Art, Politics, and Play


Book Pages: 240 Illustrations: 23 illustrations Published: May 2008

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Theater and Performance > Performance Art

In Punctuation: Art, Politics, and Play, Jennifer DeVere Brody places punctuation at center stage. She illuminates the performative aspects of dots, ellipses, hyphens, quotation marks, semicolons, colons, and exclamation points by considering them in relation to aesthetics and experimental art. Through her readings of texts and symbols ranging from style guides to digital art, from emoticons to dance pieces, Brody suggests that instead of always clarifying meaning, punctuation can sometimes open up space for interpretation, enabling writers and visual artists to interrogate and reformulate notions of life, death, art, and identity politics.

Brody provides a playful, erudite meditation on punctuation’s power to direct discourse and, consequently, to shape human subjectivity. Her analysis ranges from a consideration of typography as a mode for representing black subjectivity in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man to a reflection on hyphenation and identity politics in light of Strunk and White’s prediction that the hyphen would disappear from written English. Ultimately, Brody takes punctuation off the “stage of the page” to examine visual and performance artists’ experimentation with non-grammatical punctuation. She looks at different ways that punctuation performs as gesture in dances choreographed by Bill T. Jones, in the hybrid sculpture of Richard Artschwager, in the multimedia works of the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, and in Miranda July’s film Me and You and Everyone We Know. Brody concludes with a reflection on the future of punctuation in the digital era.


“Brody brings to this fascinating exploration of punctuation her diverse interests in African American studies, performance studies, experimental art, queer studies, theater, and literature. . . . This unique book will serve as an interesting supplement to work in variety of areas, particularly those that take an interdisciplinary approach. Recommended.” — C. S. Kalish, Choice

“Jennifer Brody’s nice new book recommends that punctuation need not be a handmaid or a chaperone but instead should be regarded as art in its own right.” — Chamber Music Today

Punctuation: Art, Politics, and Play is a good book, a clever book, and an exciting book. The singularity of Brody’s approach, the verve and creativity of her readings, and the work’s interdisciplinarity—particularly its much-needed liaisons among textual, queer, and performance studies—are significant strengths.” — Kevin Bourque, GLQ

“[Brody’s] sophisticated and diverting links in Punctuation: Art, Politics and Play opens up writing not only as both performance and notation (as an instructional element concerning the dramaturgical aspects of a text) but also the political effects of the use of hyphenation as an element of arts. The surprising and promising aspect of the study makes readers aware of the very fact that politics are found exactly inside the l’art pour l’art conception of punctuation marks. . . . Punctuation is a valuable contribution to the repoliticisation of art through performance.” — Margarete Jahrmann, Leonardo Reviews

“[D]azzling in its inter-disciplinarity and most delightful to read. Jennifer DeVere Brody has produced a study on performance art which is itself a performance, a play on punctuation which defamiliarizes the mundane accompaniment to communication, which is punctuation, and reinvents its components as significant cultural markers.” — Kathryn Southworth, English

“DeVere Brody’s work is undeniably vanguard in a subject that has long ceased to be edgy and new. She should be applauded for her vigor and bravery. It’s a hefty dose of insight and perspective for the prescriptivist in all of us.” — Jo Ristow, Feminist Review blog

“This is the book that puts the ‘pun’, not to mention the ‘punk’, in ‘punctuation.’ Jennifer DeVere Brody focuses on punctuation as performance, highlighting its role in novels, poetry, art, dance and racial and gender politics. She plays with full stops, semicolons and apostrophes all the while, including a chapter in the form of a dialogue during which one character talks largely in smileys. The result is a book of spirited cultural criticism, not a monograph on linguistics.” — Raphael Salkie, Times Higher Education

”A puncturing of semantic space, Jennifer DeVere Brody’s Punctuation: Art, Politics, and Play performs at every turn a subversive politics that celebrates the margins as places where the real deal goes down. . . . Hats off to Brody for taking us someplace new.” — Gregory Kirk Murray, Rain Taxi

“Here is a book that earns the right to the spaces between its sumptuously smart words. Here is a book that pays attention to the ‘minor’ detail of punctuation in ways that percolate with questions pertaining to history, subject formation, ethnicity, racialization, technology, authorship, physiology, philosophy, aesthetic value, the social, the political, and more (to pile up the commas). Lacing her arguments with humor as well as insight, Jennifer DeVere Brody here tracks punctuation’s contradictory performances across a number of times and places. She offers close readings of artists and authors who deploy punctuation pointedly in a variety of mediums, amplifying the mark of the mark, the score of the score, the thrust or lean of the emphaticals that prop our points. Here is a book that doubles as a stage upon which the understudied finally gets to strut and fret with an embodied wit, critical grace, and socially relevant verve.” — Rebecca Schneider, Brown University

“In Punctuation: Art, Politics, and Play, Jennifer DeVere Brody productively bridges both performance criticism and literary analysis through a consideration of punctuation. To be certain, this is a bold and innovative move that compels us to consider what is too often taken for granted: how punctuation performs. Brody’s book is decidedly interdisciplinary, as she analyzes a diverse array of performance texts always mindful of the intersections of art, politics, and play. As a result, Brody brings important insight to issues of race, gender, and performance through this examination of punctuation. Punctuation: Art, Politics, and Play is a most ambitious and significant work that will certainly have a cross-disciplinary impact.” — Harry J. Elam Jr., Olive H. Palmer Professor in the Humanities, Stanford University


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Price: $25.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jennifer DeVere Brody is Associate Professor of English, African American Studies, and Performance Studies at Northwestern University. She is the author of Impossible Purities: Blackness, Femininity, and Victorian Culture, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

For(e)thought: Pre/Script: gesturestyluspunctum 1

1. Smutty Daubings 27

2. Belaboring the Point . . . 62

3. Hyphen-Nations 85

4. "Queer" Quotation Marks 108

5. Sem;erot;cs ; Colon:zat:ons : Exclamat!ons ! 134

Post\Script: Cyberpunktuations? 156

Notes 169

Bibliography 191

Index 207
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4235-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4218-2
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