• 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 Freud defined the term melancholy in its modern sense: …Melancholia is in some way related to an object-loss which is withdrawn from consciousness, in contradistinction to mourning, in which there is nothing about the loss that [...]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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poetry

Prose versus Poetry, structure of

Prose versus Poetry, structure of – Prose is written language whose structure is that of ordinary speech. Prose is opposed to poetry, which is language structured by a scheme other than that of ordinary speech. Such schemes include: Rhyme – Assonance and consonance Rhythm – Accented and unaccented syllables; number of syllables Shape – Where [...]

Period, literary–historical

Period, literary–historical – In the study of literature, we often group texts according to when they were written. Writings in the same period often (but not always) share similar points of style. By “style,” we mean style of expression and style of content. The first concerns writing. What sort of words, punctuation, etc. More pathetic [...]

Quotation Marks

Quotation Marks – You must punctuate dialogue in fiction and nonfiction (unless you are Cormac McCarthy). In American English, quotation marks fall outside of other punctuation marks. In British English, the reverse is true. If you are taking a college class in America, place closing quotation marks on the outside. Learn the rule: “Write like this.” [...]

Rhetoric, Rhetorical Appeals

Rhetoric, Rhetorical Appeals – Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. The three rhetorical appeals, into which evidence can be sometimes be divided, are: The Ethical – You ask the reader to think of how society thinks she should act The Pathetic (the emotional) – You ask the reader to laugh or to cry; these emotional peaks [...]

romanticfam

Romanticism

Romanticism – In prose that we term romantic (small R), the style of expression is exaggerated. Look for exclamation points and em dashes. Actions and feelings are often expressed via conventions—symbols the reader and writer would both have “agreed upon,” already understand. For example, when talking about how powerful you, you compare yourself to Julius Caesar. [...]

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 [...]

redpen

Rubric, Grading

Rubric, Grading – A rubric is a system for determining whether or not an essay fulfills its prompt—a way of grading essays. Generally, we grade on four big ideas: Thesis – Is your main idea clear and powerful? Can it be proved through research? Does it have the weight of common sense behind it? Evidence [...]

jfk

Parallelism (Structure)

Parallelism (Structure) - There are many ways that we can rearrange the typical syntax of a sentence for some literary effect, whether hifalutin, funny, moving, memorable, or weird. “Syntax” simply means “the rules of how words fit together to make language,” word order. In English, subject (noun, doer, agent) usually precedes predicate (verb, action), followed sometimes [...]

Semicolons

Semicolons – Semicolons are unexpected. They force us to do more work. I personally like them and use them. But there’s a lot to be said for the tighter control offered by periods and comma-and/comma-but conjunctions. These tend to disappear, foregrounding your story. Semicolons and other rare beasts tend to highlight themselves—or, more accurately, to [...]

xrayart

Realism, Intellectual, versus Realism, Sensory (AKA Realism, Visual)

Realism, Intellectual versus Realism, Sensory (AKA Realism, Visual) – In Fuquet’s intellectual realism: The drawing contains elements of the model that are not seen but that the artist judges indispensable; conversely, the artist neglects elements of the model that are blindingly obvious but devoid of interest for the artist. So, for example, X-ray art is [...]

Sprezzatura

Sprezzatura – Sprezzatura describes “the well-practiced naturalness, the rehearsed spontaneity, which lies at the center of convincing discourse of any sort, and which has been the always-sought but seldom well-described center of rhetorical ‘decorum,’ since Aristotle first tried to describe it” (Lanham, A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, 2nd Ed., 143). The Book of the Courtier [...]

Sign, Signifier, Signified

Sign, Signifier, Signified – The sign is the basic unit of text, and thus of thought. A sign is a thing that means something. All words are signs. All images intended to represent something are signs. All sounds that mean something are signs. Signs have two halves: Signifier – The thing that does the meaning: A red [...]

symbol

Symbol, levels of

Symbol, levels of - All of our metaphorical ways of relating to aspects within and outside of stories are symbolic: They assume that we can hold in our heads some idea or image which stands in place of some other idea or thing. Symbolic ideas and images represent other ideas and images—letting us write about the search [...]