An aposiopesis of the furious kind

December 7, 2011

From Samuel Beckett’s first novel, Murphy:

He broke into a sweat, lost all his yellow, his heart pounded, the garret spun round, he could not speak. When he could he said, in a voice new to Ticklepenny:

‘Have fire in this garret before night or—’

He stopped because he could not go on. It was an aposiopesis of the purest kind. Ticklepenny supplied the missing consequences in various versions, each one more painful than any that Murphy could have specified, terrifying taken all together.

Aposiopesis /ˌæpəsaɪəˈpiːsɪs/ “APuh-SYuh-PEE-sis” (audio) is a fancy rhetorical term for a familiar act: an abrupt breaking off of a thought, mid-sentence, often because of overwhelming emotion. Aposiopeses is the plural form, aposiopetic the adjectival.

The word entered English in the 1570s from Latin, which took it from the Greek aposiōpēsis, from aposiōpan, “to become silent”; siōpē means “silence”. In writing it is signalled by an em dash, as in Beckett, above, or by an ellipsis, as used by P.G. Wodehouse in The Adventures of Sally:

“So…” said Mr. Carmyle, becoming articulate, and allowed an impressive aposiopesis to take the place of the rest of the speech. A cold fury had gripped him.

Sometimes the speaker continues with a separate thought (“Why I oughta— C’mere you little—”); the critical thing is that one thought is interrupted because the speaker is unable or unwilling to finish the sentence.

The Simpsons has a famous recurring example: “Why you little—!”


Book spine mashups

July 20, 2010

There was a minor book avalanche here last weekend. I removed one from its tower, which toppled unstoppably against its neighbour, and so on, with results that need hardly be described at length. Luckily there were no casualties: no toes crushed or book spines broken, just a torn cover getting torn some more. I took the hint and arranged them more stably. (And yes, I need a new bookshelf, or a dozen.)

It prompted me to carry out a plan that had just taken seed. A little earlier I had come across Nina Katchadourian’s Sorted Books project and immediately wanted to try it. The tangling of titles, the possibilities of ‘found form’ and cut-up wordplay — as a game it was irresistible. I took photos of a few, and have written them as mini-poems for ease of reading and to see how they appear in verse:

.

How it is

How it is, the way that I went
Into the wild ancient world
Where the wasteland ends.

.

Moondust

Chew on this moondust –
Good enough to eat.

.

Click for more book spine mashups


Samuel Beckett’s acting tip

June 10, 2010

During rehearsals for Endgame in London in 1964, Irish actor Jack MacGowran was wondering how best to deliver the line, “If I knew the combination of the safe, I’d kill you”.

He asked Beckett for advice; and the author, ever resistant to overinterpretation of his work, replied: “Just think that if you knew the combination of the safe, you would kill him.”