asyndeton, quentin tarantino, pulp fiction
In the above scene from Pulp Fiction, look for conjunctions in Samuel L. Jackson’s iconic delivery. Did you find any? This intentional repression or omission of conjunctions is a literary device or rhetorical device called asyndeton:
“Asyndeton is the omission of conjunctions. Asyndeton is often used by literary prose writers to form pattern and fluidity in language and syntax.” (A Handbook to Literature)
Samuel L. Jackson perfected the cinematic asyndeton, but he wasn’t the first character to do it. Asyndeton is a common syntactical choice by classic writers such as James Joyce. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the narrator ponders consciousness and place:
“Consciousness of place came ebbing back to him slowly over a vast tract of time unlit, unfelt, unloved….”
In the above excerpt from Portrait of the Artist and the above clip from Pulp Fiction, how does asyndeton add to tone and character within the moment?
Asyndeton in Antiquity
Aristotle felt that asyndeton was appropriately used in spoken forms: “Thus strings of unconnected words, and constant repetitions of words and phrases, are very properly condemned in written speeches: but not in spoken speeches — speakers use [asyndeton] freely, for they have a dramatic effect. In this repetition there must be variety of tone, paving the way, as it were, to dramatic effect; e.g.:
“This is the villain among you who deceived you, who cheated you, who meant to betray you completely'” (Rhetoric, Book III, Chapter 12 (trans. W. Rhys Roberts).
Writing Asyndeton with Samuel L. Jackson and Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction
Choose a section of work you are currently writing in which one or more characters are emotional, excited, angry or elated. Study the sentence patterns with asyndeton in mind, omitting conjunctions and creating a more Stacatto effect to heighten the energy of the language.
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- A Handbook to Literature. William Harmon.
- “Cogito et Histoire de la Folie.” Jacques Derrida.
- Eats Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Lynne Truss.
- The Elements of Style. William Strunk.
- New Oxford American Dictionary. Edited by Angus Stevenson and Christine A. Lindberg.
- Pulp Fiction. Quentin Tarantino.
- The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Martin Puchner, et al.
- The Norton Introduction to Philosophy. Gideon Rosen and Alex Byrne.
- Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. Patricia T. O’Conner
- Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French & Ned Stuckey-French.
- Writing the Other. Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward.