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 Freud defined the term melancholy in its modern sense: …Melancholia is in some way related to an object-loss which is withdrawn from consciousness, in contradistinction to mourning, in which there is nothing about the loss that [...]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

Fairy Tale

Fairy Tale – Intended (sometimes) for children, this type of moralizing narrative often includes talking animals and magical plants—making it essentially a subset of fable–parable. The fairy tale has a long, rich tradition, courtesy of fairy-fanatics such as the Brothers Grimm, Lafcadio Hearn, Tim Burton, and Neil Gaiman. We know the genre when we encounter [...]

Character description

Character description – Remembered, summarized, paraphrased information about a character is more likely to be tied to opinions, vague memories, stereotypes: The mind does backfilling and what’s called in cognitive science Orwellian and Stalinesque editing. We make up details. Immediate, exterior, physical information is both more compelling and somehow more trustworthy. Even when establishing a [...]

Italics

Italics – Book titles, magazine titles, play titles, newspaper titles, television show titles, website titles, and other titles of whole works are italicized. Chapters, stories, poems, articles, episodes, and other component/partial works are set off with quotation marks. Learn the rule. It’s easy. Examples: Henry V [play] Sesame Street [TV show] The New Yorker [magazine] [...]

Phonetics (Sound)

Phonetics (Sound) - There are many phonetic devices whereby sound generates affect (emotion) in the reader—perhaps via an EEK! of excitement (via onomatopoeia—the representation of non-word sounds as letters on the page)—or a moment of mild, moody, Monday-morning monotony at sea while looking longingly out upon the blank, endless, lulling, lurching, leading-nowhere, limitless water (alliteration—the use of [...]

Personification, Anthropomorphism, Apostrophe

Personification, Anthropomorphism, Apostrophe - Attributing human characteristics to non-humans. To personify an object is to make it sound human: A ship in Moby-Dick has teeth, a belly, tendons. Used often (if softly) in Romantic literature. Here are some examples of problematic personifications: Time flies - Time can’t fly; time is an abstraction. Also, the phrase tempus fugit in Latin [...]

Point of view (POV), Person, Perspective

Point of view (POV), Person, Perspective – How a text is directed at its readers, grammatically. There are six POVs: First-person singular – I shot the sheriff First-person plural – We are the champions Second-person singular – You, you got what I need Second-person plural – Y’all [pl. vernacular] don’t wanna hear me, you [pl. [...]

The Third-Person Singular Pronoun Mystery: Do You Write One, He, She, They, or He/She, or S/He?

The Third-Person Singular Pronoun Mystery: Do You Write One, He, She, They, or He/She, or S/He? – In your reading, you will run into all of these pronouns used to refer to a single person in an example. Read these and think about how they are different from one another: When a person walks down [...]

Trope

Trope – The “shape,” the framework for a narrative, how we’re supposed to read it. This is a letter. My friend is telling me this. This is a report on something that really happened. We use “trope” loosely now to mean everything from plot to genre, but strictly trope means this framework. Most stories have [...]

Quotations

Quotations – In an essay, quote your sources to support your argument and tell your story. As a rhetorical strategy, quotation helps you by showing how the work of other writers supports your current project. Quotation also helps you by forcing you to slow down and analyze one image, thought, or logical link at a time. Find [...]

Theme

Theme, simple – A story’s theme is its emotional point, around which the narrative action revolves cataphatically. The theme is verboten, meaning it can’t be said: In good writing, the theme is never stated within the story. This is because the theme is the emotional effect on the reader produced by the story. A microwave [...]

That/Which/Who/Whom (Pronouns)

That/Which/Who/Whom (Pronouns) – These rules are both simple (that and which = not used to describe people; who = used to describe people; whom = used when the person being described is the object of an action—when something happens to this person) and complex (find out more). Here are some examples illustrating the simple aspect: [...]

Tone

Tone – The narratorial stance toward the story and its readers. If a first-person narrator says, “Ugh, I hate telling stories about my childhood, but I can’t seem to get this one event out of my mind…” then we know that the tone is reflective but also a little annoyed. If a third-person narrator says, [...]