I’ll start with a quick disclaimer that I initially accused McGann of being a critic with too little to critique; therefore he starts to suggest that poems be read backward to give him more material to discuss. Yes, I’m cynical to a fault. That said, I give the process credit for helping an analysis look at the subject matter in a fresh light. I feel that more than anything, deformance can help us see something in a work that an initial straight-through reading might not.

In that light, I came across a piece that was inherently unusual in its own right, and I wondered if deformance could tease something out of it that I hadn’t previously noticed.

I’m a bit of an Apple fanboy (yes, in addition to being cynical, I’m also taken to understatement), and I’m trying to be more actively aware of personal productivity issues. Currently, I’m paying the most attention to David Allen (of Getting Things Done fame) and Merlin Mann (of Inbox Zero fame) and how their thinking is keeping me [relatively] sane in grad school. Coincidentally, Merlin is a bit of an Apple fanboy, as well.

So last week, round about the 27th of the month, Apple made a wee bit of an announcement. You might have heard.

Merlin, being openly fanboyish, a guru of productivity, and a master of wit, decided to post his thoughts regarding this wee announcement thusly. I read it; I chuckled. I thought, Wow. That’s all kinds of messed-up, in terms of structure. And that got me thinking. I decided to extract only the punctuation from what he wrote, to see if it gave me a new appreciation for what he wrote. At first, I thought I was just being silly with the whole thing, but then I looked again and realized that it might actually have worked.

Here’s what I produced. His 274-word post was reduced to the following:
’,.-,-;,——;,,,,-,——.’,,-——,“,”“”—-—,—,,/(/)//-—,,,... ’..

I find the emerging patterns most amusing. He starts off roughly, enters a “comma phase”, moves into an “em-dash phase” punctuated by (Can I say that in this context?) a brief flirtation with quotation marks, crescendoing to a peak of divisions through slashes and parentheses, finally resolving with a sequence of periods.

Remarkably, the punctuation seems to reflect the flow of thinking in what he wrote. Can marks of punctuation—without interspersed words—convey sentiment? To look at this another way, specifically as the act of deformance, does this give me a new appreciation for the writing itself? No, not really. Do I notice things in it that I didn’t before? No, I can’t say that I do. However, I can say that the act emphasized and clarified things I had already noticed, but noticed likely at a less-than-explicitly-conscious level.

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