A couple nights ago, I went to this experimental improv music thing in Toronto, which was all sorts of interesting, but that’s really neither here nor there. During intermission, this irrelevant artist was showing off to a friend of mine about his most recent publication, which was about, get this: the ellipsis.
He made the argument that the ellipsis gives readers authority over both text and author, they can “fill in” what the writer “left out.” Unfortunately, he didn’t think I was “anyone,” so he never engaged me in conversation, more or less just looked at me like I was a moron, if anything. But he made an impassioned argument to my friend about the ellipsis gives the reader control, let’s them take back the text from the author-narrator, that anything can happen within those three little dots.
Whereas I didn’t pick a fight with this guy then—I was tired, it was hot, the show was in an old church for Christ’s sake—I can pick one with him now, online, where I’m safe.
Ellipsis: The omission of one or more words in a sentence, which would be needed to complete the grammatical construction or fully to express the sense (OED).
I’ve thought about this long and hard, and to me, the ellipsis demarcates either something irrelevant to the text or to understand the meaning of a text or “so on and so forth,” (or “etc.”) as in following the pattern already established in the sentence/paragraph/text. I use the ellipsis, and never have I thought of it as a way to give readers “authority” to play with the narrative, to “explore.” If anything, the ellipsis cuts out that exploration, the punctuation mark signals to the reader that the author finds whatever it is so ungermane as to put in an ellipsis rather than bother to write it out entirely.
I think what this artist-dude meant was talking about has more to do with how the ellipsis has been appropriated by undergrad or MFA writing workshops, I mean students as opposed to “writers,” who tend to use the ellipsis as a substitution for something they’re uncomfortable writing, as in: “He slid down her panties…” or “She held the gun, her finger trembled at the trigger…” or some other banal thing like that, instances where writers don’t have the gall to actually write a scene and so instead default to misusing the ellipsis. So sure, artist-guy, yes, the ellipsis does give the reader “authority,” although only in certain circumstances and probably when the reader wants the writer to write out the scene the most. Because let’s face it, right, during those moments when the ellipsis is used this way (as in with the bad examples above), those are the times the reader wants the scene the most, those are the juiciest scenes, truncated to “dot dot dot,” which is lame, at least to me.
There are many uses for the ellipsis. I think it’s a useful punctuation mark, one that is overused, bastardized to the extreme, but I use it, sure, and I love it all the same.