[Possible Audiences for this Work / David Castleman]

In “Possible Audiences for this Work,” Catherine Wing indirectly explores the essence of what it means for her to be a writer and what drives her to create as an artist. Beginning with the simple and every-day, she climbs her way through different groups of people. Her groupings are transcendent of race, gender, or any sort of physical identifiers. Wing, instead, groups her audiences on an emotional level. She isn’t writing for a specific kind of person in these instances, but rather to a specific emotion living within a person. “The sick, the infirm, the every-day-nearer-to dead … ” she begins. Continuing through these thought provoking groupings, she eventually reaches a more existential plane. In closing, “… and if I’m lucky, the great god.”

While I find the approach of introspection through extrospection to be fascinating, I really want to focus my analysis on the piece’s structure, specifically sentence structure in regards to punctuation choices. This piece is peculiar in that it exists within a single sentence. The author makes specific choices with punctuation to carry the reader through this massive sentence without sounding wordy or becoming hard to read. The funny thing is that this work not only takes place in a single coherent and interesting sentence, but that it technically isn’t a complete sentence at all. The way Wing carries us through a massive sentence fragment in a compelling way is an admirable feat.

[…] ; the delinquent, the depressed, the don’t-know-any-better-as-of-yets; the wannabes, the could-have-beens, the have-beens, the never-in-a-million-years; the sickos, the wackos, the uh-ohs and the nuh-uhs; the deadbeats, the beat-offs, the fuck-ups and shut-ups; the uptights and the high-strungs; the strung outs; […] (Wing “Possible Audiences for this Work”)

Wing creates this long list of audience members, separating them carefully with commas and semicolons. The semicolons serve an important dual function in this piece. If there was merely separation by commas, the piece would read at a much faster clip, and would have the reader exhausted long before the end. By occasionally breaking it off with a semicolon, it gives the reader just enough of a pause to breathe and reflect on what they’ve read, without the potent stopping power of the period. The semicolons are also strategically placed to separate groups within the list and bring together closely related groups.

Consider “[… ]the sickos, the wackos, the uh-ohs and the nuh-uhs[…]” in opposition with the grouping following the semicolon, “[… ]the deadbeats, the beat-offs, the fuck-ups and the shut-ups[…]” These are close enough in relation to be mentioned in the same breath on their respective sides of the semicolon, but the semicolon presents a very important barrier between the groups— separating them not only spatially but conceptually.

There is also a peculiar instance where one audience member is presented on their own, with a semicolon on either side, isolating them. Wing uses this device a couple times, relatively even in spacing. “[…] the strung outs […]” as well as “[…] those who have been had […]” This is an interesting choice with a couple of implications. First, it is noticeably different from the rest of the piece, stylistically, so it sticks out like a sore thumb. It creates a powerful emphasis on these phrases and provokes reflection.

Additionally, and most importantly, the offset of this phrase creates a more powerful stopping point in the middle of the work, which is crucial to the pacing. The author is almost literally using these phrases as periods. She snuck these cheated periods into her single sentence piece, right under our noses, to create a sense of unity that would not exist otherwise. Stylistically speaking, that is just beyond impressive to this reader. It just goes to show that punctuation doesn’t have to be so “cut and dry.” A clever craftsman can break the rules and create something on another level altogether.

 

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