Week Five Dr. Stephen Ogden LIBS 7001
Common Sense Approach to Definition & Classification • There is, fortunately, a practical approach to the type of “problems” detailed in the articles for this week, for those of us who are not (or, not only) academics. • A common-sense practice: assume a stable definition (e.g. “truck”), but see any uncertainty or issue as simply a matter of classification: • “does this vehicle belong in the category ‘truck’ ?
DESCRIPTION • creates sharply etched word pictures of objects, persons, scenes, events, situations • in work/personal/academic settings, can describe • a patient’s condition for a chart • a product in an advertisement • site conditions in a report • can • create a mood • stimulate understanding • lead to action
Two Types of Description Functional • “just the facts”: denotative • purpose: to explain, clarify • allegedly objective, observed from a distance • common in lab reports, formal reports • logical order of ideas • perspective: description of parts, materials, functions Emotional • impressionistic: connotative • purpose: to convey ideas, moods, impressions • impressionistic, subjective • common in everyday life, and in artistic writing • highly variable order of ideas • different perspectives possible
Elements of Description • To help drive home your points vividly in an essay or speech, carefully use these five elements of description: • Sensory Impression • Dominant Impression • Vantage Point • Selection of Details • Arrangement of Details
Sensory Impression, cont. • appropriate words / comparisons , cont. • “… the kind of woman who plays with a full deck of credit cards…” (Ehrenreich, 10) • an egg that “starts to disgorge a cloud of white stuff like a medium at an old-fashioned séance” (Nabokov, 38) • blend several sense impressions • “Ah…fresh bread” (last frame of Pekar essay) • evokes sense of touch (shape, heat), sight, smell
2. Dominant Impression • an overall mood or feeling, such as joy, anger, terror, or distaste • may be identified or left unnamed • can be developed throughout the description • “Yet, the overriding sensation I had was of always being out of place.” (Said, 37) • “Not long ago a former friend and soon-to-be acquaintance called me up to tell me how busy she was.” (Ehrenreich, 9) • may be influenced by vantage-point
3. Vantage Point - two types • fixed:observer remains in one place • “Boil water in a saucepan (bubbles mean it is boiling!)” (Nabokov, 38) • moving: observer views things from different positions • e.g., E. Said moving through time: • “In my early adolescence….Now I have divined that…” (Said, p. 39)
4. Selection of Details • A good writer selects details pointing toward the mood or feeling s/he is trying to create. • Exclusion is as important as inclusion. • How does a writer suggest stillness or nothingness? • What are the implications of leaving out certain details? Are there limits to a writer’s creative license? What’s a writer’s ethical responsibility when using description & narration?
5. Arrangement of Details • to guide reader and fulfill purpose, use a clear pattern or organization - e.g., • spatial • sequential • contrast • can start with a striking central feature • Said’s discussion of the 2 halves of his name
NARRATION • relates series of real or imagined events • Narration, a story, can • tell what happened • delve into motives • offer lessons and insights (but doesn’t have to) • do all of the above.
Narrative: Examples of Non-Literary Uses • Used at work, at home, at school: e.g., • details in a lab or inspection report • Any report is a form of narration • development of a research project • history of an employee’s work problems • Both by the employee and the employer • Meeting minutes write-up • Politics: ‘narrative’ is now an essential tool • Create a partisan story about society, selves & opponents • Journalism: • news stories are forms of narrative
Elements of Narration • Six elements together produce strong narration: • purpose • action • conflict • point of view • key events • dialogue
1. Purpose • can be stated or unstated but always shapes the writing • may • tell what happened • establish a useful fact • delve into motives • offer lessons or insights Not all “stories” have a moral or teach a lesson.
2. Action • plays a central role in narrative by presenting, not just suggesting, something that happens • suggested (or reported): • “Time seemed forever against me.” (Said, 38) • represented directly: • “ They went to Michigan Militia meetings. They blew up ‘things’ in the backyard.” (Moore, 84)
Action, cont. • Think visually (cinematically) when writing a narrative. • “…a passage on the piano might cause a sudden transformation of her face, a dramatic elevation in her tone, a breathtakingly wide opening of arms, as she took me in with ‘Bravo, Edward’…” (Said, 38) • “With a small spoon tap-tap in a circle and then pry open the lid of the shell.” (Nabokov, 38) • Many experiences are “action:” e.g., thinking, feeling, deciding • “They also serve who only stand and wait.” (John Milton, “On His Blindness,” 1652)
3. Conflict • Real, imagined, anticipated conflicts shape our lives; see Gk. agon - meaning “contest” • Some varieties of conflict: • between an individual and outside circumstances: Nabokov’s eggs & egg-cooker • between 2 group members: Said & mother • between__________________________ • between__________________________ • within____________________________
4. Point of View - types • First person: one of the participants tells what happened. • uses I, me, mine, we, ours • limited to what that person knows; narrator can be unreliable because of incomplete knowledge • Second-person:less often used • you is used or understood • imperative & directive; or conversational • Third-person: distanced “narrator” recalls. • uses he, she, it, they • narrator can be omniscient, intrusive, or limited in knowledge, deliberately misleading
5. Key Events • Strong narratives are built around key events bearing directly on its purpose. E.g. • Pekar’s paralleling the progress of his thoughts and physical progress towards the bakery, where a resolution occurs on both levels (“quandry” resolved, AND loaf of bread obtained) • Said’s discussion of his mother’s death as a key event, which helps to remind him of both his childhood and his own mortality. • consider “narratives” of election candidates
6. Dialogue • Conversation animates narrative: • indirect/reported- narrator strongly controls presentation and mood; reader is distanced from the scene • “..called me up to tell me how busy she was.” (Ehre., 9) • direct - generally (but not always) more vivid; also leaves more scope for reader interpretation: • narrator in strong control: “… the days when ‘Let’s have lunch’ meant something other than ‘I’ve got more important things to do than to talk to you now’…” (E,9) • integrated into narrative: “’Help me to sleep, Edward’…” (Said, 39, in which he’s both character and narrator)
For the narration readings (Ignatieff, Fraser, Mukherjee), consider these questions: • What is the author's purpose? • Where & how does the author use specific descriptive and narrative techniques? • Narration often produces a personal, "gut" reader response. Critically analyze your own response to these essays: • What exactly was your response? • What factors (e.g.: your experiences, knowledge, the author's story, descriptive & narrative techniques) might have combined to produce your response? • How did you transcend your "gut reaction" to gain a more objective reading of the text?