"Commas are the plastic wrap that divide one package of pre-washed salad greens from another....Cutting up our food, they infantilize us."
So said Gordon C.F. Bearn last night in a lecture on "Punctuation in Gertrude Stein and Wittgenstein: Legacies of William James, MD." Bearn, a philosophy professor at Lehigh University, was referring to Stein's attitude toward punctuation when he took us all on a mental excursion to the produce department.
Stein, of course, died too soon to welcome the era of pre-wrapped, pre-washed salad greens, but one wonders how warmly she would have welcomed that innovation. Salad, she wrote, is "a winning cake," but that doesn't tell us whether the cake should be constructed from a head of iceberg, a leaf of romaine, or a bag of spring greens.
(No word on Wittgenstein's views on the topic.)