On Punctuation

Posters of various literary works by Nicholas Rougeux – as represented by the punctuation therein- have been doing the rounds lately. They’re lovely; in the absence of words we intuit something of the nature of the work from the pauses, the parenthesis, the short staccato dashes and dots; a kind of telegraphy of meaning.

Adam Calhoun posted some of his own reflections on this kind of work, and helpfully, posted some python code for doing the same. Now, one might want to adjust the resulting output to be more wonderfully evocative as Rougeux’s work does, but for getting started, it’s a great little piece of code.

So I had to try it out. Behold! The sisters Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr-Traill both published reflections on life in the wilds of Canada in the 19th century, and happily, both ‘Roughing it in the Bush‘ and ‘The Backwoods of Canada‘ are available on the Gutenberg Project. So what does the punctuation reveal about the sisters’ characterization of Canada / literary style?

A detail of the opening of Roughing it in the Bush:

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… you can really see changes in style quite clearly this way – what appears to be bits of dialogue and then lots and lots of exposition.

A detail of the opening of The Backwoods of Canada:

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…certainly a very different style, that much is clear. More variety? More richness? Someday, I must actually go and *read* these things… Today’s post is just really a reminder to myself to come back to all of this.

postscript Sebastian Heath mused on twitter about sonifying this punctuation; I immediately thought that drums would be the best way to do that. So I mapped the ascii values for the punctuation to sound, and I’ve started to play around. Have a listen: