Bracketing Off, Dashing Away: Unruly Punctuation in A.A. Milne’s A Table Near the Band
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I argue that Milne uses the diacritical marks of parentheses and dashes, and the asides they denote, to destabilize the written page in his short-story collection A Table Near the Band. Parentheticals produce this destabilization two-fold: syntactically through the creation of separate, grammatically unfettered spaces; and logistically through both the historical proscription of parenthetical punctuation, and the fact that the text these marks enclose is often thought of as syntactically and narratively inferior. In this sense, Milne’s use of parentheses and dashes in A Table subtly echoes his alternate spelling, capitalization, and punctuation use in his children’s literature. Like these grammar transgressions, parentheticals draw attention to text as text, exposing writing as something that is constructed and, thus, not infallible or absolute. My argument functions primarily on Theodor W. Adorno’s idea that “bracketed parentheses, which interrupt both the graphic image and the narrative, are memorials to the moments when the author, weary of aesthetic illusion and distrustful of the self-contained quality of events which he is after all only making up, openly takes the reins” (304). While Adorno’s explanation focuses only on brackets, I extend the sentiment to dashes as well. Precisely because they are thought of as disruptive or unnecessary, the parenthetical marks that appear in A Table become more consequential: the marks become material signs and figures of written form, crucial to Milne’s characteristic style and indicative of authorial deliberation. By examining these pieces of punctuation, my analysis not only illuminates the complicated semiotic status of parentheticals, but explores their tethering of language and imperceptibility as a way to navigate the tensions implicit in Milne’s writing: between orality and writtenness, between literary time and space, and between necessity and superfluity.