Excursions Of A Bibliophile

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Archive for January, 2014

Notes of a Nobody: The Power of Ellipticism

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on January 27, 2014

On the way to office the other day, I spotted a young school girl having a hurried breakfast in a crowded bus. There were people milling around her seat and yet she proceeded with her critical morning chore with a need driven sense of defiance and a self-imposed pretension of oblivion of her surroundings. Similarly, driving early to airport on another day in the very recent past, I spotted kids slouched in their school bus having a nap. It was at about seven- thirty in the morning and I expected kids to be chatting away with one another or throwing paper balls at one another in the bus. Instead, I found them slumped in their seats catching up on their sleep. Something about both these sights made me queasy. There was a feeling of discomfort on which I could not lay my finger on. Much later, I realized that the roots of my uneasiness lay in the recognition of how pressing our modern society is becoming which manifests itself in rushed breakfasts in crowded public spaces and power naps to fill in the deficit of sleep hours. There was nothing elegant about my thoughts and the words I was employing to describe my feelings were clumsy at best. However, I have come across similar scenes in my reading described in a way that is beautiful and memorable. And what makes these descriptions attractive and memorable is the employment of ellipticism in narration – a way to say everything with a sense of depth and profundity without actually saying it. Consider the following two descriptions: The first is from Ian McEwan‘s “Saturday” where the author introduces us to the protagonist of the novel Dr. Henry Perowne:

“Forty- eight years old, profoundly asleep at nine thirty on a Friday night – this is modern professional life”

The second is from Zadie Smith’s article “The North West London Blues” –a nice piece about the place of libraries in current day and the state of libraries in UK:

Well-run libraries are filled with people because what a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy anything in order to stay

In both the cases there is a brilliant damnation but in a way that is roundabout – in one instance it is the damnation of busy professional life which today is seen as the apex of individual success and in another instance of the modern economic state which constantly forces you to consume something or the other.

This leads one to the essential question: why is ellipticism employed in the first place? The simple answer is that it carries within it an inherent power of expression which is jolting and hard hitting in nature. However, the real question one has got to ask is what is it that makes ellipticism so inherently powerful and attractive? I believe there are no easy answers and my guess is that the power of ellipticism resides in its ability to forge an elbow room where a reader can allow his imagination to expand. As a case in point, what defines the “modern professional life” is left to the reader’s imagination. Using ellipticism, all that the author does is to point to his reader that such an entity with all its warts exists and any sensitive and responsible reader is forced to imagine it for himself. It is in this creative process of fleshing the imaginative space with material details lies the charm and power of ellipticism in narration

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