“A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease” by Jonathan Safran Foer


I tried to read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated, it being a best seller and all, a couple years ago. I think I only made it to page 50 when slogging through the abstruseness became too tiring. But I really enjoyed this essay.

Ostensibly the essay begins with attempting to simplify writing dialogue, assigning punctuation to silences, changes in intonation, and other elements of conversation. Foer’s task becomes more intricate when he begins assigning punctuation to represent meaning. By the end of the essay, the punctuation has made reading the dialogue more complex than simple. But one realizes how complicated human communication is. Amidst his classification of punctuation, Foer uses more conventionally written pieces of prose (explaining the “Heart Disease” portion of the title) that effectively convey the emotions his punctuation intends to express. However, the final conversation between Foer and his father is very compelling with Foer’s shorthand. And probably the conversation is more compelling and less melodramatic than it would be in a more traditional prose form. Foer’s punctuation fits well into Western ideals of minimalism and subtlety in art.


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