Komma (after Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun) is a 16mm film installation based on Hollywood script writer Dalton Trumbo’s seminal anti-war novel. The project re-imagines Trumbo’s work through its syntactical idiosyncrasy—the absence of commas throughout the book.
Set around the time of World War I, the novel with its—then particularly inconvenient—anti-war message, was first published in 1939. The book came into true prominence during the Vietnam War era, after its author had re-emerged from McCarthyist blacklisting throughout the 1950s.
The central device of the novel is the body of the protagonist, a young American soldier who, incredibly, has lost his face, both arms and legs during combat. Unable to see, speak, hear, smell, or act, he is fully conscious, but seemingly without agency. As he struggles to come to terms with his personal tragedy, he strains to communicate with “the outside world.”
The entire book was written without commas, though all other punctuation conforms to established conventions. The term “comma” is derived from Greek komma, meaning “something cut off.” There is a cut in the film wherever commas would appear according to The Chicago Manual of Style.