The Wizard of ID or, Imagery and Detail in Your Everyday Write

AP Language

August 20th, 2008

Themes: , ,

Welcome back to our T-DIDLS series. We are covering TONE as we move along, and have covered DICTION here and here and here. Go back if you are uncertain about diction, connotation, denotation, jargon, or colloquialisms.

Imagery and detail. If diction is the part of a writer’s VOICE that packs meaning into individual words, Imagery and detail are the two parts that keep a reader interested, and "paint the picture" of whatever is being described. Actually, as imagery is the representation of any sensory experience in words, it also "sings the sounds," "invigorates the touch," "supplements the taste," and "supplies the scent" of any scene or experience. Let’s look at this sentence from Bram Stoker’s Dracula:

The windows were curtainless, and the yellow moonlight, flooding in through the diamond panes, enabled one to see even colours, whilst it softened the wealth of dust which lay over all and disguised in some measure the ravages of time and moth.

This section contains some striking visual imagery, but the other senses are possibly heightened by the imagination. What does the room smell like? Are the surfaces rough or smooth? If you tasted something in the room… Okay, maybe that one doesn’t work. Taste is tough.

Detail can be a more slippery term, but coupled with DICTION, it is a vital aspect of IMAGERY. Think of the words on a page as a camera lens, and the writer as a cinematographer. By bringing certain aspects of a scene into focus (the curtains, the dust in the previous example), the author/cameraman can leave the rest of a scene out of focus, trusting us to fill in the blanks (again, what does the room smell like? Ask a bunch of people what they think and I bet you will all have similar answers.)

From Alberto Alvaro Rios’s story, "The Iguana Killer":

An old man, Don Tomasito, the baker, played the tuba. When he blew into the huge mouthpiece, his face would turn purple and his thousand wrinkles would disappear as his skin filled out.

Just like in a movie scene, the first sentence sets the mise-en-scene, while the second takes the reader/viewer into a close-up of the tuba player’s head and neck. [Quick review: what does the author’s choice of the word "filled" add to the whole scene and the detail of the neck expansion in particular?] If we changed the second sentence to something like When he blew the tuba, his face turned purple and his cheeks puffed out, how is the tone and your feeling about the baker change?

Tying it all together: Just as we examined metaphor and simile in light of CONNOTATION and DENOTATION, IMAGERY adds to these devices as well. Check out this example from H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds:

Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.

Recognize the device from ACT or SAT prep? This is a wild analogy (one in its natural habitat, not one used by Johnny Carson) that could be set up this way: Martian minds : Human minds :: Human minds : Animal minds. How does the focus on the Martian’s minds add to the overall creepiness factor of this passage? [Rhetorical side note: If this were a persuasive piece (and someone could certainly make that argument), which of the big three would this analogy fall under? Think about how this passage affects you as a reader hint hint. Click here for the answer.

To sum up:

The Art of Annotation

AP Language

August 18th, 2008

Themes: , ,

We worked through Michael Lewis’s "Cross-Buying" in class today.  I hope you now have a better understanding of how to go about annotating a text.  If you are still unsure of where to begin, here’s a quick set of guidelines:

  1.   Make sure you have a working knowledge of the devices we have discussed in class so far.  These include:
      • Diction
        Any other devices with which you are familiar
  2.   Skim the piece once to get a general idea of the argument.  If you want to begin marking up your page at this point, go ahead, but the first pass should simply give you perspective on the work.
  3.   Begin reading the work more closely, looking for words or phrases that stand out (because they are unusual, interesting, or unfamiliar), devices that you recognize, and any counter-arguments presented.  Each time you come across something worth marking, ask yourself "Why has the author included this?  What does it do for the work?  How does it help/hurt the argument?"
  4.   Look for the thesis.  This is rarely at the end of the first paragraph in published works, and not always a single sentence.  The thesis should cover the scope of the argument.  For example, in "Cross-Buying," the author states that his "fondness for buying women’s clothing is nothing more than a fondness for—and a curiosity about—women themselves."  It is important to understand what the author is arguing before you begin writing about the work.
  5.   Finally, go over the work one more time, focusing on your annotations.  How do they fit with the thesis?  Does your interpretation of each support or contradict the author’s thesis?  (If they contradict it, you may have misunderstood something.  Or the piece is poorly written/argued.  It’s possible.)  Do you see any connections between the various devices?

That’s it.  I like to use several colors to annotate a work (diff colors for vocab/interesting things, things I don’t understand, questions I have, and reactions), but do whatever works for you.  The important thing is that your hands are busy.  It will take longer to read a work at first, but this will eventually become second nature to you.  Pretty soon you won’t be able to read without a pen in your hand.  You’ll be better for it, I promise.

“Cross-Buying” Annotated

AP Language

August 18th, 2008

Themes: , , ,

Click below for image from class.

I blacked-out some of the article for copyright purposes (we are using this for our classroom, so it falls under fair use, but I cannot publish a full copy).Cross-Buying Annotated

“Cross-Buying” Analysis

AP Language

August 16th, 2008

Themes: ,

We are annotating Michael Lewis’s "Cross-Buying" over the weekend.  As you read over the article, pay attention to any parts you find interesting, while concentrating on the author’s voice (T-DIDLS).  When you come across an interesting word or phrase, ask yourself what it does for the author’s argument.  Here are a few questions to get you started:

You don’t need to write out the answers to these questions; they are merely here to help you get started. We’ll discuss these and more in class on Monday.  If you want to record your thoughts, I suggest using your journal.

From the vault

Over the next few days I’ll be resurrecting some old posts from last year to supplement our lectures.

Diction II: Hunker Down; This Is Gonna Be a Big One

AP Language

August 16th, 2008

Themes: , ,

[Lame.  I posted the wrong old one before.]

Okay, not really. Connotation and denotation. These are important not only because they are vital to metaphors, metonymy, and such, but because they are fairly simple terms and can make a world of difference in an essay.

The DENOTATION of a word is the literal dictionary definition of a word. (Quick mnemonic: denotation and definition both begin with "de." Add "dictionary" to the mix and they all start with "d." Big D little d what begins with d? Dr Seuss, anyone? No? Moving on…)

Anyway, the CONNOTATION of a word is the meaning implied or suggested by the word and its CONtext (the words that surround it). That’s it. The difficulty comes when we must learn to recognize these terms in their various incarnations. But don’t worry, I have examples!

The name of the rock band Rage Against the Machine plays on the word "machine." In this case, "machine" can mean numerous things, but I’ll take a stab at it: "the Man," "the government," "major corporations," "major industries." . . . Well, I think I hit all of those when I said "the man." This is an example of METONYMY, where something associated with another thing is used to name the first.  It’s easier to imagine a METaphor (another mnemonic) for a piece of something.

Following the previous example, Fiona Apple’s latest (to my knowledge) album, Extraordinary Machine contains the same word (machine), but in this case she uses it proudly to name herself. One could say in an essay, "While it may seem odd that Apple describes herself as a ‘machine,’ within the album the word connotes a sense of power and resilience. She gets knocked down, but as the metaphor implies, she keeps moving forward with ‘extraordinary’ mechanistic ability."

"Zoot Suit Riot" is a famous swing song by the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. Gesundheit. The title refers to battles between the "Zoot Suiters" and sailors in California during WWII. As with "machine" earlier, while the word’s denotation points to an article of clothing, the connotation and context (clothes can’t riot. At least not when you’re in the room…) refer to the people wearing them. Aww… sneaky metonymy.

Enough of the music examples. Here is one from literature:

Art is the antidote that can call us back from the edge of numbness, restoring the ability to feel for another.

—Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tuscon

Now. Why does she choose the word "antidote"? The denotation of this word elicits medicine—a cure. This is emphasized by her use of "restoring" later in the sentence. I now know that she wants to convey the idea that our "ability to feel for one another" is sick (it is not as it should be), and that art can help that. By drawing out the metaphor of a sick ability to feel, she piles her reader with meaning. Our thoughts go back through experiences with medicine, with connections to the sick, and with art and its palliative power. All by choosing her words carefully.

Take a look at The Decemberists song "The Infanta" from their album Picaresque. The artists use words that may be unfamiliar to the listener, words like "palanquin," "standards" (meaning flags denoting position and duty), and "phalanx." How does this help the "feel" of the piece? Again, we find DICTION and TONE inextricably combined.

Stay tuned for the next part in this series: "The Wizard of ID or, Imagery and Detail in Your Everyday Write."