March 2010 Archives

Can Shakespeare still be Bill if printed by John?

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After reading Robert Darnton's The Case for Books chapter nine "The Importance of Being Bibliographical," I think William Shakespeare's stranglehold on "the best of English writing" needs a little polish. I've always heard it said how there is little evidence physically tying Shakespeare to his published works. If indeed Shakespeare was his name. (I'm just saying.) But Darnton's writing on bibliography makes me wish that I'd been given some of this information in any of my Shakespeare classes, because as proven by bibliographers, the printed versions of Bill's works aren't solely his.

"The text was always changing, always slipping morphologically from one state to another" (141) writes Darnton when describing the printing of Shakespeare's folios. "...one man had unusually erratic spelling, that another frequently mixed up homonyms, that a third worked from an inadequate font of type, and that all of them scattered idiosyncratic marks on the pages in patterns that revealed their hands at work as distinct as Shakespeare's" (138).

Lesson to the kids: this is what happens when you pass along your hand written essay to someone else to be typed up for school, never looking it over when you get it back! Since it's theorized that Shakespeare was more focused on the quality of his writing as it was performed, he let the printing of said works be modified by printers as they saw fit. No wonder some readers have such trouble understanding what ol' Bill meant to convey in his plays! There's more than one person writing bits and pieces of them!

Anyways, bibliography is the reason why scholars have been able to identify what parts were likely written by Shakespeare and those bits that were modified later in the printing process. But we'll likely never know anything completely or for sure. So when someone creates that time machine-thingy, will you please go back in time and interview the real Shakespeare before making off with as many of his plays as possible? Thanks.

Then again, my peers probably have something else to say on good ol' Bill and his shifty printers.

Balance, grasshopper

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It's all about balancing that great term of metadiscourse. This balance covers every bit of writing out there, but from my experience, it can be difficult for student writers to figure out where to use metadiscourse and where they're using too much. After all, writing research papers and essays requires the use of some metadoscourse, but word processors don't have Metadiscourse Meters that tell you how much of it you're using.

"You need some metadiscourse in everything you you write, especially metadiscourse that guides readers through your text, words such as first, second, therefore, on the other hand, and so on. You also need some metadiscourse that hedges your certainty, words such as perhaps, seems, could, and so on. The risk is in using too many." - Williams, page 90, Style


What more is there to be written? Except for the continued advice of every teacher out there: Revise! Williams actually addresses how to revise to be concise, all by cutting down on metadiscourse. It almost seems like metadiscourse is an evil force in everyone's writing that continually attempts to remove clear information. Maybe that caters to a paranoid mind set, but it rings pretty true for student writing sometimes. When you need to make that paper's minimum word deadline of 1400 words, that's when you call up metadiscourse and invite it over for a pizza party.

Well alright, if you don't like pizza we can always order chinese.

What is now simply continues what was

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"Everything has already begun before, the first line of the first page of every novel refers to something that has already happened outside the book. Or else the real story is the one that begins ten or a hundred pages further on, and everything that proceeds it is only prologue." (153) of Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler


Quite frankly, I feel that this sentence in If on a winter's night a traveler is one of the "founding" sentences of this book, one of Calvino's notions that is repeatedly read within it. And just like Calvino writes, over a hundred pages from the book's "beginning," is the "real story" while the rest up till now has been the background story, the prologue.

I've heard it said before that everything that has ever been written has been written somewhere, at some time, before. Occasionally I'll come across a point in a book that I'm currently reading and think if I haven't heard that same point somewhere before, but then I usually can't remember where that was, or this new version of the old point has little to do with what was previously written about it. But who's to say that the first book I read was really the first to tell me that specific point of plot twist or character? Maybe it truly began hundreds of years ago? Who's to say that the real point of any book is always the point the author wants readers to grasp? I've no answer for these questions, because it seems to me that they've already been asked before, and maybe they were answered then or maybe they'll be answered tomorrow. I just know that I might be a little bit sad when If on a winter's night a traveler is concluded...if it actually is.

Though there are others who may differ on my thoughts of Calvino's point of beginning and ending.

I am an Amorphous Reader

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Continuing Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler has left me with the conclusion that I'm an Amorphous Reader: a reader who's able to so completely adapt or submerse themselves in a piece of writing that they sometimes wonder who they are when they come out, or who they were when they first went in.

While Calvino's writing, the physical words of it, are stable and sure, I flow along with them to become whatever Calvino, or maybe the story(ies) need me to become. For moments I can become a shapeshifter who needs nothing more than a few words on a page to transform into another being entirely, never before seen or something seen everyday but unrecognized.

But what caught me the most in my second portion of reading was Calvino's writing "'What does the name of an author on the jacket matter? Let us move forward in thought to three thousand years from now. Who knows which books from our period will be saved, and who knows which authors' names will be remembered?'" (101). Sometimes when writing I think in passing "Who will remember my scribbles on a page? Will they remember my name? And do I really care so much if they do or don't?" I don't think I care whether they remember my own name, so much as that what I may write can change them for a moment, transmute them into an Amorphous Reader; change them in some way, even if they don't notice at first.

I suppose that's the gist of it, because Calvino's writing style has rather affected my sleep deprived brain into creating new terms with new meanings out of new ramblings. And there's still more to go.

A heart attack via paper to book lovers

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Before reading Robert Darnton's chapter 8: "A Paean to Paper" in his book The Case for Books, I had never been so close to having a conniption fit while reading a book. Or perhaps I was more horrified than raging over events that happened to books and newspapers just over a decade ago in efforts to save space.

Darnton addresses Nicholson Baker's original "Double Fold" essay in chapter 8, providing quoted bits of text as well as further explanations of events that Baker cites. Baker generally writes from the position of a preserver of books raging against vilified librarians with connections to a governmental, if not global plot to destroy aging books and periodicals. However, Baker did first write his essay as a way to both inform and incite the public against events that were ravaging libraries of their stores of old newspapers and books. It was by no means a completely fair and balanced article from a journalistic standpoint. But that's exactly what Darnton introduces to Baker's essay: a sense of fair level-headedness so that readers can gain the best knowledge of both sides.

I thought it was nearly humorous when Darnton wrote "As stories go, it is surprisingly simple. Misguided zealots misdiagnosed a problem, and produced a national catastrophe by spreading misinformation" (122). It sounds like the underlying cause of several historical blunders and the perfect beginning plot for a futuristic sci-fi novel. After all, it's not every day that you read of experiments designed to prevent the acidification of paper and its inevitable breakdown (though far, far in the future) that involve diethyl zinc; a substance that "bursts into flame on contact with air and explodes if exposed to water" (116). Thank the heavens that that particular method of preserving literature never had a chance to take root on our oxygen rich planet. It's a little expensive to read in outer space.

But even though libraries (like most all book lovers) are under the pressure of space and misguidedly destroyed priceless printings, they face a lot of set backs; the main, and most important one being budget cuts. In an age where anyone can search for information on a computer terminal, who sets foot in libraries? Who still uses them regularly? In the end, I can't speak for anyone else, but if anything like Baker's essay is ever needed again, I'm hoarding my books where no one else can get at them. And you bet the farm that I'm going to buy as much literature as possible from libraries to preserve them. After all, it just be the pack rats and paper fanatics that save print one day!

Come see if there are any other paper fanatics out there like me. (And no, this does not include us actually writing papers...at least not all the time.)

More than 1 type of stress

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Well folks, it's official: There is more to stress than acting crazy accompanying various aches and pains, but also how you end your sentences! God help the caffeine addicts who talk to fast for anyone to properly understand what they say at the end of their sentences.

Nevertheless, Joseph M. Williams correctly explains the concept of stressing the end of a string of words. In Style, Williams explains that "How you manage the emphasis [on a sentence's] stress position helps establish the voice readers hear in your prose, because if you end a sentence on light words that carry little meaning, your sentence will seem to end weakly" (70). No one wants to be perceived as a weakling via their speech or writing (except for writers specifically portraying a character that way). So the best thing to do is to revise!

Or if you're like me with little time on your hands or in a hurry, actively talk to yourself in your head. (But stay away from the crazy voices.) If you hear your mental voice fading towards the end of a sentence, then stop the sentence right there, but make sure it's comprehensible first. This tactic is one of the first that Williams mentions in the revision process. Then again, if you're still having a bit of trouble and are unsure of how your writing ends, read it out loud to yourself. Read it in a funny voice or act out motions to it, but let your mouth tell you how your sentences end. Just remember not to let your mouth do all the talking.

Where does a story begin or end?

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I feel as if after beginning Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler the fog of the opening story subtly invaded my mind as I read, despite being both 3 steps removed from the "main story." In all of my reading history (which is a lot if I don't say so myself), I have never before encountered a text quite like this one. The numerous changes of perspective, stories that seem only to lead to more stories without ever answering the proceeding stories lulled me into a false? sense of security in reading it, though security of a sort nonetheless.

If you had asked me before writing this if a single text could manage to touch upon several recent topics of my class and still provide an engaging story line of some sort, I most likely would have proclaimed you mad. But as it happens, Calvino accomplishes it. He has combined a revolutionized style of writing where you are the reader/character/sometime author/casual observer, a sometime sense of things repeated, verse so far beyond anything I have come across before, established a link with an "other" without limits or true form, and even asks you to contemplate a literate character that has forced himself to become illiterate.

In short, If on a winter's night a traveler has unique talents that continue to amaze me. Even while I grow tired and my mind would probably wander in a "normal" text, Calvino's text already seems to wander my mind for me; so I am never left with a feeling of displacement at the conclusion of my reading because it is the same as it ever was before, yet different in some form.

Though the talent that I believe surpasses all others, is Calvino's undertone of schooling that stories abound in everyday life, whether we recognize them as such or leave them past unwritten. But most of all, that these surrounding stories never really end, nor have they perhaps truly begun because maybe they have always existed and always will until there is absolutely nothing to tell a story about. (If that's even possible because you could even write a story on nothingness.)

Then again, I'm not the only slightly confused, slightly comforted reader out there of this novel. In fact, there are several of my peers experiencing Calvino's unique method of storytelling.

Somebody understands my disease!

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Upon reading the intro (or at least the words before the chapter heading "If on a winter's night a traveler") of Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler, I have discovered a writer who fully comprehends my disease of walking into a bookstore and being compelled to adopt books in mass quantities off of the shelves!

Calvino lists the "armies" of books that nearly assault a potential buyer when first entering a bookstore and look longing after you when you've made your purchases, calling for you to adopt them as well. This highly relatable (at least to my inability to walk out of a bookstore shy of 3 books) intro made me laugh and grin throughout. I think it was the tone of the writing that immediately drew me in, like an amiable co-conspirator who understands my literary addiction and is still going to help me give one more home to another book.

But perhaps the most compelling line of the entire intro was the final line that tells of reader's attempts to fit the book's characters (or the book itself) into a previously known character (or a previous type of book). "But then you go on and you realize that the book is readable nevertheless, independently of what you expected of the author, it's the book in itself that arouses curiosity; in fact, on sober reflection, you prefer it this way, confronting something and not quite knowing yet what it is." (page 9)

To me, this last sentence has immediately whetted my appetite for what stylistic twists and literary challenges that If on a winter's night a traveler may hold in store for my future. I'm thinking that it's going to make me dwell on its ending(s), whatever they may be and whenever they may come.

My peers though, may have other reactions to my amiable co-conspirator. To them, he might even be a weird creeper stalking them in a bookstore, constantly narrating their every movement.

Even the best of us make mistakes

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"However, late medieval copyists were supervised--and controls were much more lax than many accounts suggest--scribes were incapable of committing the sort of 'standardized' error that was produced by a compositor who dropped the word 'not' from the Seventh Commandment and thus created the 'wicked Bible' of 1631" (126). ~ Elizabeth Eisenstein in Writing Material


What if you are a printer's assistant working in a print/book shop centuries ago, and you suddenly discover that page 23 of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species has the misspelled word "species" on it. What do you do? You have already printed 50 copies so far and they all feature this horrifying mistake as a result of standardization! Well, first you look to see if anyone is watching, quickly freak out, rearrange the letters to correctly spell "species," and continue printing as if a mistake had not been made. After all, after reading the first 20 plus pages with "species" it's reasonable to assume that people will know what Darwin's talking about. Right?

Believe it or not, this actually happened. Several copies were printed and distributed by a bookstore before the carvings were fixed on page 23, making the first mistakes worth thousands, if not hundreds of thousands dollars today (depending on what condition the book is in). But this example perfectly represents one of side effects of standardization in the print world. When individual monks were copying works I'm sure they made mistakes in the course of their writing, but rarely in the same spot repeatedly. Such mistakes in writing and mass printing can also be seen today in books that have grammar or spelling mistakes in them. These often make you wonder "Who read this thing and why how did they miss that?" Once something has been printed, it's out there, just like an item on the internet. Except that books will be less likely to be found if not popular in mainstream society.

Check out what my classmates have to say on Einstein's writing.

Coherence is the name of the game

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In my classes coherence and cohesion exercise today, students began by typing one sentence in a word processing document and then rotated from computer to computer, continuing their peer's writing. Below is the final product that was created on my computer. I actually only had to change a few punctuation marks around and add a few words to make it flow.

"Writing is a common tool to magnificent lands and opportunities. It allows us the ability to create many different stories. However, writing does provide functions other than storytelling. Writing also allows people to communicate through time and space; allows history to be told and adventures to be brought back home. History and adventure of some sort are normally found within everyday tales and conversation."

Although I liked this exercise, it's too much like the telephone game for me to be okay with it. I'm a person who likes to write what I want to write. Oh well, a new story is full of potential to everyone who writes (or reads) it.

Lyrical poetry is my constant companion

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In his book The Muse Learns to Write, Eric A. Havelock presents several arguments and theories concerning oral communication and the impact of written literature in Ancient Greece. In chapter 11 Havelock writes, "Oral theory replies to this view by arguing that the role of poetry in literate societies, so far from being richer than that of its oral counterpart, is narrower, because literacy, by entrusting the storage function to documented prose, has gradually stripped poetry and the poetic experience of their dominant position in the culture and emptied them of their complexity" (120).

I believe that this quote may be argued in at least two ways: written poetry is no longer prized as the highest of literary achievements or the largest cash cow for writers today; and that lyric poetry has become more popular than perhaps ever before through the music industry.

Unlike the days in Ancient Greece when poetry was the most highly esteemed work or style of works, long written prose such as J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series and Stephen King's numerous horror novels. Writing a book of poetry is still considered a feather in one's cap in the writing community, but if a writer is looking to make the big bucks, then a best selling novel is the way to go.

However, lyric poetry set to music has virtually become the constant companion of today's youth. With the invention of iPods, Zunes, and other portable media devices, it's common place to see people traveling everywhere with headphones stuck in their ears, listening to lyric poetry set to music. Despite the problems with "free" music downloads on the internet, lyric poetry accompanied by a tune is thriving.

So even though written poetry has arguably lost its dominant pedestal in the tier of the writing world, it has completely taken over people's minds through lyric poetry via the music industry. Ever had a tune stuck in your head for no apparent reason? That's today's lyric poetry in action.

No swearing or you WILL be disconnected!

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"While the telephone company routinely monitored the contents of telephone calls, when transcripts, of telephone conversations were first introduced as evidence in trials, phone companies argued that these communications were just as private and privilieged as doctor-patient exchanges (Marvin 83)."
- Dennis Baron, page 46 of Writing Material

I think Baron makes an interesting point about the acceptance and social view of the telephone when it fist came on the scene. He argues that the telephone was initially thought to be cumbersome and socially awkward, and often monitored by strangers working for the phone company. However, there are very few people who might say that they could live without a telephone or cellular device. It's doubtful that Alexander Graham Bell ever thought his invention would one day become a personal, portable, often can't-live-without device (even if it has transformed into various shapes).

Then again, as Baron uses the telephone in his argument that the computer has revolutionized both literacy and communication technologies, I compared telephone conversations used in court to instant messenger chats now a relatively common portion of evidence in court cases. Instant message services like AOL, Trillian, iChat and Windows Instant Messenger services became a norm for individuals separated by hundreds to millions of miles, but they also serve as a way for criminal activities to be tracked. Although the use of IMs is still somewhat controversial as a main piece of evidence in court, such electronic media documentation has opened the door for the telephone's successor, the cellphone and its text messages.

While there's little doubt that instant messaging (via the computer) has changed the manner in which people communicate, it has also changed literacy requirements for reading computer text and cellular text messages. After all, there are books for people to learn to read the shortcuts and truncated versions of words to understand IMs and cellphone texts. My class mate Erica Gearhart explores this connection a bit more, though in the general covering of oral versus written communication.

No matter how much stock you may place in IMs and text messages in relation to law-binding contracts, just remember that someone is most likely always watching, always listening in. Spooky ain't it?

The character said it had to be written!

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Have you ever heard (or read) a writer say (or write) that a character that he/she was using in a specific story told said writer that this character had to be written? Well, maybe Peter Elbow has finally figured out where these pushy characters come from.

"The mind, as a structure of meaning, can grow and develop through stages and so too can a piece of writing. Thus writing provides us with two organisms for thinking instead of just one, two containers instead of just one; the thoughts can go back and forth, richen and grow" (141). of Writing Material


As Elbow explains above, writing offers two potential paths for a writer to take, as opposed to a generally single path of speech, because once the words are spoken, that is the only path for continuous thought to follow unless you stop speaking. But writing presents you with what is developing in your mind as you write as well as the path of what you have already written down. Through writing it is feasible to simply stop writing one train of thought and follow the thought pathway that had been developing into your mind. This is perhaps the place where characters, so insistent upon being written into existence, come from: the second pathway of the mind.

Elbow also mentions the practice of writing in a continuous stream, which is sometimes referred to as "speed writing" or simply "don't stop writing until I say so" (most commonly said from teacher to student). In effect, speed writing allows writers the ability to jump from thought to thought, explore counter arguments, and get words onto a piece of paper to find what it is that a writer might want write about.

Elbow encourages such stream of consciousness writing in that it can push people past continually wanting to organize what they want to write, much like the stoppings and pausings that are often used to organize thoughts for a speech. This form of internal editing, however, can be slightly detrimental if one seeks to escape writer's block or brainstorm ideas. "Most people stop writing and don't resume writing till they have figured out what they want to say. This feels like a reasonable and normal way to behave, but notice the assumption it reveals: that the function of writing is to record what we have already decided--not to figure out whether we believe it" (139). Even though writing is "ephemeral" as Elbow says, it is not always appreciated for this characteristic. So the next time you need to brainstorm for an idea or need to break through writer's block, try writing out the words instead of simply saying them. After all, you can always throw out what sentences and ideas don't initially work for you!

However, my classmates may have something different to say on either this particular quote or other sections of Elbow's excerpt.