Audio: Cormac McCarthy on using James Joyce as the model for punctuation

Cormac McCarthyHere’s some audio I hadn’t heard before: Cormac McCarthy, Pulitzer Prize winner and the author behind iconic works such as The Road and No Country for Old Men, speaking about his minimalist approach to punctuation.

The reason I’m posting here is because he cites James Joyce as a reference point for his punctuation style, while also name-checking 18th century writers (“like Swift or someone”) who “wrote so well but punctuated so poorly”.

While there’s a lot to be said for clarity and “simple declarative sentences”, as McCarthy says, I can’t help feeling that he takes things to the other extreme.

Having used quotation marks, sub-clauses and parentheses in the space of a few short lines, I’m probably emblematic of all McCarthy rails against, but a confession: I love the contribution punctuation can make to a great sentence.

The audio below is taken from a rare interview McCarthy gave to Oprah Winfrey in 2008.

One thought on “Audio: Cormac McCarthy on using James Joyce as the model for punctuation

  1. I kind of agree with Oprah that the quote marks don’t seem to be missing in his work. Which of course says an immense amount about the quality of his writing. But then, I have only really read ‘The Road’, the book that Oprah was talking to him about, in which the number of characters per scene is limited.

    Poor old semicolon, no one seems to like it except to make winking smileys 😉

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