Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Creative License Revoked

Two comments I don't want anyone to miss. One anonymous comment from my dad, pointing out that at no time did I ever get pressured by my parents to perform athletically. My parents loved me just the way I was, thank you very much. In my defense, however, I did feel pressure to perform athletically--probably more because of my peers and particularly my female peers. My most vivid childhood memories, and my only athletic memories, involve me failing. So I still identify with "The Sporting Life," even though my parents never stopped loving me.

Comment number two from Mr. Steve forces me to own up to my literary mediocrity:

Students are required to:"Identify the meaning of metaphors based on literary allusions and conceits." Can anyone out there provide me with a good example. The textbooks these kids use are full of metaphors and allusions, but outside of T.S. Elliot I am hard pressed to find a good metaphor based on literary allusion or conceit.I want to give some teachers a good example of what this would look like. - Thanks.

I'm afraid I don't really know what Mr. Steve is talking about. That's why he's a Mr. and I'm just Dave, I suppose. My first pass has me looking to the Bible, where I would anticipate some allusions and conceits to find their source. I remember a line from a Doonesbury comic strip in which President Reagan lamented losing one of his cabinet members because his tax cuts for the wealthy made private sector work so much more appealing. "Hoisted by my own petard," I came to learn (much to my public embarrassment) originated not with Doonesbury but with Shakespeare.

If that's not what Mr. Steve is getting at, I look forward to my imminent enlightenment. At the same time, I'm wondering how much etymology we need to know about what we're saying to be able to speak with some cultural intelligence. Today I learned that barbarism shares a root with barber, and as such "barbarians" were people who wore beards. So barbarians weren't barbarians because they ate people or pillaged wantonly or whatever; calling someone a barbarian was simply a propaganda move. In that case, knowing the origins of the term makes the term less useful, doesn't it?

I hope that made me sound smarter. Sorry again, Daddy.

7 comments:

Margaret Feinberg said...

thems a lotta big words ya used there.

Mr Steve said...

A little clarification (at least my interpretation). Here's the T.S. Eliot example:
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nore was meant to be;

If you don't know your Shakeyspeare you aren't going to fully understand the comparison he is making. Of course if you don't know your Shakey you probably wouldn't be reading T.S.

Our constantly changing language is often incorporating and appropriating "pop culture" into the lexicon - I once overheard a teen telling his friend about some kid that was getting picked on and then went all 'Jerry Springer' on the bully. (I assume a fist fight broke out). However I still come up short when trying to find examples from literature that use this device.

On a more geeky and sci-fi note I thought of a Star Trek example that I think gets at the heart of this. In one episode Picard and crew encounter an alien culture whose language consists soley of allusions to mythology: they say things like "Shaka, when the walls fell." to mean that they have failed. They compare themselves to Shaka, (whom I think is different from Cha-Ka of Land of the Lost fame) but since the Enterprise crew have no knowledge of the mythology ( or late 20th century tv shows if it is Cha-Ka) the language makes no sense.

I hope this helps you understand what I'm looking for (or at least how I interperet the phrase "metaphors based on literary allusions and conceits" - feel free to disagree with me). Does this shed any light, ring any bells, or get the hamster wheels turning for any of you.

Just remember that this is one the skills that Arizona requires of students before they can graduate high school. Since y'all might consider yourselves intellectually healthy I should remind you that Arizona is the educational equivalent of the 90 pound weakling. You're not going to let them kick literary sand in your face are you? I know that someone out there can dig up another example. Please?!?

David A. Zimmerman said...

So, for example, Sting's reference to "that book by Nabakov" in "Don't Stand So Close to Me" is close to what you're looking for, although it doesn't serve the function of metaphor, whereas REM's "I am Superman" or the scene in The Breakup in which Vince Vaughn says "I'll play it like Lionel Richie--All Night Long" do refer back in metaphor. Right?

Mark Twain's Diary of Adam and Eve is an exercise in conceit, I suppose, and G. K. Chesterton undoubtedly makes literary cross-references in The Man Who Was Thursday (I don't have it here, so I can't look it up). Vanity Fair is referring back to Pilgrim's Progress, and The Handmaid's Tale hearkens back to Canterbury Tales, which harvests a lot of martyr mythology, if I recall correctly.

I'm guessing Macon can kick in here. This is actually pretty fun; my favorite part of jazz music has always been "quoting," which is essentially pulling licks from other songs to enhance your own improvisation. I used to do that a lot; the ladies loved it.

Mr Steve said...

au contraire mon frere:
A comparison is being made. In this case a simile, but still a comparison based on a literary allusion.

He starts to shake and cough
just like the old man in
that book by Nabakov.

So, now chronologically I've got a song by The Police ( 1981 ), Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn and it's many Moby Dick comparisons and allusions( 1982) (courtesy of my brother and the team at Powells Bookstore - there are many)and Vince Vaughn referencing a Lionel Richie hit from 1983 . I wonder what 1984 holds for us? Hmmm. Maybe an Apple Computer commercial that compared Microsoft to Big Brother. Who wants to take on 1985?

Web said...

What ladies?

Carolyn said...

Have you been reading Al's word-a-day flip calendar again?

:)

bethany said...

Literature is replete also with references to mythology and the bible.

Many MLK Jr Speeches reference Amos (justice rolls down like a mighty water... etc) and usually several other biblcal passages or stories.

It's also interesting (but not neccesarily what you're looking for) to see how literary classics influence current images and stories. Dante's Inferno, for example (I think that's the source anytime people talk about circles of hell).

I love it when I run across allusions I can identify. It makes me feel educated, and like I get the inside joke.