Tom Wolfe and His Punctuation
I hate exclamation points!
At least I did. They are false sensationalism. They are crutches for people who want to endue sentences with excitement they can’t write.
And then I met Tom Wolfe.
Wolfe was a progressive artist (as all great artists are) and, as such, revisited stylistic questions that lesser writers had settled, such as the exclamation point.
When someone doesn’t like the artistry of Wolfe, they will mention the exclamation points.
Wolfe overturns other punctuation standards, like the colon. Sometimes he uses it like the ellipses points, dots in a row.
Like this: ": : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : :"
I don’t think punctuation is an a priori thing, which is why this seems problematic. We have to learn that italics mean accentuation, ellipses denote a fading out or a gap, and etc. So when you read this the question is, to sound like a lefty Professor in a Creative Writing class, how does that make me feel?
Then I have to figure out what it was supposed to make me feel and what it made Tom Wolfe feel and what it made everyone feel. The natural answer at this point is “confused,” which is the problem with this aspect of Wolfe’s progressivism and is a reason why you find this in his middle work (after he was established and could experiment more and not base everything on that experimentation) and not in his later work (I assume he realized the problem and dropped some of the more crazy and confusing styles).
This is not to depict Wolfe’s punctuation as crazy experiments that wandered and died of thirst. The colon was one experiment. Wolfe spans more than punctuation and certainly more than his failed experiments.
So now I am returning to the box where my punctuations rattle around. Today a good writer must live up to Tom Wolfe, the greatest writer of his generation and the pinnacle (I believe) of modern novelists. And Wolfe used those punctuations, the exclamation point—SHIFT 1—the ellipses and the slashes and the dots growing in rows like Nebraska cornfields and all the other punctuation we’ve not understood how to use.