Jonathan Safran Foer’s familial punctuation

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Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of Everything is Illuminated, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (both of which I recommend with every admirable phrase ever spoken about the written word) and, most recently, Eating Animals (which I have not read but I’m sure is perfectly wonderful. This morning, I found an interesting post from Jonathan Safran Foer on the nature of familial punctuation. I read the small portion that was quoted in my news feed and had to click to read the rest. Here’s the excerpt that was posted:

~ Placed at the end of a sentence, the “pedal point” signifies a thought that dissolves into a suggestive silence. The pedal point is distinguished from the ellipsis and the dash in that the thought it follows is neither incomplete nor interrupted but an outstretched hand. My younger brother uses these a lot with me, probably because he, of all the members of my family, is the one most capable of telling me what he needs to tell me without having to say it. Or, rather, he’s the one whose words I’m most convinced I don’t need to hear. Very often he will say, “Jonathan~” and I will say, “I know.”

The rest of the post about familial punctuation is done in the same style. Foer presents us with a character or unit of punctuation that we’re already familiar with and then turns our established definition on its head. In this instance, the cedilla (~) becomes a character that signifies something you’re not going to say but that the person you’re talking to knows without you actually saying it. Family, right? Family.

This punctuation will never be seen. Cedillas and upside-down exclamation points, (the “unxcla mation point”, as Foer calls it), will not appear in mid-air as you talk to your family members. I think that’s the most interesting part of this post — all of these are things that remain unsaid. Foer has given voice to something that’s never said. He’s given us a written symbol for each verbal omission we’ve experienced in our life.

All of Foer’s punctuation observations are the same — intuitive, creative, and, in some cases, heartbreaking. The title of this post, “A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease“, holds the theme that returns again and again in Foer’s revisionist punctuation. Heart disease runs in his family and it often becomes the topic of conversation when these punctuation marks are used.

I’d recommend reading through this post, “A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease“, it’s funny and sad at the same, as is much of Foer’s writing. If you’re a fan of his novels, you’ll instantly catch his quirky style in this short column. It only takes a few minutes to read and, if you’re like me and you have a family, you’ll find yourself nodding along with Foer’s explanations for certain punctuation marks.

— Jet Fuel Editor, Mary Egan

2 thoughts on “Jonathan Safran Foer’s familial punctuation

  1. Gayla October 5, 2017 / 5:21 pm

    I assume someone posted that Safran Foer’s “Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease” is a short story originally published in The New Yorker.

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