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					  Week Five

 Dr. Stephen Ogden
LIBS 7001 Fall 2009

    Common Sense Approach to
     Definition & Classification
• There is, fortunately, a practical approach to
  the type of “problems” detailed in the articles
  for this week, for those of us who are not (or,
  not only) academics.
• A common-sense practice: assume a stable
  definition (e.g. “truck”), but see any
  uncertainty or issue as simply a matter of
  – “does this vehicle belong in the category ‘truck’ ?
•   creates sharply etched word pictures of objects, persons, scenes,
    events, situations
•   in work/personal/academic settings, can describe
      »   a patient’s condition for a chart
      »   a product in an advertisement
      »   site conditions in a report
•   can
      » create a mood
      » stimulate understanding
      » lead to action

             Two Types of Description
Functional                                  Emotional
•   “just the facts”: denotative            •   impressionistic: connotative
•   purpose: to explain, clarify            •   purpose: to convey ideas, moods,
•   allegedly objective, observed from a        impressions
    distance                                •   impressionistic, subjective
•   common in lab reports, formal reports   •   common in everyday life, and in artistic
•   logical order of ideas                      writing
•   perspective: description of parts,      •   highly variable order of ideas
    materials, functions                    •   different perspectives possible

          Elements of Description

•   To help drive home your points vividly in an essay
    or speech, carefully use these five elements of
     1.   Sensory Impression
     2.   Dominant Impression
     3.   Vantage Point
     4.   Selection of Details
     5.   Arrangement of Details

      Sensory Impression, cont.
• appropriate words / comparisons , cont.
   – “… the kind of woman who plays with a full deck of
     credit cards…” (Ehrenreich, 10)
   – an egg that “starts to disgorge a cloud of white stuff
     like a medium at an old-fashioned séance” (Nabokov,
• blend several sense impressions
   – “Ah…fresh bread” (last frame of Pekar essay)
   – evokes sense of touch (shape, heat), sight, smell

          2. Dominant Impression
• an overall mood or feeling, such as joy, anger, terror, or
• may be identified or left unnamed
• can be developed throughout the description
   – “Yet, the overriding sensation I had was of always being out of
     place.” (Said, 37)
   – “Not long ago a former friend and soon-to-be acquaintance
     called me up to tell me how busy she was.” (Ehrenreich, 9)
• may be influenced by vantage-point

     3. Vantage Point - two types
• fixed: observer remains in one place
   – “Boil water in a saucepan (bubbles mean it is boiling!)”
     (Nabokov, 38)
• moving: observer views things from different
   – e.g., E. Said moving through time:
   – “In my early adolescence….Now I have divined that…”
     (Said, p. 39)

          4. Selection of Details
• A good writer selects details pointing toward the mood
  or feeling s/he is trying to create.
• Exclusion is as important as inclusion.
• How does a writer suggest stillness or nothingness?
• What are the implications of leaving out certain
  details? Are there limits to a writer’s creative license?
  What’s a writer’s ethical responsibility when using
  description & narration?

     5. Arrangement of Details

• to guide reader and fulfill purpose, use a clear
  pattern or organization - e.g.,
   – spatial
   – sequential
   – contrast
• can start with a striking central feature
   – Said’s discussion of the 2 halves of his name

• relates series of real or imagined events
• Narration, a story, can
   – tell what happened
   – delve into motives
   – offer lessons and insights (but doesn’t have to)
   – do all of the above.

    Examples of Non-Literary Uses
• Used at work, at home, at          – Meeting minutes write-
  school: e.g.,                        up
   – details in a lab or          • Politics: ‘narrative’ is
     inspection report              now an essential tool
      • Any report is a form of
        narration                    – Create a partisan story
                                       about society, selves &
   – development of a
     research project
   – history of an employee’s     • Journalism:
     work problems                   – news stories are forms of
      • Both by the employee           narrative
        and the employer

           Elements of Narration
•   Six elements together produce strong narration:
     1.   purpose
     2.   action
     3.   conflict
     4.   point of view
     5.   key events
     6.   dialogue

                  1. Purpose
• can be stated or unstated but always shapes the writing
• may
   – tell what happened
   – establish a useful fact
   – delve into motives
   – offer lessons or insights
Not all “stories” have a moral or teach a lesson.

                    2. Action
• plays a central role in narrative by presenting, not just
  suggesting, something that happens
   – suggested (or reported):
       • “Time seemed forever against me.” (Said, 38)
   – represented directly:
       • “ They went to Michigan Militia meetings. They
         blew up ‘things’ in the backyard.” (Moore, 84)

                      Action, cont.
• Think visually (cinematically) when writing a
   – “…a passage on the piano might cause a sudden
     transformation of her face, a dramatic elevation in her tone, a
     breathtakingly wide opening of arms, as she took me in with
     ‘Bravo, Edward’…” (Said, 38)
   – “With a small spoon tap-tap in a circle and then pry open the
     lid of the shell.” (Nabokov, 38)
• Many experiences are “action:” e.g., thinking,
  feeling, deciding
   – “They also serve who only stand and wait.” (John Milton, “On
     His Blindness,” 1652)

                      3. Conflict
•   Real, imagined, anticipated conflicts shape our lives; see
    Gk. agon - meaning “contest”
•   Some varieties of conflict:
    1. between an individual and outside circumstances:
       Nabokov’s eggs & egg-cooker
    2. between 2 group members: Said & mother
    3. between__________________________
    4. between__________________________
    5. within____________________________

           4. Point of View - types
1.   First person: one of the participants tells what happened.
     – uses I, me, mine, we, ours
     – limited to what that person knows; narrator
       can be unreliable because of incomplete
2.   Second-person: less often used
     – you is used or understood
     – imperative & directive; or conversational
3.   Third-person: distanced “narrator” recalls.
     – uses he, she, it, they
     – narrator can be omniscient, intrusive, or                  18
                   5. Key Events
• Strong narratives are built around key events
  bearing directly on its purpose. E.g.
   – Pekar’s paralleling the progress of his thoughts and physical
     progress towards the bakery, where a resolution occurs on
     both levels (“quandry” resolved, AND loaf of bread obtained)
   – Said’s discussion of his mother’s death as a key event, which
     helps to remind him of both his childhood and his own
   – consider “narratives” of election candidates

                       6. Dialogue
• Conversation animates narrative:
   – indirect/reported - narrator strongly controls presentation
     and mood; reader is distanced from the scene
       • “..called me up to tell me how busy she was.” (Ehre., 9)
   – direct - generally (but not always) more vivid; also leaves
     more scope for reader interpretation:
       • narrator in strong control: “… the days when ‘Let’s have lunch’
         meant something other than ‘I’ve got more important things to
         do than to talk to you now’…” (E,9)
       • integrated into narrative: “’Help me to sleep, Edward’…” (Said,
         39, in which he’s both character and narrator)

     For the narration readings (Ignatieff, Fraser,
       Mukherjee), consider these questions:

1. What is the author's purpose?
2. Where & how does the author use specific descriptive and
   narrative techniques?
3. Narration often produces a personal, "gut" reader response.
   Critically analyze your own response to these essays:
   1. What exactly was your response?
   2. What factors (e.g.: your experiences, knowledge, the
      author's story, descriptive & narrative techniques)
      might have combined to produce your response?
   3. How did you transcend your "gut reaction" to gain a
      more objective reading of the text?                21

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