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 Freud defined the term melancholy in its modern sense: …Melancholia is in some way related to an object-loss which is withdrawn from consciousness, in contradistinction to mourning, in which there is nothing about the loss that [...]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

Metaphor, short version

Metaphor, short version – Comparing unalike objects, entities, thoughts, places, people. The basis of language and thought. Metaphor flattens two or more objects onto the same plane: E.g., when we read “monkey bars,” in one instant, the mind sees the monkey playing on the bars, the bars of the jail cell, the child on the [...]

Irony, Dramatic

Irony, Dramatic – When we, the readers, know something terrible is going to happen (say, that all the sailors in Moby-Dick are going to die except Ishmael) even though the characters in the story do not know, the situation of the ignorant characters is dramatically ironic. This device creates great tension in art: Think of all the dumb [...]

Inciting Incident

Inciting Incident – What causes the protagonist to go on a journey or seek out an answer. In most modern fiction, this occurs very close to the first sentence; there is not much “exposition” before the journey commences.

Hypotaxis versus Parataxis

Hypotaxis versus Parataxis – These are the two poles of sentence writing. Most writers are more or less hypotactic (unequal and thus complex or “elegant”) or paratactic (equal and thus simple or “direct”). Equality here refers to the parts of the sentences we write. If I write long, flowing sentences of various lengths, with various [...]

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 [...]

Heteroglossia

Heteroglossia – Bakhtin uses heteroglossia (different tongues, different languages, different words) to describe the coexistence of different species of a single “linguistic code.” He begins with the novel, a seemingly unified “language” actually composed of distinct elements such as the speech of the characters, the streams of thought of the characters and the narrator(s), and [...]

Grotesque versus Gross (my usage)

Grotesque versus Gross (my usage) – The grotesque in literature is that which both disgusts and inspires sympathy. Mere monsters are horrific, maybe, but not always disgusting, nor sympathetic. Caliban is a good example of the grotesque. The eloquent killer in Capote’s In Cold Blood is also (and more humanly) grotesque. We also need a [...]

Front Matter

Front Matter – The front matter is the text before the main text. You open a book, but it doesn’t start right off. It starts with some weird crap about how happy the author is you picked it up, what edition it is, why he wrote it, and blah blah blah. That’s front matter. Front matter, [...]

foot

Foot (Poetic)

Foot (Poetic) – The foot is the basic unit of rhythm in poetry, notated with mark indicating whether each syllable of the foot is stressed (accented, emphasized; notated with the macron: ¯ ) or unstressed (unaccented, not emphasized; notated with the breve: ˘ ). A foot can consist of one or more words. Here are [...]

Gothic

Gothic – In literature, a genre or mode of fiction that blends both horror and romance, developed in the late eighteenth-century primarily by British novelists Horace Walpole, Clara Reeve, Ann Radcliffe, and M. G. Lewis.  German writers later took up the tradition in force, and the Victorians developed a sort of neo-Gothic tradition, as did [...]

dragon

Fantasy, stances toward: The Fantastic-Marvelous versus The Fantastic-Uncanny

Fantasy, stances toward: The Fantastic-Marvelous versus The Fantastic-Uncanny – The fantastic is the supernatural in art. Within the realm of the unrealm and impossible—the supernatural—there are two very basic, opposite sub-realms, or stances a reader can adopt upon the intrusion of the fantastic (whether on page 1 or 1001), which are distinguished according to perspective. [...]

Frame Story

Frame Story – Wikipedia: A frame story is “a literary technique that sometimes serves as a companion piece to a story within a story, whereby an introductory or main narrative is presented, at least in part, for the purpose of setting the stage either for a more emphasized second narrative or for a set of [...]

Fantasy (The Irreal) versus Surrealism (The Hyperreal)

Fantasy (The Irreal) versus Surrealism (The Hyperreal) – Realism implies an attempt to depict reality “as it is.” In contrast, fantasy implies art that says, “Forget about reality, I’m setting up new rules and playing by them.” Fantasy is about the supernatural. Books about dragons and space aliens and vampires are all fantasy, though the [...]