• myth

    Myth

    Myth – A myth is simply a story told over and over and over again by a group of people. Generally, we use “myth” to connote an ancient, sacred narrative (the rape of Prosperine to generate seasonality, the striking of the heavenly spear into the Pacific to create Japan), not just any story. This is [...]

  • naturalism

    Realism and Naturalism

    Realism and Naturalism – In prose that we term realist (small R), the style of expression is “realistic,” meaning “as things actually happen,” not exaggerated for emotional effect. A real story, with real people, drives the power of the text. The style of content is that of a “real” story, in which a true-to-life seeming [...]

  • pomo

    Postmodernism

    Postmodernism – Just as modernity is the period after the Middle Ages, so is postmodernity the period of modernity after modernity’s global (but incomplete) ascendancy—after the exhaustion of the modern and its turn toward severe self-awareness. Generally, we talk about postmodernity as beginning after World War II. The style or movement in art, thought, and [...]

  • whitewhale

    Melancholy and Moby-Dick

    Melancholy and Moby-Dick – AKA, a psychological and highly quotational meditation on the sad, the saturnine, and the furious. Freud defined the term melancholy in its modern sense: …Melancholia is in some way related to an object-loss which is withdrawn from consciousness, in contradistinction to mourning, in which there is nothing about the loss that [...]

  • skull

    Horror versus Terror

    Horror versus Terror – These are the two major divisions of literary, cinematic, or otherwise artistic (representational, strategic) fear. Fear is—along with joy, sadness, anger, and anxiety—one of the most basic human emotions. While anxiety occurs without an external stimulus, fear occurs when we perceive a threat or feel pain. Fear in the brain engenders [...]

  • lobster

    Différance

    Différance: Reflex and Double Articulation – The concept  of “différance” was coined by philosopher Jacques Derrida. He came to it by way of a lineage of reflexive thinkers beginning with Nietzsche, the thinker who’s so reflexive, he posits that even emptiness, death, the abyss, gazes back. (And calls the world to itself: Abyssus abyssum invocat.) [...]

  • machine

    Ambiguity (Narrative, Symbolic)

    Ambiguity (Narrative, Symbolic): Transcendence, Transcendent, Transcendent Signified versus Immanence, Immanent, Immanent Signified – This short exercise in literary theory/philosophy works best if you have drawing implements and a few minutes to think… [Draw picture on board of a box, huge, full of junk. Label "Moby-Dick."] [Draw picture on board of a small, gift-wrapped box, beautiful, [...]

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metaplasmus

Metaplasmus

Metaplasmus means misspelling something or writing it differently because doing so will have a different effect on the reader. Hip hop thrives on metaplasmus. (If I were writing about metaplasmus vis-á-vis hip hop, perhaps I’d call myself Metaplazmu$—although that’s a terrible rapper name.) The classic comic strip Krazy Kat provides another example. The effect of metaplasmus in both of these [...]

reverse

Outlining in Reverse

This recent article on outlining and not-outlining works of fiction is quite good. I’ve had similar problems with the outlining process exhausting all my interest in a particular story. The solution? Outline in reverse, as the title says. Here are a few bon mots (“good sayings”) from the writer, Aaron Hamburger (The View From Stalin’s [...]

shaper

Creator versus Shaper

Some thoughts on the role of an artist working on a new project, from video game auteur developers Ice Pick Lodge: …True creative work is not about self-expression and making stuff up, it’s about finding a right shape for a story that exists objectively, outside the artist’s head. This story and the underlying problem constitute [...]

partners

Writing Partners

Writing partners – One way to help engage students with the assigned texts is to set up writing partnerships wherein each partner is responsible for a single email per week, to her partner (CCing you), about that week’s readings. In my experience, these partnerships lead to closer readings of the texts, better discussions during class, [...]

static

Filler

When writing essays, avoid filler. Many college students are still in the habit of introducing essays with a lot of this: “We all know that topic X is [very general definition], and X is really interesting, isn’t it? It’s interesting in a bunch of ways. None of which relate to my thesis.” Instead of this [...]

notebook

Notebooks

Always carry a notebook on you. Every time you have an idea, jot it down—no matter what. You will never regret having a small notebook with you. Moleskine makes beautiful small black notebooks, and Rhodia fine small orange ones. But I much prefer the rye-brown Muji variety. I only buy spiral-bound notebooks without lined pages, [...]

hpl

H. P. Lovecraft’s Advice to Young Writers

Seminal cosmic horror writer H. P. Lovecraft published this article on writing (“Literary Composition”) in the January, 1920 issue of The United Amateur. There are some useful and some hilariously archaic-sounding thoughts in this, and one section in particular stands out among the former. Here, HPL puts names and concise definitions to three abstract dimensions of fiction writing that [...]

apple

Simulation

Simulation – You have to use signs to say anything at all in language. Truth, lies, and simulacra all require signs. In truth, a sign refers to a thing. “Apple” means a shiny red fruit. An example of a lie or dissimulation would be telling a Japanese tourist that the sign “apple” (whether the written [...]

myth

Myth

Myth – A myth is simply a story told over and over and over again by a group of people. Generally, we use “myth” to connote an ancient, sacred narrative (the rape of Prosperine to generate seasonality, the striking of the heavenly spear into the Pacific to create Japan), not just any story. This is [...]

Punctuation

Punctuation – Punctuation is the orthographic representation of any number of meaningful pauses in prose. It is not only meant to duplicate the naturally meaningful, unconscious pauses we make in when we speak; rather, punctuation also represents those mental pauses that both precede spoken words and dictate the rhythm of written ones. Each mark has evolved [...]

Rhetorical Figure

Rhetorical Figure – Wikipedia: “A technique that an author or speaker uses to convey to the listener or reader a meaning with the goal of persuading him or her towards considering a topic from a different perspective.” There are literally hundreds of literary devices and rhetorical figures, or tools for communication. Some of these tools [...]

rhizome

Rhizome

Rhizome – In terms of the rhizome/tree distinction of Deleuze and Guattari, rhizomes (potatoes and grasses) are the spaces in which they, as machines of meaning, make meaning. They are the whole world. There is one world—the real world of signs. Trees suppose a world “out there,” roots in the mud, nourished and real, to [...]

naturalism

Realism and Naturalism

Realism and Naturalism – In prose that we term realist (small R), the style of expression is “realistic,” meaning “as things actually happen,” not exaggerated for emotional effect. A real story, with real people, drives the power of the text. The style of content is that of a “real” story, in which a true-to-life seeming [...]