-like “unbrookable script” (FW 123.32–33) that has to be read aloud, both pierced and punctured by its every reader to distinguish words and syntax. In this way, Arno Schmidt’s annotated copy of the Wake or John Cage’s Roaratorio are literally palimpsests of the text with the anti-collaborators’ attempts to understand it, in the likeness of medieval manuscripts marked by additions of their readers. Such re-spacements and re-stylings effectively become an authorial signature of Wake reading. After such a panoramic sweep, Amanda Sigler took us between the sheets of little magazines to show how ubiquitous punctuation and sexy letters were employed in self-advertising to attract attention to sensational or scandalous content but also to mark ellipses where passages were “donated to the censor.”
The next day’s protagonist was Molly Bloom who famously never ends her periods. Jolanta Wawrzycka took us on musical errands through “Penelope,” demonstrating how the apparently punctuation-free episode is, in fact, strongly punctuated by recurrent turns-of-phrase and, especially, by references to a plethora of songs. These hidden musical quotations, Wawrzycka argued, should be sung as Molly would, their rising or falling tunes establishing the cadence of her flow. Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli addressed the problems of translating punctuation when there is no punctuation to translate: in [End Page 22] comparing two forthcoming Italian translations, she pointed out various strategies used by the Joycean scholar Enrico Terrinoni to preserve the original’s syntactic indeterminacy and reproduce its cadences and idiosyncrasies without having recourse to any graphic punctuation sign. Bollettieri...