The subconscious syntax of Michæl Chabon’s hair
Michæl Chabon can’t keep it up — that wisp of hair that seems to always hang on his forehead all the time. At first glance, one sees a random tuft from a man perhaps too deep in thought to use a comb more than once a day; but I started noticing that these locks made grammatical marks, as if to suggest “don’t just read my book, read my face.” I once went to a Chabon reading at the public library. He called the organizers from his cell phone minutes before the event claiming public transit was crazy. “More fountain water for me,” I thought.
The following is a list of the subconscious syntax of Michæl Chabon’s hair, including excerpts which illustrate said grammatical functions.
1. The Apostrophe
Chabon is not in the business of the avante garde, so there will be no mind blowing today, just a pretty legit use of apostrophes. From The Amazing Adventures of Kavelier & Clay, which won the Pulitzer in 2001:
As soon as the German army occupied Prague, talk began, in certain quarters, of sending the city’s famous Golem, Rabbi Loew’s miraculous automaton, into the safety of exile.
That was a pretty nice use of two apostrophes, both as possessive ones. I tried to find apostrophes used as contractions, but couldn’t, so I’ll put some of my own. I have a feeling maybe good writers aren’t supposed to use contractions. Ain’t that shit.
2. The Parentheses Party
“The Parentheses Party” comprises (of many parentheses) all over the right side (of Chabon’s face). It is important not to overuse the parentheses (like, whenever you have some random thought); to use the parentheses sparingly has great effect:
He had recently retired from the stage (he was seventy, at least) to settle in Prague, his adopted home, and await the inescapable.
“He” being seventy is relevant but not imperative, a good time for parentheses. (One remember’s Salinger’s great bouquet of parentheses: “(((()))).”) In the photo, Chabon is at the Spider Man premier. I also like movies where white sticky stuff shoots out everywhere.
3. The Double Quote
The double quote signifies dialog, a transcription of what is being said. It’s like CPR: the most direct way to give life to a character.
“With all of my papers in order, you betcha.”
Kornblum sighed. “Your exit visa?” he guessed. He had heard stories of many such last-minute denials in recent weeks.
I like how 2 out of 3 quotes are uncited, like no “he said,” or “she said.” If an author has done her (note progressive feminine) job, there should be enough texture and context for the reader to know who’s talking. In T.S. Eliot’s play “The Cocktail Party,” many of the characters say their lines off stage. I always thought that was pretty awesome.
4. The Em Dash
The Em dash is like a parenthesis with more fluidity, both visually and grammatically — see? it just flows baby! — and adroit writers tend to gravitate towards the em dash, case in point:
It was a caterpillar scheme — a dream of fabulous escape — that had ultimately carried Josef Kavalier across Asia and the Pacific to his cousin’s narrow bed on Ocean Avenue.
There are some arguments over whether or not there should be a space between the em dashes or not, like this — versus—like this. I have no idea——–all I know is black guys have much longer em dashes. Go Tell it to the Mountain nearly took my eye out.
5. The Comma
Don’t be fooled. The comma is a nasty bugger, I never quite know when to use it, and forgive me but I never took an English class outside of public high school, where I was somewhat distracted by hanging loogies. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, god bless your education. Here, from The Wonder Boys:
When she went to the movies she took a book with her, to read before the show began, and it was not unusual for her standing in front of the microwave, with a book in one hand and a fork in the other, heating a cup of noodle soup while she read, say, At Lady Molly’s for the third time […]
Nabokov was a master at the comma, and Chabon does his part well…but he’s no Celine…man…that guy was a spaz case…really annoying!…it’s like…ohhh…journey to the end of the night…that’s so dark and emo…jesus…
When I think of “hair” I think of Michæl Chabon. When I think of “no hair” I think of Ben Marcus. When I think of “mustache” I think of Gertrude Stein. Hair and literature are inextricably tied — though the next time you see an ee cummings poem in the mirror, it’s time for a shower.