Of Stigmatology: Punctuation as Experience

Of Stigmatology: Punctuation as Experience

Of Stigmatology: Punctuation as Experience

Of Stigmatology: Punctuation as Experience

Excerpt

2
From the Rubrica to the Smiley:
A Portable History

Faced with the countless treatises and archives—sorry, I forgot the spaces, the blanks. I was going to let myself go writing, as was done in antiquity, in scriptio continua.

Faced with the countless treatises and archives handed down by the tradition, I was saying, I feel a bit like the entomologist William Legrand, one of the characters in Poe’s “The Gold-Bug,” who has to go through many a trial before he can get his hands on what he is looking for. Once one has got it into one’s head, as I have, to compile a pocket history of punctuation without being in any way a seasoned philologist, well versed in the difficulties in deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs or manuscripts from Greco-Roman antiquity, one has every chance of finding oneself perplexed before what will look more or less like this:

53‡‡†305))6*;4826)4‡.)4‡);806*;48†8¶ …

In this encoded message, written in red on an old parchment, Legrand laments that there are “no divisions between the words,” which would have made the task “comparatively easier” (“Gold-Bug,” 262). He nevertheless succeeds in penetrating the secret of the cryptography by calculating the frequency of each of the characters that compose it, which allows him to find its English equivalent. But he then faces another difficulty, since he must now punctuate it in order to read. “My first endeavor was to divide the sentence into the natural division intended by the cryptographist,” he explains to the narrator, who asks him: “You mean, to punctuate it?” and Legrand answers: “Something of that kind” (266). the instructions given by the text once it is phrased in this way will lead to the hidden treasure . . .

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