Monday, July 31, 2006

Recent Studies...

University of Toronto linguists have demonstrated that the influx of IM lingo does not actually affect the syntax of teenagers. I have before argued against the use of shorthand language such as LOL, c-ya, etc, though not because it affects syntax or spoken language but because it demonstrates a degradation in written forms of speech.

I actually have no problem with the use of the IM lingo, usually. I use it occasionally as well. When texting on a cell phone, it is actually quite handy to get a message across to reduce it to a shorthand that everyone seems to agree on. It even shows an innovation among the younger generation with language. I like all of these traits. Language is alive. It grows, it changes, it evolves to fit the needs of the culture in which it is spoken.

My worry (and complaint against the IM shorthand) is the degradation of the artform of writing. Fewer and fewer among us are able to write coherently, let alone concisely and well. It's becoming increasingly rare to run across a blog that doesn't employ the shorthand and general disregard for the rules of writing. And no one seems to mind.

Of course, I'm exaggerating somewhat. One of my daily sites, A Dress A Day, regularly employs great writing. I'm entertained and inspired, and especially amused when she points out bad grammar and poor writing. Yay, Erin. Appreciation for good writing is certainly not dead.

I just look at these teenagers running around and think--do they appreciate good writing? If they grow up writing with a bastardized language, will they ever be able to value the beauty of a well-written work? Will literature die at their hands? Will they gasp at the wonder that is Emily Dickinson's poetry, Shakespeare's plays, or even beautifully written, beautifully illustrated graphic novels such as Astro City and others? I have to wonder if they'll even be able to sense the pulse in John Donne's art or the wicked wit of John Dryden and Alexander Pope. It requires a precision in writing and an awareness of language that this IM shorthand does not seem capable of. Not being able to fully comprehend the methods and creativity it takes to write like the great masters, will our literature simply descend into a chaos of jumbled language, misspelled words and shorted phrases?

I hope not. Perhaps teenagers will be able to effortlessly write in both forms, and our future literary masterpieces will be saved. Or perhaps we'll get used to reading a chopped up, horrible scribble and come to think of it as art.

As for me, I'll be the old crotchety English professor in the corner that the kids roll their eyes at when I start fussing about the days when writing was actually a long, creative process instead of hastily jotted down words and thoughts, so hasty that spelling and capitalization, forget about syntax, are lost in the dust.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Postmodernism and Me

I came to the startling conclusion the other day--I enjoy learning about Postmodernism. Yes, that's right, the dreaded Po'Mo' (as the boyfriend calls it) has found a place in my heart. Perhaps most of my distaste stemmed from only knowing a minute bit about the subject and knowing all the critiques of it (relativism, etc.), but now that I've read some theory and books and discussed it in class, I've come to see it differently.

You see, according to Fredric Jameson, there is the Postmodern culture and then there is the style known as Postmodernism. (It's often distinguished by using Postmodernity to refer to the historical period). Postmodernity is the era that we now live in, and the marks of it are all around us and evident in our cultural consciousness. The continued trend of urbanization, the effects of consumerist capitalism, and our attitudes toward the world around us emerge from living in Postmodernity. This point is what resonated with me--examining our own culture and analyzing the traits of the world currently around us as a historical movement.

Of course, that idea of history is one that Jameson seems to think we've lost our ability to comprehend. The rise of the bourgeoisie brought with it the idea of a historical narrative--that history is the result of a process, and the present is connected with past events leading toward a future. It helped them demonstrate that their rise to power was not an aberration, but rather part of the inevitable flow of history. Before, history simply chronicled events instead of trying to make sense of them as a connected narrative. Thus, along with this idea of history, the idea of the realist novel was born. Postmodernism rejects the idea of one historical narrative to demonstrate that the dominant, "grand metanarrative" is simply one discourse among many. This leads to a fracturing of the historical sense, a schizophrenia, according to Jameson, because we can no longer see history as a flow of connected realities. The idea of the novel also shifts along with it until it resembles works such as Beckett's Malloy or Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, which are fragmented, end without closure, and do not operate under the rules of the realist work.

Postmodernity should be distinguished from Postmodernism, which is the artistic style that most people critique and attack or the ideas that some possess, such as the infamous relativism. This is open to the possibility of criticism and moral judgment unlike Postmodernity, or so Jameson notes.

For some reason, this distinction that emerged for me while I read Jameson's Postmodernism: or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism was the turning point in my attitude toward it. I enjoy reading about it now and delving into it, looking for traits of it in all around me. Especially the discourse of captialism that was drilled into me through the public education system since I was small.

Look forward to a post coming soon on Postmodernism and the graphic novel. Or perhaps more reflections on the subjects touched on in this one.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Why Do I Read?

As I'm typing this, Jameson's rather daunting Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism weighs heavily in my bookbag, asking me to abandon my chosen career. You see, as a literature graduate student, I'm setting myself up for a lifetime of reading. And sometimes that reading will be difficult and not exactly enjoyable.

But, still. I love to read, even if it's something less than thrilling. I like diving into a book and feeling the texture of the words, hearing the sounds of the language wash over me. It's like finding a place where words become more--together, a coherent whole, they create something tangible. Even reading Jameson, I still enjoy the process of reading, whether it's actively trying to figure out what the hell he means, or deciphering it as a postmodern (poststructuralist) work--sign, signifier, signed...

Novels are where my heart really is, however, when it comes to reading. Whether it's a really bad novel that I can mock, or even one I don't much care for, I still read. For example, I once read Beckett's Malloy. If you've ever read this work, you'll understand, perhaps, where I'm coming from. I hated that work. But I plowed through, finished, and realized...I liked it. It was an interesting, intriguing work. The process of reading changed me, in some small, subtle way. Each work becomes a person that I encounter, interact with, and walk away altered. Reading a book can change your life.

There's an emotional response, often, to what I read. I pick up a poem by Emily Dickinson, and everytime I read those words--be they for the first time or fifth time--I'm struck by something in those brief lines. She's put something in her poetry that cannot be dissected, explained, or even analyzed. All I know is that it speaks to me in a way that makes my breath catch a little in my throat.

I realize that I'm painting some idealized picture of my life as a reader. Perhaps I am, but I always return to my favorites when I'm tired out. Reading is a process of growth and rejuvenation, of exploration, of longing, of love. Picking up a new book is like meeting a new friend, even if they may betray or anger you, ultimately you walk away with something, as from any relationship. Perhaps that's why I dislike the postmodern idea of text--it makes a novel seem so impersonal, so dead. Or maybe it imbues it with a life of its own; I never can decide.

Why do you read?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Newsprint Follies

You'd think if you worked for some sort of publication, that'd you at least know how to spell things properly. Or know grammar.

But I am, as usual, overly optimistic of the intelligence of other people. And once again, I'm proven wrong.

Every Wednesday, we receive via mail a small newspaper publication. It contains various bits of entertainment news and classified ads, etc. Well, I've decided to quit reading it since every time I do, I find some grievous error. For example, on the front page, is a headline for an article about that lovable character, Winnie the Pooh. Except that apparently it is "Winnie the Poo". Slightly below that misspelling was a misuse of the word "less". They should have used "fewer". Inside the publication are more errors and bad writing. Out of rage, I attacked it with a pen and felt immediately better.

Come on, people. It's not an online blog; it's a printed publication. Errors on paper in print are so much worse because most of us have a trust in the credibility of the printed word. If anything, you sure as hell should make sure your cover page is properly spelled, is grammatical, etc. You can still have bad writing for me to laugh at, but at least use your copy editor. Or hire a better one.

And take some pride in your work. I hate sending out e-mails, posting, or writing anything that contains errors. Why shouldn't a publication (which inevitably is someone's job and a business--there are advertisements) have a desire to create something good?

I sense that my idealism is getting in my way again.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Shakespeare on Love

Of the Bard's many themes, connection is one that occurs through many of his plays. The concept of love, connection, community, and friendship is one that apparently fascinated Shakespeare--it threads through most of his plays, and "What is love?" is a question that he returns to again and again, most notably (at least for this post) in Twelfth Night and King Lear.

Twelfth Night has been called an essay on love because of the many forms love takes throughout the play. There is the love of Orsino and Olivia, which is self-gratifying. Olivia goes into mourning for her brother, shunning the company of men--an action that Feste declares as foolish. Why should a sister so mourn a brother, if he's in Heaven? he argues. Olivia cuts herself off, indulging in mourning as a selfish action. Orsino loves Olivia in the same way; when he speaks of his love for her, it is all about how he feels, how he appears, and how he will be loved in return: when he hears of Olivia's mourning, he doesn't express sympathy for her, he declares, "O, she that hath a heart of that fine frame/To pay this debt of love but to a brother,/How will she love when the rich golden shaft/Hath killed the flock of all affections else/That live in her" (1.1.32-6). Malvolio, "sick with self-love" loves Olivia because of what it will bring him, not for her. He is another variation on the self-gratifying lover.

Self-gratifying love in Twelfth Night serves a comic rather than tragic function in that the characters who indulge in it learn from their errors. Neither Olivia nor Orsino get to be with the ones they originally desire, though they do get to love someone--Olivia, Sebastian (since she cannot have Viola) and Orsino, Viola (since she is his friend, Cessario in a maiden form). However in King Lear, the results are drastically different. Lear indulges in a form of self-gratification when he asks his daughters to tell him how much they love him. This desire for affirmation of love leads to the tragic consequences at the end of the play; he rejects Cordelia, the one daughter who did love him, because she said "Nothing" instead of the over-done language Reagan and Goneril employ. However, Reagan and Goneril really do not love their father, and drive him mad.

Self-indulgent love is offset by the pure and selfless love of characters like Antonio in Twelfth Night and Cordelia and Kent in King Lear. All three characters are willing to sacrifice everything for their loved one. Anotonio risks his life for his friend Sebastian by entering Illyria. He gives him spending money and jumps to his defense in a fight (though it was really Viola he defended). Cordelia and Kent give up their social places out of the love for Lear. Cordelia wants to show her father what love truly is--it is not words and measurements, as he perceives--and for it, she is banished, and loses her inheritance and eventually her life. Kent is also banished for speaking up to Lear and trying to show him the folly of his actions, for he acts out of love for Lear. He then disguises himself and returns, risking his life, in order to serve the much abused king. These characters represent Shakespeare's vision of selfless love.

However, most of us fall somewhere in the middle. We love truly, but it is usually don't love purely or completely without motive. Viola shows great love toward Orsino and Sebastian, but she doesn't risk anything, really, when it comes to demonstrating her love. Until she is revealed at the end of the play, she takes no action if it involves revealing her disguise. Thus, Antonio is arrested saving her (thinking her to be Sebastian). Her love is tinged with self-preservation.

These are just a few examples of the visions of love that Shakespeare gives us in these two plays. He demonstrates that love is a complex but vital emotion that we need as human beings; those who do not demonstrate it are somehow less than human, like Goneril and Reagan. And Macbeth, when he begins down the road of evil, loses his capacity to love and his once strong connection to wife as he is dehumanized. Love comes in varied forms, and Shakespeare explores it with complexity and insight into the inner workings of the human mind and heart.