chapter  7
Apostrophe
Pages 23

Quintilian, speaking of oratory, defines apostrophe as ‘a diversion of our words to address some person other than the judge’; and though he cautions against it, ‘since it would certainly seem to be more natural that we should specifically address ourselves to those whose favor we desire to win,’ he allows that occasionally ‘some striking expression of thought is necessary . . . which can be given point and vehemence when addressed to some person other than the judge.’1 The effects here cited to justify apostrophe do not, of course, distinguish it from other tropes, which also are said to seek ‘greater point and vehemence.’ But apostrophe is different in that it makes its point by troping not on the meaning of a word but on the circuit or situation of communication itself. If we posit for this essay, ‘Apostrophe,’ a communicative process linking an ‘authorial voice’ and the readers of The Pursuit of Signs, an apostrophe seems to mark a

deflection of the message: O mysterious apostrophe, teach us to understand your workings! Show us your varied talents here!