Showing posts with label irony. Show all posts
Showing posts with label irony. Show all posts

Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Art of Dedication

Anaïs Nin

Dedications, like Prefaces, are a neglected field in the study of book construction and creative composition. But they can reveal quite a lot about power and politics; authorship and authority; celebration and bitterness.

In critical terms deconstructionists would argue that a preface displaces and defaces the text that follows, perhaps (humorously?) tripping it up, or tying it up in precursor knots.Often Jacques Derrida never got past the deconstruction of the preface, or a footnote therein, in order to make his 'point'.

And you probably recall all the levels of ludicrous entrapment that Jonathan Swift employed in A Tale of a Tub (1704) ?

Have dedications grown shorter and more ironic (or bitter) since the decline of aristocratic patronage? Are they still a zone of praise or insult?

What about this one, taken from Herman Melville's Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile (1854)

His Highness

(Discussed in detail in Edgar A. Dryden's Monumental Melville: The Formation of a Literary Career, Stanford University Press, 2004; and in Ian S. Maloney's Melville's Monumental Imagination, Routledge, 2006).

America repaid the 'compliment' on a 20c stamp.(See below)

Recently, I came across a polite call to action from the late 1960s.

In those days dedications offer a different diet for democracy:

This book is dedicated to sensitive Americans.
 May they create a sensitive America.

- Anaïs Nin, The Novel of the Future (1968).

If you're interested in this topic a good place to start is Alasdair Gray's anthology and commentary: The Book of Prefaces. (I started reading it backwards, beginning with the cleverness of G.B. Shaw and the haunting words of Wilfred Owen).

Have you come across any memorable prefaces or dedications? Let me know if you have!

Herman Melville postage stamp

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Association, causation and the purely random: ideology and astrology in the classroom

Since the replacement of the octagonal mahogany dining tables with pine benches you can never be quite sure who you'll end up sitting down beside during the lunch break in the Senior Common Room.

Yesterday, Dr Ptolemy Macrobius, Reader in Paranormal Psychology, was expounding some of the key advances that had taken place in reaction to the limitations exposed in Theodor Adorno's dialectical materialist debunking of the topic in The Stars Down to Earth and other Essays (1952-3 / 1994).

Yet this work deserves a little respect! I responded:

“It pretends to a higher level of scientificness than the supposedly more primitive forms of esoteric wisdom without, however, entering into the argument itself: the lack of a transparent interconnection between astronomical observations and inferences pertaining to the fate of individuals or nations… Astrology attempts to get away from crude and unpopular fatalism by establishing outward forces operating on the individual’s decision, including the individual’s own character, but leaves the ultimate choice to him… Astrology undertakes the constant encouragement of people to take decisions, no matter how inconsequential they may be. It is practically directed towards action in spite of all the lofty talk about cosmic secrets and profound meditation. Thus, the very gesture of astrology, its basic presumption that everyone has to make up his mind at every moment falls in line with what will later come out with respect to the specific content of astrological counseling: its leaning towards extroversion.”

--- I said --- reading from the Amazon site on my iphone, 'Still relevant?'

In fact, looking at this topic from another angle, I've always considered the curious micro-narratives of astrology as an artful shorthand that repay close critical scrutiny, especially during those yawning intervals in cultural studies seminars, when the grand narrative theories have come crashing down, and one needs to begin the creative task of rebuilding - scaffolding - from more experiential and pragmatic foundations.

And the role of the aleatory in creative foreplay has long been accepted in postmodernist circles, has it not?

Although there's not much on astrology and pedagogy in the research literature, I was curious to discover that the scientists are still conducting their own research in this field:

 Treating astrology’s claims with all due gravity.
Steven K. Lower

“I teach an introductory science class at my university, which typically enrols many non-science majors. During a lecture on the gravitational force, I imply that if planets such as Mars exert a force on any object, including humans, then perhaps there is something to astrology’s idea that celestial bodies exert a force of influence on our lives. I encourage my students to undertake a test I have designed for this notion.
I present the students with 12 randomly numbered horoscopes from the previous day, with the corresponding signs of the zodiac removed. I ask each student to record the horoscope that best describes the day she or he had, and the astrological sign (for example, Aries) corresponding to her/his birthday. My scientific hypothesis is that planets may exert a force on our bodies, but it is purely random — 1 out of 12 (8.3%) — whether a horoscope foretells the events of one’s life.
I am pleased to report that, as Shawn Carlson has noted, “astrology failed to perform at a level better than chance” (Nature 318, 419–425; 1985). The results from my classes are: 8.0% (n = 163 students), 8.4% (n = 155), 7.0% (n = 143), 8.0% (n = 138) and 8.0% (n = 100). In other words, as John Maddox has commented “astrology is a pack of lies … There is no evidence that the positions of the planets can affect human behaviour” (Nature 368, 185; 1994)./”

Nature 447, 528 (31 May 2007).

Further information, prior to reaching a tentative conclusion and provisional predictions

"... Multivariate analyses of results based on a random sample of individuals support the medical
encounter and postmodern hypotheses and show that the set of postmodern values, in
comparison to dissatisfaction with the medical encounter, is by far a better predictor of attitudes ..."
See: Siahpush, Mohammad. "Postmodern values, dissatisfaction with conventional medicine and popularity of alternative therapies." Journal of Sociology 34.1 (1998): 58-70. 
'This condition implies a new form of cybernetic control, governed by the aleatory play of the code.'
 See : Clarke, David B. "Consumption and the city, modern and postmodern." International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 21.2 (1997): 218-237.
'He embraced multiple serialism, aleatory technique and electronics, but he is best known for his pioneering explorations in music theatre, radio play, film and mixed media.' See:
Heile, Bjorn. The Music of Mauricio Kagel. Ashgate, 2006.


I confidently predict that we have not yet witnessed the terminus of astrological pedagogies and aleatory methodologies, nor the sublime of big data, nor the sinister predictability of the commercial algorithm that perpetually haunts each keystroke of social media participation.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Writing about ‘represented speech’ in Shakespeare

In the exam you are typically provided with a short extract from one of Shakespeare plays. This blog provides a checklist of the key points that you will need to write about. This exercise is an opportunity to show off your understanding and your critical vocabulary, and to demonstrate your awareness of how literary and rhetorical techniques contribute to effective dramatic writing.

Finding your bearings

Keywords: conflict, drama, character, theme

Who are the main protagonists, and who are the subsidiary speakers? Which characters prompt or lead the discussion? Who dominates?

Think about

the context for the action,
the sense of conflict or rapport and dramatic situation
how the extract helps to develop a character/psychology/motivation/emotion
... or to advance a theme.

Think about what has happened before, and what will happen after the selected scene/extract

Is there an emotional highpoint or specific dramatic moments that have more emphasis than others? Identify precisely where these happen in the extract, and think about how they are achieved.

Are there transitions between different emotions? (Anger, Greed, Confused, Joy, Fear, Surprise, Sadness, Hate, Desire, Hope, Dejection, Love, Wonder, Irritation, Pride, Disappointment, Happiness, Embarrassed, Anxiety, Jealous, Glee)

Are the speakers balanced in equal exchanges? Are they engaged in verbal combat, or witty wordplay (puns/innuendo/logical games)

Is there a power difference between speakers (age/class/gender/situation)

Check for dramatic irony in relation to characters and the audience.

Speaking Voices

Shakespeare’s plays are not a transcript of conversational speech, but they may employ colloquial elements and slang, sexual jokes, rudeness and less formal, less poetic speech rhythms. Sometimes he employs prose, or irregular verse. You should comment on these aspects of the extract.

Sounds - Beat and Rhythm

The usual pattern is iambic pentameter – a 10 syllable line, five feet, with alternating unstressed (-) and stressed (/) beats ( -  / )


Shakespeare tends to employ unrhymed verse, but sometime the final two lines of a scene are a rhyming couplet. This provides a more emphatic closure.


How does Shakespeare vary the pace? Look for shifts in rhythm and timing, and don’t just pause at the end of very line. Shakespeare’s verse is very flexible, and presents many cues for actors, as well as opportunities for variations in volume, pitch and pace.

Look out for short, transactional exchanges, and phatics (polite introductions/ salutations), interruptions, overlapping

Contrast these to more rhetorical speeches that outline and develop thoughts and feelings, often using longer more complex sentence structures.

Look for evidence of rhetorical techniques (such as repetition, tripling, parallelism, listing, pronoun shifts [ I/we/you/they/he/she/it ], contrast and antithesis)

and figurative language (simile/ metaphor/ personification/ pathetic fallacy)

Pitch and Volume

Is there a sense of rising or falling (e.g. louder/quieter)
Dramatic elements: e.g. trumpets announce a character ... or whispering ...

Compare and contrast public speeches, court and noisy crowd/street scenes to ...
smaller, more intimate gatherings (a bedroom scene), a private monologue (soliloquy), or an ‘aside’

Renaissance and Rhetoric

Because renaissance writers were trained in the classical rhetoric you will find many of the literary devices and rhetorical techniques which are frequent in formal public speeches.

This artificial formality (prepared speech) many contribute to a sense of linguistic performance and dexterity (verbal skills). Polished and eloquent speech was the sign of an educated gentleman or a courtier.

The deployment of rhetoric provides a sense of wit, intelligence and refinement, but it was also used to present deeper thoughts and feelings of the character.

Language and style should be related to issues of power, but remember that Shakespeare can be quite effective and dramatic in the way that he satirises and mocks the powerful, and the way that he gives a voice to women, the poor, and the outsider.

Shakespeare’s audience delighted in the playfulness, mobility and resourcefulness of language.

Rather than just identifying and naming a rhetorical or literary technique explain how it functions to produce emphasis, more vivid pictures or imagery, or amplifies, deepens and develops an idea. Explains its impact and effectiveness.

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)