Thursday, December 13, 2012


The realm of what is known is ever-growing; technology is advancing, exciting medications are being developed, and new fundamental particles are being discovered. With this vast amount of new knowledge being produced, how can an individual stay up to date with the most exciting scientific news? One such way is by reading Popular Science, a magazine dedicated to bringing scientific news and innovations to the general public. Popular Science has been around for more than a hundred years, and over the course of its long history, it has run stories ranging from rocket science to biology and medicine. A recent article, an excerpt from the work of Dr. Seth Horowitz, explores the possibility of creating a sound based weapon to cause peoples’ heads to explode. Despite the somewhat fantastic subject, the article is grounded in science and works to educate readers. In order to both educate and entertain the reader, the text effectively balances scientific fact with journalistic creative style through the use of analogy, humor, and a conversational tone.

            The author’s use of analogy keeps the article educational by helping readers to understand the scientific concepts presented in the article that they may be unfamiliar with.  An analogy is basically a simile that goes beyond mere imagery and actually shows conceptual similarity between two things.  If readers didn’t have any background knowledge on the concepts the author tries to bring up, the information presented in the article won’t mean anything to the audience.  The use of analogies greatly increases an author’s ability to convey abstract concepts to their readers, which is why Dr. Horowitz would include it in his article.  This is one analogy he uses in the text:
“The problem is that while your skull may vibrate maximally at those frequencies, it is surrounded by soft wet muscular and connective tissue and filled with gloppy brains and blood that do not resonate at those frequencies and thus damp out the resonant vibration like a rug placed in front of your stereo speakers.”
The comparison of dampening of the skull’s resonance by flesh with a rug over stereo speakers is something that the majority of the readers of Popular Science could understand.  By relaying this concept to the readers, the author keeps the text educational through the use of a creative analogy.

            The article discusses scientific myths about sonic weapons being able to affect humans with explosive results, but instead of explaining the scientific basis for these ideas in a strictly academic manner, the author uses humor to make the article more interesting.  An example of this can be seen in this section of the text:
“In fact, when a living human head was substituted for a dry skull in the same study, the 12 kHz resonance peak was 70 dB lower, with the strongest resonance now at about 200Hz, and even that was 30 dB lower than the highest resonance of the dry skull. You would probably have to use something on the order of a 240 dB source to get the head to resonate destructively, and at that point it would be much faster to just hit the person over the head with the emitter and be done with it. So while we still cannot use infrasound to defend ourselves against dangerous severed heads and have not found the "brown sound" that would allow us to embarrass our friends, infrasound can cause potentially dangerous effects on living bodies—as long as you have a very high-powered pneumatic displacement source or operate in a very contained environment for a long time.”
The author incorporates numbers and facts, but also includes humor in his writing.  Mixing in humor among the cold data not only keeps the reader interested, but also helps the reader to grasp what the information means.  This use of scientific data combined with creative humor keeps an effective balance between education and entertainment for the reader.

            Further support for an effective balance can be found in the author’s use of plain language to throughout the article. The author uses a conversational tone to convey the findings of scientific research without overcomplicating the language. This article has an average of 11th grade reading level, which is an accessible level for the magazine’s target audience, individuals who have working knowledge of scientific concepts.  The blend of conversational tone and scientific facts can be seen in this excerpt:

“For example, imagine I am a mad scientist (a total stretch, I know) who wants to build a weapon using sound to make people’s heads explode. Resonance frequencies of human skulls have been calculated as part of studies looking at bone conduction for certain types of hearing aid devices. A dry (i.e., removed from the body and on a table) human skull has prominent acoustic resonances at about 9 and 12kHz, slightly lesser ones at 14 and 17kHz, and even smaller ones at 32 and 38kHz. These are convenient sounds because I won’t have to lug around a really big emitter for low frequencies, and most of them are not ultrasonic, so I don’t have to worry about smearing gel on the skull to get it to blow up.”
By employing this tone when discussing the scientific data in the article, the information is much less dense, making the article easier to read and keeping a balance between education and entertainment.

            The educational and entertainment success of Dr. Horowitz’s article discussing current scientific findings are brought about by his effective use of analogy, humor, and conversational tone.  However, my examination of Dr. Horowitz’s work and the articles found in Popular Science as a whole is rather limited.  Further questions might be addressed, such as if articles in Popular Science generally include the same plain language “shell” wrapped around pieces of concrete scientific language found here, or perhaps if  scientists in the field actually view Popular Science as an accurate reporter of current findings. In the end, Popular Science is a source of entertainment and through its broad range of articles and topics, effectively entertains its audience and keeps them coming back for more of what they love: science.

You can read the full article here.

---John E. Yeakel

Nevermore Creative than “The Raven”

Terror, torture, death and revenge, Edgar Allan Poe wrote about all of these grim topics and more. Poe is one of the most famous American poets and short story writers, especially due is choice of genre. He specialized in writing terrorizing tales and poems. His first published poem is the one I chose to look at as a creative piece. It is the ever famous The Raven. Originally published in 1845 The Raven was an instant success. While I have heard of this particular poem before I found it on a website specifically dedicated to Poe. It is called; it has all of the published works of Edgar Allan Poe as well as other information about him and his writing. So basically the website is meant for those who love the works of Poe. As a creative piece The Raven is amazing in more ways than I can count or recognize. This piece works well within its activity system and the creative style is used beautifully. Creative prose style is used in this poem specifically to be dramatic, frightening, and melancholic in tone. Poe uses many different prose styles to achieve this within this piece. To talk about them all would take quite a bit of time, so I will discuss the major ones that are of importance to the piece.   

                The creative style leaves a lot of wiggle room in the sense of readability scores. In all reality how a piece is written comes done to what the author wants. How the piece is written depends on many things. It depends on the character and style of the writer, the audience they are writing for, the story they are trying to portray, among others. The Flesch –Kincaid reading ease score was 63.1. This high number does not surprise me. Since it was written in 1845 the official style was used more regularly. Poe normally writes in a more verbose and formal manner. The vocabulary is extensive and sometimes complicated, full of words the normal person would not use these days. However, they are not so far removed from the common person so they would not know what the poem is saying. The Flesch-Kincaid reading level is 10.8 and the Average Reading Level is 10.4. It is close to what I figured the number would be. I though the grade level would be around 11. The SMOG index is 7.5. I thought it may be a bit higher than that due to the vocabulary and the creative nature of the poem, but the higher reading ease and the lower grade level gives reason for the lower SMOG index. Characters per word averaged out to 4.4 this is a fairly average number. It is somewhere in between the plain style and the official style. Words per sentence were very high considering it is a poem. It averaged out to 25.4 words per sentence. However, it is important to point out that a poem like The Raven, or any poem for that matter, is not laid out in sentences. They are put into stanzas. This focuses on the sentence structure or rhythm rather than making it a full sentence. A sentence can be broken up into several lines of a poem and span several ideas rather than making one line one sentence. This is because of other poetic works at hand. Creative works are based less on grammar and more on what the author can do to create and show the idea he or she wants. In the case of Poe’s The Raven some lines are full sentences and some are not. While some sentences take up an entire portion of the poem. In the world of creative writing the author decides where and when to break a sentence based on how they want the poem to be read by the readers.

                Poe writes a very specific genre, horror stories. He specifically uses rhetorical devices to convey ides and feelings of horror, despair, and shock. Poe uses dozens of different rhetorical devices within this poem but he uses internal rhyme, alliteration, amplification, and epistrophe specifically to convey the feeling and tone of this poem.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door—

"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door—

Only this and nothing more."


Within the first portion of this poem, listed above, many of these rhetorical devices are used. Internal rhyme can be seen in the first and third lines. The words dreary and weary as well as napping and tapping rhyme with each other within their lines. This is a device used throughout the poem to give it a almost song like quality when read. It maintains a rhythmic quality to the stanzas. It’s catchy. I find it gives off a freaky vibe to the whole thing. The rhyming of the words throughout the lines gives the sense of the rhythmic tapping that is talked about within the contents of the poem itself. Alliteration gives this affect as well. Alliteration is heavily used throughout the poem as well. “While I nodded, nearly napping,” the “n” is repeated several times in a row. This repetitious feeling contributes to the sense of the overall poem that repeats many different things. The raven in the poem simply repeats himself, as Poe repeats himself within the structure of the poem. Many of the devices Poe uses are based around repetition. He uses the repetition of sounds, words, clause, and things of that nature. They bring about a sense of rhythm and a feeling of almost madness. Like a ticking clock it produces a timing that can be terrorizing when thought about deeply and heard. When repeating clauses Poe uses amplification. In the third stanza Poe writes “Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door- Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door.” It is virtually the same clause, but several small differences make them different. Poe chose to change the beginning to elaborate the idea of the visitor. His takes the idea of the visitor from being just a visitor to being a late visitor who has come to his door. Poe very strategically and artfully uses amplification to elaborate his ideas throughout the poem. This solidifies ideas, while slowly revealing information as the poem progresses.

Epistrophe is used often as well. One of the most popular and memorable things about “The Raven” is the repetition of the word “nevermore”. Every stanza ends with the word more. The first few just use “more” until the raven shows up and then begins to say “nevermore”. This pattern is memorable and rather haunting, especially as the plot develops over the stanzas. Epistorphe is also used throughout each stanza. In the 4th and 5th lines of every stanza the last word whatever it may be is repeated. This extends the idea and use of repetition, rhyming, and rhythm within the context of the poem.  Lastly, climax is what makes Poe such a wonderful writer for the horror genera. By pacing the source of shocking information Poe can successfully create an amazing source of suspense for readers. Then in the very last lines Poe reveals the kicker for the poem that wraps the story up with horror, shock, and dismay. His perfect use of this device is what makes his pieces so great. They keep the audience reading with a hunger to find out what happens in the end, and then delivers with a shock the final bang of the poem.       

                                  The parties involved in this piece are the writers, readers, and maybe critics this would be the division of labor. There are the writer, the readers, and the critical readers of the work. Each serves a job within the larger picture of published writing. Rules and norms are technically met in this piece. Norms are difficult to peg in creative writing. The norms are different depending on every person’s interpretation of the work. One reader may believe that the work does not fit the criteria of a creative piece, while another may believe it fits perfectly. Norms is a fairly flexible term in my opinion when it comes to the creative style. This is because creative style itself is flexible. Creative is generally open to interpretation. What some people would think is creative is not what other people would think is creative. So in my opinion norms of creative works cannot be defined other than saying they are of fiction (non-fiction would indicate a real incident and therefore would not be included in creative writing). The communities involved are the based on the readership. The communities that would be consistent throughout the time it has been popular. This would be readers of Poe’s works, fans of horror stories, short stories, and poetry. I think it is important to note that while Poe writes horror stories they are not gruesome in the sense of blood, guts, and gore. This separates him and reveals a line of tension between his work and the work of other authors within the genera. Poe relies more on psychological thrill and horror rather than gross acts of violence. It takes a special person to successfully make psychological horror that strikes fear in readers. That is why his works are so popular. They are not so gross that they would not be read by other audiences, and are thrilling enough to please the most avid horror reader. The goals of this poem are definitely met. It is simply meant to scare the readers. With all of the devices used, it meets and exceeds this goal.

                Overall, Poe is an author that will never be forgotten, and for very good reason. His masterful use of rhetorical device in “The Raven” makes it a piece that will be read and remembered for ever. His creative style is unique yet refined to a very precise skill set. This is a very good combination that makes for a successful and inspired writer, with pieces that are innovative and interesting. Though Poe will write never more his pieces will live on forever.  

Twilight: Movie Review

Twilight: Critic’s Review

            Everyone has opinions about Twilight. Some of these opinions are good and some not so much, but either way everyone has heard something about it. This makes the activity very large and unique. The activity system can be as broad as anyone that has heard about the movie and that has an opinion. More specific, the movie review would be use in the activity system of people who are considering seeing the movie. They may read reviews to try and decide if the want to pay to go see it at the movie theatre. When looking at the creative style, one type of writing includes entertainment media so I decided to take a look at a movie review for the newest Twilight movie. The movie review would have to be in written in the creative style because the main purpose is to entertain people, but also be informative. If someone wrote a movie review in the official style, people would be less likely to read the whole article.
All seems moderately well in this vampire-werewolf group that must somehow form a family until a misunderstanding soon occurs. A member of the extended vampire family spies Bella and Edward's child, Renesmee (like so much in this saga, the name is a long story), from a mountaintop and assumes that the kid is an "immortal child," that is, a vampire who was changed from mortal to undead in his or her formative years (think the Kirsten Dunst character in "Interview With a Vampire"). Now, "immortal children" are strict no-nos according to the rule of the Volturi, the coven of vampires who made trouble for Edward and Bella since finding out about the vampire-human love affair in the second novel/movie "New Moon." The Volturi, who dispatch the fellow vampires of whom they disapprove by popping off their heads like they're giant plastic dolls, march on over from Tuscany to instigate the battle royal described above.

            The piece qualifies as a creative piece for several reason other than that it is a movie review or entertainment media. One of these reason include the fact that the readability level is so uncertain. For example, the excerpt above has an average grade level of 16. 2, but the paragraph that followed had an average grade level of 4.7. There is really no rhyme or reason for the level of difficultly for specific words or the piece as a whole.
            In the excerpt above, there are several rhetorical devices used. For example, it is a simile when they say “they disapprove by popping off their heads like they’re giant plastic doll.” There is also an allusion to the mention of Kirsten Dunst and the movie “Interview with a Vampire.” The use of “no-nos” could be considered an epizeuxis. Another unique rhetorical device used is periphrasis, the author uses “immortal child” but then used a more wordy explanation in “a vampire who was changed from mortal to undead in his or her formative years.”
            The movie review contains elements of the official style in some of the vocabulary choices. The author uses more complex words in places when a more plain language could be used. I believe he does this to gain credibility. The overall style of the movie review is more creative than anything, but still has elements of the plain and official styles. I think this is very interesting, yet very common. I feel like a piece becomes more universal, diverse, and well-written if you can touch elements of every style.

Kacie Burke

Memory of Broken Relationship

"Someone Like You"

I heard that you're settled down
That you found a girl and you're married now.
I heard that your dreams came true.
Guess she gave you things I didn't give to you.

Old friend, why are you so shy?
Ain't like you to hold back or hide from the light.

I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited
But I couldn't stay away, I couldn't fight it.
I had hoped you'd see my face and that you'd be reminded
That for me it isn't over.

Never mind, I'll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you too
Don't forget me, I beg
I remember you said,
"Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead,
Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead"

You know how the time flies
Only yesterday was the time of our lives
We were born and raised
In a summer haze
Bound by the surprise of our glory days

I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited
But I couldn't stay away, I couldn't fight it.
I'd hoped you'd see my face and that you'd be reminded
That for me it isn't over.

Never mind, I'll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you too
Don't forget me, I beg
I remember you said,
"Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead."

Nothing compares
No worries or cares
Regrets and mistakes
They are memories made.
Who would have known how bittersweet this would taste?

Never mind, I'll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you
Don't forget me, I beg
I remember you said,
"Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead."

Never mind, I'll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you too
Don't forget me, I beg
I remember you said,
"Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead,
Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead

The song “Someone like you” is composed by English singer-songwriter Adele and Dan Wilson, an American famous songwriter and producer. This song is written for Adele’s second studio album. In the song, Adele sings only accompanied by a piano, telling a story about the end of a relationship with the speaker’s ex-boyfriend. This song became Adele’s first number one single in Britain, and it stayed on the top of the chart for five weeks. I chose “Someone like you” to analyze in my third blog article not only because it’s famous and the melody of the song, but also because the lyrics sound like a story, because a lot of rhetorical devices are used in the lyrics. In this article, I will analyze those rhetorical devices, showing that these devices can make the song become more interesting, touching, and impressive.   
The song uses first person point of view and sticks the verbs to the subjects. This simple subject-verb-object sentence structure is common used in people’s daily chat, so the lyrics sounds like some friends sitting around the table and one of them is telling a story about her ex-boyfriend. This kind of sentence structure gives a natural feeling to the listeners, making them understand and get into the song quickly.
I think the most interesting and common used rhetorical devices are Anaphora, Epizeuxis, and Hypophora. The composers use Anaphora (which means repeating a word or words at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, or sentences) and Epizeuxis (repeating a word or short phrases immediately after stating it) a lot in this song:
I heard that you're settled down
That you found a girl and you're married now.
I heard that your dreams came true.
Guess she gave you things I didn't give to you.
This repetition establishes a sad emotion at the beginning, showing that the speaker had lost the contact with her ex-boyfriend, and everything she knew about him is told by someone else. At the end of this stanza, the speaker makes an assumption (Aporia, which means expressing real or pretended doubt about a fact, idea, or conclusion), “Guess she gave you things I didn't give to you,” assuming that the new girlfriend is better than her. And the Epizeuxis, “Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead, Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead,” is used to show the speaker’s true feeling about breaking relationship.
In the second stanza, the speaker uses Hypophora, which means asking questions and then proceeding to answer them, to ask “Old friend, why are you so shy? Ain't like you to hold back or hide from the light.” The speaker calls her ex-boyfriend “old friend,” showing that she wants to maintain this friendship, but she doesn’t get information from him. This stanza is an emphasis on the first stanza, emphasizing the sad emotion.
I think the reason why this song is so famous is because most people have had broken relationships, and this song tells exactly people’s true feelings about the relationships. The song uses the story format, telling the sad feelings and life experience after broke up. Just like Adele said:
I was really emotionally drained from the way I was portraying him, because even though I'm very bitter and regret some parts of it, he's still the most important person that's ever been in my life, and 'Someone Like You,' I had to write it to feel OK with myself and OK with the two years I spent with him. And when I did it, I felt so freed.
Some people may argue that this song is written in the plain language style and is not a very creative work like a poem, so they may think this is not an actual creative writing. However, from my own perspective, poems are a kind of creative writing which uses simple words and phrases to build imageries, using those imageries to attract the readers and making readers imagine what the writers’ feelings about the world. Songs like “Someone Like You,” are another kind of creative writing which tells stories in a plain way. “Someone Like You” doesn’t contain a really attractive imagery within, but the emotion in the song is real and does resonate with the readers.
In conclusion, I think the text I chose is a kind of creative writing which is different from poems. With those rhetorical devices in the song, it becomes more interesting and impressive.
by Ximing Yu

Plain Language in English Education

This text is from a radio website called Voice of America, which provides a variety of radio recordings for English-as-second-language learners, using materials that are quite simple and old-fashioned. It does not have timeliness which requires the materials to be in time, like CNN news, but does provide educational opportunities in English listening and reading for the second language learners who do not have to learn every seasonable thing. The text is a transcript of the radio program in the website called Special English. In this program, the hosts tend to speak much more slowly. The speaking speed is only two thirds of the normal speed. In this case, listeners can easily identify every word the hosts say. So basically, the transcript is only a supplementary material for the learners.

What makes this material valuable to be analyzed is not only the low readability level, but also some confusion among American readers when they read the text. In this article, I intend to compare specifically different contexts that this website focuses on and explore how the context influences the content.

Undoubtedly, the text I chose follows the plain style characteristics. It uses active voice in most sentences, and the sentences are really short. The words-per-sentence statistic is 10.4. Also, one sentence only contains one idea. It does not have very much abstraction in the sentences:

On stage, he became known for his wild performances, and his "duck walk" that many musicians copied. But his songwriting skills -- some call him a rock and roll poet -- and his guitar work really set him apart. 

When readers look at the word choice that this text uses, they will quickly identify that there is not any hard vocabulary in it. The words it uses are really simple. I assume that everyone who graduates from middle school can easily understand not only the sentence structure, but also the words of the sentence.

In this sense, I think the context of the text affects how the text is written. The text is written for English-as-second-language learners. They cannot use English as well as their mother language. They do not know very many words, or high level words. In this case, the composer of the text tends to write it in a simple way.

However, some parts of the text are confusing:

Rob Sheffield at Rolling Stone magazine wrote about baseball songs on his blog and had this to say: "The guitar speeds up as Chuck Berry heads into the climactic final verse, when that brown-eyed handsome man (Willie Mays? Hank Aaron? Jackie Robinson?) wins the game with a home run. Chuck would've made a lousy sportscaster ('two-three the count'?) but that just adds to the excitement."

The quote in this sentence seems really confusing, especially the words in parentheses. It does not make any sense to native-English-speaking readers. But when I listened to this radio, I found that the names in parentheses were examples that the hosts gave in the program. If we delete the content in the parentheses, the sentence becomes like this:

The guitar speeds up as Chuck Berry heads into the climactic final verse, when that brown-eyed handsome man wins the game with a home run. Chuck would've made a lousy sportscaster but that just adds to the excitement.

In this case, the sentence becomes clear and easy to understand.

I think most English learners will not read the transcript until they understand the listening part. In this sense, based on my personal experience of learning English, I assume that after the learners understand what they hear, they may not actually read the whole transcript, which means the confusion or mistakes in the transcript may be ignored for some reasons.

The reason why I make this assumption is because I interviewed a lot of friends, who are also English major students in China. As English majors, we need to strengthen our listening skill through listening English materials, but we tend to use other sources like CNN news, BBC news to strengthen our reading and writing skills. In this sense, most students will only listen to this recording without reading the actual transcript, because the transcript is used as a comparison when students do not ensure what words they are listening.

Based on the points mentioned above, I think this transcript written in plain language focuses on non-native English speaker, so it has to be easy to understand. Also, the person who types this transcript may make mistakes when he/she types the sentences.

By Ximing Yu

To Tell a Story

This is the third time I have written this introduction. You see, I just couldn’t get down how I wanted to start this. Three hundred words erased twice over.

I didn’t need to tell you that. You expect this blog entry to be well-oiled, grammatically sound and competently manufactured and so obviously revision is involved. That’s the advantage of the printed word; it’s all tightened up. If I were to physically perform this essay—unscripted that is—it would not work at all. Even if everything I said was premeditated and written out on note cards it would not be the same as it is in this written blog.

I should add the disclaimer that I am not a great live storyteller. I don’t have the comedic timing and the prowess of descending revelation in my stories. In place of live storytelling I like to write stories out as if they are being told by me in person. This technique is one employed by one of my favorite songwriters, the great Bruce Springsteen, in one of his more recent songs, “Silver Palomino.” In this essay I will critique storytelling elements in this song including voice, language and expected audience. I will make judgments on whether or not Springsteen’s strategies are successful in telling us a strong story in the character he has created. And I promise you, no more of this essay will be about me.   

Do I even need to introduce Bruce Springsteen? No. Wiki him if you please. I will introduce the album Devils and Dust, on which “Silver Palomino” appears. Devils and Dust, released in 2005, is the thirteenth studio album and third “solo” album of Springsteen’s career. “Solo” means that the album was recorded without the E Street Band and features minimal instrumentation. Springsteen recorded the album after a successful five year reunion run with the E Street Band that included two high-profit tours and a successful studio album. Springsteen backs down the rock and brings in the folk with this album and it saw success in its own right. “Silver Palomino” is a song featuring Bruce on the acoustic guitar with a gentle string arrangement backing him. The vocals are not over-dubbed and they front all other sounds in the song and so mistakes and missed notes can be heard with ease—not that there are many. It’s a quiet song and rather short. There is a YouTube link to the song at the bottom of the page.
When we are about to read a story, the first thing we may want to discover is who is telling the story. In songs sometimes there is no actual storyteller; it’s just lyrics and you pump your first as the music plays. Rarely is this the case in Springsteen’s music. On the lyrics sheet, before the song begins, we receive a snippet of background. “A mother dies, leaving her young son to come to terms with the loss. In remembrance of Fiona Chappel, for her sons Tyler and Oliver.” These two sentences contradict each other, if only because one son is mentioned in the first sentence. The sentences do not immediately give us evidence as to who is telling the story, but the contradiction leads us to believe that the song is not specifically about the two sons. The first line of the song, “I was barely 13 years old,” describes a person, probably the son mentioned above, who is aged an unknown amount of years past the age of 13. The grammar in the song is off which could suggest that the storyteller is not that much older than 13, but he could also be an adult with poor grammar.

Both suggestions are logical and both may be partly true. I believe they are both true. I believe that this story is being told by a man looking back upon his life at the time of his mother’s death. He has adopted a child-like, nostalgic voice in the retelling of the story and this voice reveals an absence of self-consciousness in the narrator. The line “Me and my dad had to blowtorch the thorns off the prickly-pears” serves as evidence. Poor grammar aside, how about the usage of “prickly-pears”? Springsteen kindly defines “prickly pear” as being synonymous with “cactus” the bottom of the page. 

An adult may not wish a large amount of people know of his bad grammar and may be more conscious of the inclusion of Spanish words. There is much familiarity and the narrator does not seem to have a broad audience in mind for the tale. Who exactly is this story meant for?

That is a tough question to answer considering the amount of ambiguity of this piece. Even finding out where exactly this story takes place is tricky. We receive hints such as “she came out of the Guadalupe’s on a night so cold” and “Of the west Texas thunder roll” and many references to deserts. There is a Guadalupe County in south central Texas but the narrator is probably not referring to this.

The setting is a beautiful sketch, a panoramic vista of mountains, deserts, clear lakes of melted snow, and prairies. But even if we pinpoint that this story takes place in Texas there is something about the language that suggests that this is not a modern tale. There isn’t any concrete evidence to support this theory; it’s just a feeling. The narrator creates a mood of nostalgia and memory, almost to the point of stream-of-consciousness.

There is a blotting out a sense of time, doubtlessly created by Springsteen to make the piece universal and “lost in time” but the character of the narrator still seems to care little for providing background for us.

The naïve yet observing and yearning voice is seen well is the following passage:

            In my dreams bareback I ride
            Over the pradera low and wide
And a few lines later:

            I’d give my riata and spurs
            If I could be forever yours

Notice the shift in tense. The narrator does not say “I would have given my riata and spurs.” This narrator is clearly a man looking back at children, yes, as we discussed, but now we have next-to-concrete evidence that this man has seeped back into that mind of a child and is still yearning.

The shift in tense happens several times throughout the piece, notably in this line:

                       Tonight I wake early the sky is pearl, the stars aglow
            I saddle up my red roan
            I watch the silver palomino

The argument could be made that the man is now a ranger in adulthood and therefore he owns a riata or “rope” and I’ll oblige this argument, but the loss of a mother to a child is to freeze a part of that child in time forever. Even if the man is now in the present “[riding] deep into the mountains along a ridge of pale stone” it is still the child in him that yearns for his mother, the spirit of whom resides strong and living in the magnificent pale horse.

Perhaps I seemed to glide over the significance that the mother of the narrator is embodied or represented and reincarnated as a wild and beautiful horse, but that is the most concrete detail of this piece—and it may not be concrete at all—and the topic is beyond the scope of this essay.

The main purpose of this blog was to answer one question; who is the audience of this piece? Are we any closer to knowing this answer? No, it seems, but in that answer we see another. This piece isn’t for anyone. It’s a memory of a man, the tale of one who falls asleep in a memory returning him to youth, to a time of deep strife and wide opens prairies. It’s not as if we are not meant to hear the story, but it is so personal, perhaps too much so, and we should consider ourselves lucky to be a part of this ethereal tale.
By Matthew T. Bauman

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Appeal of "Special"

When people think “journalism,” things that may come to mind include “research,” “facts” and maybe even “dry.” Words like these don’t describe the review by Pete Wells in the New York Times article “Like a Kid in a Vegetable Store,” which uses rhetoric in a particular way for a particular reason. It’s artfully varied and feels nearly conversational, which was almost certainly done intentionally. Everything about the review -- from the images and text surrounding it to the restaurant itself -- whispers to each reader something very enticing: special and unique.

Dirt Candy is a small restaurant; hallway-shaped with a row of tables on either side and only 18 seats. This allows for approximately 72 customers (give or take a few) for dinner from 4:00-10:00 (assuming each dinner takes about an hour and a half). Having worked in a medium-sized family restaurant where a Friday night can easily bring in 300, if not 400 customers, 72 seems to me like a very, very small number. In fact, on the Google+ comments about Dirt Candy, at least half of the commenters have said that they had to book their reservation two months in advance. Two months. So what is it about this shoebox of a restaurant that makes people want so badly to eat there?

Looking back to Wells’s review itself, it seemed like the artful variation of the review reflected the artful variation of the food itself at Dirt Candy. In one instance, a hyperbolic simile acts to get the point across that the restaurant focuses on making food that’s new and interesting:
“Ms. Cohen isn’t necessarily out to save a small planet or prevent heart disease. Her goals are possibly more subversive, and she achieves them with vegetable cookery that is original, clever, visually arresting and, above all, a lot of fun to eat.”
He could have said something like: “Ms. Cohen is not trying to make vegetarian food because of healthful reasons; rather because she wants to make food that’s appealing and interesting,” but is that really saying the same thing? I would argue no. Using the hyperbole of saving a planet or preventing heart disease in a simile to contrast Cohen’s goals delivered a completely different tone than did the plain sentence I wrote. It almost felt like an inside joke Wells was trying to have with the readers and that it had to be written this way, or risk losing some degree of the originality and creativity trying to be portrayed of Dirt Candy. Another hyperbolic simile describes the eggplant tiramisu: “[It] sounds like a dare: daring you to try it, daring you to like it.” No one actually said “I dare you to like the eggplant tiramisu,” but this rather extreme perspective on a dessert is another example of how Wells makes Dirt Candy stick out as unique. This is certainly one of the appeals of the restaurant: that it is something different and original, so you want to come spend your money here.

Interestingly though, the review isn’t the only thing on the page trying to entice people to spend their money in a certain place. An ad by Google on the side of the screen showed advertisement for “Tiny Prints Holiday Cards.” I’d just Google searched “Christmas cards” a few days earlier, and this personalized advertisement was catered just to me. It seemed to say “I know what you want, and here it is.” Special, just for me. This idea seemed to reflect on the whole idea behind the review and Dirt Candy in general. Looking at some of the Google+ comments about the restaurant, this reflection was confirmed. A couple of them are as follows:
“fabulous. i have tried many veg restaurants. this is the best by far. very creative. you feel like they are cooking just for you.” 
 “excellent vegetarian fare. really puts vegetables front and center, instead of faux meat. the chef (amanda) personally comes out and explains the dishes to you.”
“Cooking just for you...,” “the chef personally comes out and explains....” Is this the appeal? It’s just one of thousands of restaurants in New York City, yet people are making reservations and waiting two months to eat there. It sort of seems like it’s supposed to be a hidden gem, but everybody knows about it. So again, what is it about this restaurant that makes people want so badly to eat there? It’s special. It’s nearly impossible to get in, you’re only sharing the experience with seventeen other people at a time and the food is unique and interesting.

Main dishes average about $18 dollars per plate and has a “nicely eccentric” wine list, according to the article. We can safely presume that the community Dirt Candy attracts is probably one of people who eat out frequently. Wells uses simile here to describe the target demographic: “Eating at Dirt Candy can be like going to a child’s birthday party in a country where all the children love vegetables.” This provides a solid backdrop for just whom this article and restaurant are trying to attract. He implicitly states that Dirt Candy is for a particular group of people who would be attracted to or at least interested by a restaurant like this and who enjoy a more modern-feeling environment with modern (vegetarian) cuisine. If they’re willing to wait for months to eat at a tucked away, vegetarian restaurant with “eccentric” food and wine, it’s probable that they’re not people who decided on a whim to go out to dinner for once. Yet the demographic The New York Times sells its articles to has a median household income of only about $74,000 (,
which doesn’t seem like a very high income for people who eat out regularly at places like Dirt Candy. This information definitely raises questions about both the motive or object of Wells’s review and of the people who eat there. Knowing that many of the people reading his review in the Dining and Wine section don’t have tons of money to spend on eating just anywhere, Wells had to do even more to entice his readers, which definitely contributed to the creativity and nearly literary quality of his review and provides further explanation on why he had to make each reader feel as though his review, and the restaurant itself, was made just for them. For the target community, his text seems to function well to meet these needs.

It’s possible that a big part of the attraction isn’t just that customers feel special while they’re there, but after leaving they feel that they have this elite experience to carry around on a silver platter: “Where’d you go for dinner last night?” “Dirt Candy, the unique and innovative vegetarian restaurant with only eighteen seats and exotic dishes like smoked scallions and chives, and mascarpone whipped with grilled eggplant.” This Google+ comment gives off an air of eliteness that supports this possibility: “The place is small but welcoming, and the food provokes some degree of thought.” Under the assumption that most people don’t generally consider food to be “thought provoking,” it seems like the commenter thought highly of him or herself as a culinary critic. While he or she very well may be knowledgeable in vegetarian cuisine, this definitely seems like a regional cultural difference.

As a midwesterner born and raised, places like Dirt Candy are very few and very far between and I’ve never experienced anything like it. It’s not likely that the people who eat there intentionally leave with their noses in the air, but this theme of special seems petty in a place where we don’t have restaurants like this. While Wells’s text functioned well in the context of New Yorkers who eat out frequently at eccentric restaurants, it doesn’t for people in this region. Eating at a certain restaurant just doesn’t seem like something that would give someone prestige. This raises much larger scale questions about regional values and norms. What does earn you credit or distinction in the Midwest, or California, or the South? Why is it that New Yorkers seem to value unique experiences as small as eating at a certain place so much? Do they even value it or have I missed the mark? All of these questions can only be answered in terms of context. In the contexts surrounding Dirt Candy, it’s obvious that, for whatever reason, it’s definitely not just another place to eat.

To see the article, click here.

Chelsea Dolan

Ernest Hemingway: Plain but Never Simple

Most of Ernest Hemingway’s writing is a nearly perfect example of the Plain Style. He was a journalist before he became an author, and journalism is a career that highly values writing clearly, concisely, and directly without any frills. He told the Paris Review, in an interview that you can find here, that “On the Star you were forced to learn to write a simple declarative sentence. This is useful to anyone. Newspaper work will not harm a young writer and could help him if he gets out of it in time.” He did, apparently, get out in time, and his novels and short stories often reflect the style of writing that he learned while working as a reporter. He famously uses short sentences, clear vocabulary, and the active voice in order to convey meaning. When he departs from this writing style, for example, writing long sentences, it is usually because he wishes his reader to take note of that particular sentence or section of writing. The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway’s first novel, is a great example of the Plain Style of writing. I chose the first paragraph to analyze for the purpose of this blog, which reads:
Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn. He cared nothing for boxing, in fact he disliked it, but he learned it painfully and thoroughly to counteract the feeling of inferiority and shyness he had felt on being treated as a Jew at Princeton. There was a certain inner comfort in knowing he could knock down anybody who was snooty to him, although, being very shy and a thoroughly nice boy, he never fought except in the gym. He was Spider Kelly’s star pupil. Spider Kelly taught all his young gentlemen to box like featherweights, no matter whether they weighed one hundred and five or two hundred and five pounds. But it seemed to fit Cohn. He was really very fast. He was so good that Spider promptly overmatched him and got his nose permanently flattened. This increased Cohn’s distaste for boxing, but it gave him a certain satisfaction of some strange sort, and it certainly improved his nose. In his last year at Princeton he read too much and took to wearing spectacles. I never met anyone of his class who remembered him. They did not even remember that he was middleweight boxing champion.
Just because Hemingway writes in the Plain Style does not mean that his writing is simple; rather, it means that he successfully utilizes the aspects of the style in order to convey meaning deeper than his words appear. His writing appears deceptively simple, but Hemingway is often considered among the most prolific of American writers. Is his use of the Plain Style intentional? In other words, does he purposely use this style in order to shock people when the underlying content is incredibly complex? These are the questions that I am interested in trying to answer, if answers do, in fact, exist.

This is clearly an example of a text written in a plain, straightforward style, and the readability statistics reflect this. The Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease is 69.8. The average number of words per sentence is 16.7, and the average grade level is 8.6. Based on these statistics, a student midway through eighth grade should be able to read the words on the page. But it is absolutely absurd to expect an eighth grader to read and comprehend Hemingway’s meaning in this novel. I, personally, read it my junior year of college and struggled with it. Hemingway, in the same interview with the Paris Review that I cited before, told his interviewer, “I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg. It is the part that doesn’t show. If a writer omits something because he does not know it then there is a hole in the story.” This is one of his more famous quotes from the interview (which is hilarious, I might add, and I would highly recommend reading it in its entirety) and explains a lot about his writing in general. He essentially says that seven-eighths of his writing must be read between the lines. The real bulk of what he’s trying to say is never put explicitly into words, which makes his writing all the more complicated. Although it appears simple, it is anything but. This begins to answer one of the questions I pose about Hemingway and his work: does he purposely use this style in order to shock people when the underlying content is incredibly complex? Although “the principle of the iceberg” doesn’t perfectly answer this question, it gives me the impression that yes, Hemingway purposely juxtaposes the Plain Style and complex subject matter. This raises questions about the Plain Style as a whole. Do other writers do this, as well? What are the implications of writing plainly?

Context is very important to Hemingway’s work as a whole. Most of his writing deals with World War I, whether directly or indirectly. This ties back to the “principle of the iceberg” in that the War is always present, even if Hemingway rarely mentions it. Hemingway begins The Sun Also Rises with a description of Cohn instead of a description of himself. The Plain Style would tell someone reading the novel to take this description at face value, but this is misleading. The “principle of the iceberg” suggests that there is much more to this description than what meets the eye. He starts by telling us that Cohn was a boxer, a fighter. To portray him in this way from the first sentence is extremely important in that it sets up the rest of the novel. Here, Hemingway uses metabasis as a rhetorical device to explain what will follow. Describing a fighter in the first sentence gives us the impression that there will be a lot of fighting; what we don’t yet know is whether it is literal or figurative, physical or emotional and psychological, fighting. This is where we have to consider symbolism, one of the tools that Hemingway often uses to his advantage. When asked to explain his symbolism by the interviewer from the Paris Review (really, read the interview; it’s amazing), Hemingway told him, “It is hard enough to write books and stories without being asked to explain them as well. Also it deprives the explainers of work. If five or six or more good explainers can keep going why should I interfere with them? Read anything I write for the pleasure of reading it. Whatever else you find will be the measure of what you brought to the reading.” He knows that he writes plainly, so that anyone can “read anything [he] write[s] for the pleasure of reading it,” but also that the people reading his work are more than capable of finding the meaning below the surface. He does not need to spell everything out. Using the Plain Style only enhances his writing; it is precisely because he uses short, clear prose that the symbolism and deeper meaning must be searched for. Because of his style of writing, critics are still discussing his work, decades later, and new interpretations are constantly considered.

When asked about his style of writing, which has come to be known as particularly unique and has even inspired thousands of imitations, Hemingway told his interviewer, “That is a long-term tiring question and if you spent a couple of days answering it you would be so self-conscious that you could not write. I might say that what amateurs call a style is usually only the unavoidable awkwardnesses in first trying to make something that has not heretofore been made. Almost no new classics resemble other previous classics. At first people can see only the awkwardness. Then they are not so perceptible. When they show so very awkwardly people think these awkwardnesses are the style and many copy them. This is regrettable.” The irony of Hemingway imitation contests is not lost on me, considering this quote. Imitation is precisely what he warns against, and precisely what his style has inspired. But regardless of what Hemingway himself thought of his style, you can’t argue that it is “something that has not heretofore been made.” He did succeed in creating something new to writing. In my opinion, Hemingway is the father of the Plain Style. Don’t confuse what I’m saying and assume that he invented it, because it surely existed before him, but as a novelist and fiction writer, he brought this style of writing to the genre; he created something new. It wouldn’t be fair to compare Hemingway to a journalist or anyone else who writes in the Plain Style, because he took it and did something new and unheard of with it. So, although there may be similar texts in existence, Hemingway is unique in that he essentially created the Plain Style in novels meant to be critically studied. Within his particular activity system of scholars, writers, and readers, Hemingway novels are fresh and new. His use of plain language was, at the time, and still is considered revolutionary. Hemingway is to the Plain Style what Faulkner is to the Official Style. Hemingway is incredibly complex and his use of the Plain Style only highlights that, complicating the style of writing by showing that plain doesn’t necessarily mean simple.

Because I know you're all dying to read the interview with Hemingway, I've included the link for you again:

--Ashley Dillard

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Complexity in the Simple

Billy Collins uses several rhetorical devices throughout his poem “On Turning Ten,” but consistently keeps them simple to reiterate the tone of the poem. The poem, which follows, is about turning ten, clearly intended to be written from a childlike perspective. Without using simpler language in this creative style, Collins would undermine the tone, as well as the main themes of the poem. He does, however, include complex comparisons written in simple language; although he writes simply, these rhetorical devices make the poetry itself more complex than it first appears.
“On Turning Ten” –Billy Collins

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I'm coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light—
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

The first four lines, “The whole idea of it makes me feel / like I'm coming down with something, / something worse than any stomach ache / or the headaches I get from reading in bad light” fit perfectly with a childlike innocence that Collins works hard to portray. The word “something” is repeated at the end of the second and beginning of the third lines, an example of epizeuxis, a type of repetition that restates a word or phrase twice in a row. Using this repetition, especially of a word that most writers attempt to steer clear of, gives his readers the idea that a child could easily be using these exact words to show his feelings. He uses comparisons to “stomach ache[s]” and “headaches” to further this impression, that a child conveys these feelings.

The last three lines of the first stanza, though, move into more complex territory. Collins uses three metaphors to describe the speaker’s feelings on turning ten, “a kind of measles of the spirit, / a mumps of the psyche, / a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.” These metaphors are incredibly complex, using language that would not typically be associated with a ten year old. Most children that age could not describe a “spirit,” a “psyche,” or a “soul,” let alone compare them to different physical ailments. This is precisely what makes it poetic, for lack of a better term. These three physical illnesses mirror the physicality that he uses in the beginning, the “stomach ache” and “headache” and makes the ailments more complex. Not only are these three phrases examples of metaphor, they use several rhetorical devices simultaneously: asyndeton, which is omission of conjunctions in a series; hyperbole, which is exaggeration, loosely; and appositive, which is a restatement of a noun phrase immediately after first stating it. Some might argue the use of appositive here, but I would accept it as rhetorical device because these are three examples of illnesses.

Collins’ second stanza is playful, harkening back to the first four lines in which he sets the tone for the remainder of the poem. The last four lines of this stanza are particularly interesting, “At four I was an Arabian wizard. / I could make myself invisible / by drinking a glass of milk a certain way. / At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.” They are extremely childlike, but also use metaphor to tell of the child’s progression through life. This child, the speaker of the poem, was not literally a wizard, or invisible, or a soldier, or a prince, but the metaphor makes it believable. In addition to this, the metaphor is not too heavy-handed—by this, I mean that a child could easily speak these words without knowing that he or she was using metaphor. It does not come off as pretentious; rather, it illustrates the child’s great imagination. As in the first paragraph, Collins uses asyndeton again when he does not use a conjunction in the line “At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.” This particular line also uses prozeugma because it does not restate the verb in the second part of the sentence. Instead, the verb is implied.

The third stanza is perhaps Collins’ best juxtaposition of childlike and complex. The line “Back then it never fell so solemnly” has a very serious tone, but is followed by “against the side of my tree house,” reminding the reader that this is, in fact, a child’s perspective of the “afternoon light.” On the day of his tenth birthday, this child experiences emotion far beyond his or her years, saying that “my bicycle never leaned against the garage / as it does today, / all the dark blue speed drained out of it.” Again, Collins uses juxtaposition of childlike innocence and complex rhetorical language to convey his speaker’s feelings. Hyperbole and personification lend to the serious tone, but then the reader is reminded that this is just a child who rides his or her bike, but this is followed by the line reading that the bike has had “all the dark blue speed drained out of it.” The choice of blue is intentional here, perhaps a bit cliché, but shows the feeling of sadness that progressively gains throughout the poem.

The fourth stanza explicitly states that the speaker is sad, which goes against typical poetic convention. Most poets prefer to show rather than tell emotion, but Collins does both. The speaker uses grandiose language, such as, “I walk through the universe in my sneakers.” The notion of walking through the universe is grand and borders on hyperbole, yet again, but he follows it with “in my sneakers,” a very childlike phrase. This heightens the progression of the poem, from simple to more complex as the end approaches.

The final stanza is the culmination of these ideas. The child realizes that he is human, above all, and that aging is inevitable, even at the age of ten. The “sidewalks of life” is a very abstract phrase but is chosen intentionally to be abstract. He mirrors this abstraction with two very concrete statements in the final line, “I skin my knees. I bleed.” These are extremely childlike in their tone and content, but against the rest of the stanza, they make perfect sense. The poem, in its entirety, is an extended metaphor, or conceit, for life. Aging never becomes less difficult, particularly as you grow older, but complexity and playfulness must find a balance in order to survive and be effective, in this poem, just as in life.

This poem could be read and understood by a ten year-old, as well as studied by college students, which I believe is part of Collins’ intention. The language is simple enough and straightforward enough for a child to comprehend, but complex enough that a senior Literature major (that’d be me, folks) can study how Collins uses specific rhetorical devices and poetic conventions to convey a certain meaning. Of course, people can read his accessible poetry for fun and not for academic reasons, which puts Collins in several unique activity systems—for example, students, parents, children, teachers might all look at this poem or collection of poems and get completely different meanings. I do question who Collins’ target audience is with this poetry, which is fairly indicative of his writing style, and suppose that maybe he does not have one specific audience in mind. Perhaps that’s exactly what drives his writing style in the first place. This interpretation of the poem would be totally inappropriate for some contexts, and I recognize that, but that’s half the fun in interpretation!

--Ashley Dillard

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