Member Rara Avis
Interesting idea. If we leave out the punctuation, the reader is more involved? Wow, just think how involved we could get the reader if we left out the words, too!
Don't laugh, because I think, for the writer, punctuation and words are really the same things - tools we use to communicate. Most of us spend a lot of time and effort choosing our words, not just to communicate concrete ideas but also to communicate mood, atmosphere, and feelings. Calling someone "Poopsie" in a poem may mean the same thing as calling them "Darling," but one is playful and one is more serious. With a single word-choice, we've set the tone of the piece and, to some extent, provided the reader with some back-story (that they can even interpret on their own).
Punctuation, I believe, is no less useful to the writer than words. In a scene with a lot of action, I use many more short, choppy sentences than I otherwise would, in commensurately short paragraphs. Things are happening fast on the page, and the structure helps convey that. Short sentences in long paragraphs, often with implied subjects, can help convey strength and resolve. If I want to communicate confusion, I'll use short sentences, too, but they'll be tied together with "and" and become run-on sentences in longer, sometimes interminable, paragraphs. When I need to give the reader a break from a fast pace, I'll switch to more convoluted sentences, usually with longer words, often with more adjectives, and invariably with many, many more commas. Sentences like my last one force the read to slow down and think, taking the emphasis off story events and moving it to feelings. And yea when I want to imply a sense of rushed incoherence I might even write a few sentences that remain devoid of excess punctuation.
Hemingway, I think, was the unqualified master of using punctuation as much as words to tell a story. Read one of his longer works some time, and pay special attention to his shifts. It's often pure brilliance.
About ambiguity …
Comedians know that to explain a joke is to destroy it. If you have to tell someone why the joke is funny, you can bet it won't be. And, often, the best jokes are the ones that incorporate a "eureka" leap, that split-second between the final word of the punch line and the laugh that follows. That is the moment of understanding, and it seems that the effort required by the listener to reach that moment is very much a part of the intensity of the amusement.
Writing isn't greatly different, of course. We're trying to communicate, but if we have to explain too much, we're going to lose our impact. I think a large part of the skill in writing is being able to take the reader to that moment of eureka, and then let them walk the last few feet themselves. And, yea. With some stories, Kafka coming immediately to mind, those last few feet can turn into several miles.
I think it's a mistake to confuse the roles of ambiguity and profundity.
We should try very, very hard to avoid ambiguity. With a simple message, that's easily done. As we add depth to our work, we'll find it more difficult to avoid being ambiguous, but we should continue trying. At some point, though, we discover that introducing layers of meaning is inevitably going to result in an ambiguity that can't be explained without ruining the joke. It's a delicate balance, a trade-off that can't be avoided. Profundity results in ambiguity.
The problem I see is that too many neophyte writers confuse that cause and effect relationship. Throwing in a bit of ambiguity does NOT add profoundness to a story or poem.
I don't believe our job is to make a reader think. Our job is to communicate a message. If our message has any depth to it, if we strike a balance between communication and beating them over the head, they WILL be forced to think for themselves. As a side-effect. Not as a goal. The totally cool thing is, if we did it right, the reader will probably see things we didn't. That's not because our message was ambiguous, though. It's because our message had depth.