Response to ‘The Night’ by Campana, The Lost Origins of the Essay

The Lost Origins of the Essay
This essay is broken up into numerous disjointed paragraphs that are more like a collection of prose poems than anything else. One thing that I noticed right away is Campana’s use of setting and colons. Each paragraph discusses setting, making the entire essay appear almost obsessed with it. Even the characters (the narrator and others) are somehow part the setting, as if they are mere placeholders within the setting.

Another major thing that stands out about this essay is the author’s use of colons. I’m undecided whether it is the colons or the author’s approach to sentences that give many of the sentences within the essay an uncomfortable feel. For example, “at the edge of the countryside a door cut in the stone, watched by a young woman in a red dress, pale and fat, caught its eye: I entered.” There is a definite lack of action verbs and I’m sure that this is a conscious decision on the part of the author. However, I’m not sure if that works. Furthermore, there are many other sentences which are much more complex, mostly as a result of the use of more than one colon within the same sentence.

I have never seen more than one colon used per sentence before and, though it makes for an interesting style, I’m not entirely sold on it. It seems to me the literary devices such as these should be used sparingly so that they did not standout too much and take away from the actual writing. This essay’s style makes me consider my own essay and my decision to use footnotes. I’m trying very carefully to use footnotes in such a way that they actually add to the writing and the content of the story rather than standout as a novelty act (even though footnotes in fiction are no longer that novel). Perhaps footnotes and colons and other devices in writing should be treated like decorations in a house. While a few oddball pieces may add just the right amount of eccentricity to enhance the house’s beauty with a touch of authenticity, a large amount of oddball decorations can hide the house’s beauty and make it look like a bad garage sale/crappy thrift store.

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3 thoughts on “Response to ‘The Night’ by Campana, The Lost Origins of the Essay

  1. Loree Westron says:

    I’m with you on this one. A writer must always consider the purpose behind the way language is used (and in this, I include punctuation). Is it used to clarify meaning, or to hide it? Is it used to create beauty, or to represent ugliness? Is it used to engage the reader, or to block the reader’s access to the content of the work? Or is it used purely for showing off?In A Man Without a Country, the late Kurt Vonnegut wrote that his first rule of creative writing was not to use semicolons: ‘They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college’ (p. 23). While I wouldn’t go so far as to ban semicolons, colons or any other form of punctuation, I agree that they need to be used sparingly. To me, they can add a certain style by altering the rhythms of the written word, and they can aid the reader’s understanding by breaking up a complex sentence. But used too often, their impact is reduced and there is a risk that they become an annoyance to the reader. When I first began reading Cormac McCarthy, I was disturbed by the lack of punctuation. His prose is stripped back to the essentials, punctuated only by full-stops and the occasional comma. As a former literacy teacher and an advocate for the ‘correct’ usage of punctuation, I found it difficult to concentrate on the writing because I was so obsessed by the missing commas and quotation marks. Seeing McCarthy’s sparse use of punctuation as stylistic tool to reflect the arid nature of his landscape and his characters, however, I have grown to appreciate the purpose of his decision to break away from the standard rules. And there is my point: there is a definite purpose to McCarthy’s choice not to punctuate. The over-use of colons in the work you discuss is again a stylistic choice made by the author. But if their use does not add to the writing in some way, what is the point is the point other than, as Vonnegut would say, to show that the writer has been to college?

  2. Kate Prudchenko says:

    I totally agree with you, that Kurt Vonnegut quote always made me laugh. I’m not a big fan of semicolons the two thoughts might as well just be separated by a period.I think they have more of a place in poetry. I experience the exact same thing when I first I started reading Cormac McCarthy. I was often confused by how and when people spoke but his style really grew on me after a while. It makes the page look so clean that when I read other writers now I sometimes feel disoriented by too many quotation marks. The overuse of colons in this particular work, I think, was entirely for the purpose of keeping the sentence going as long as possible. Not sure that’s really worth the sacrifice.

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