White and Strunk's "The Elements of Style" probably has crippled more writers than encouraged them. Subverting the tyranny of usage guardians, Watson calls for writing creativity, especially in the application of semicolons.
A professor at Bard College, Watson doesn't support complete anarchy. She believes in an understanding of grammar, without allowing a slavish adherence to stifle writing.
Watson gives examples of excellent writers who have imaginatively used the semicolon beyond its common role of separating two interdependent complete statements. Passages from Shakespeare, Irvine Welsh, Rebecca Solnit and Raymond Chandler illustrate how semicolon flexibility enhances writing.
The punctuation mark, invented by the Italian scholar and printer Aldus Manutius the Elder in 1494, is shown as an essential writing tool.
She doesn't mention Saul Bellow, but I thought of his liberation from language strictures in "The Adventures of Augie March." A look at the novel's celebrated first paragraph reveals how Bellow's semicolons boost his writing.
Watson's small book, with lovely woodcut illustrations, raises enthralling questions about the philosophy of writing. Grammar purists will warn that she's opening the gates to increased language promiscuity, but her own work shows the effectiveness of elegant English.
Her treatise ends by skewering David Foster Wallace's admonition to students to conform to the standard English dialect.
I'm not sure how far she would go in allowing freedom from spelling and grammar rules. I suspect she would oppose complete abandonment of grammatical norms. However, she speaks for the value of speech outside of narrow syntactical channels. Her thorough historical analysis of how those rules developed points to their arbitrariness.
In Watson's viewpoint, semicolon mastery is a hallmark of vivid writing. Those who might think of her book as a dull pedantic exercise will discover a witty, expansive work touching upon history, philosophy, literary criticism and personal reflections. Her footnotes are like jewels in a stream.
All hail the semicolon; Watson seeks to free the funny-looking mark, and writers' thoughts. Already, I'm throwing semicolons around like doubloons from a Mardi Gras float. I don't fear the language police.