Friday, January 30, 2009

Arrested by the Details

On the Internet, no one can hear you shiver. Greetings from the rime-slathered Arctic region formerly known as central Ohio. I swear icicles are forming on hawks in mid-flight.

Fear not for the intrepid writers of ENG 109.02, for we are finding warmth and comfort in our words. We are embroiled in writing narrative essays, ways of constructing meaning about the experiences we have had. Our memories are burning bright on the page, with the brilliance of a thousand suns (or, at least, the functionality of a dependable space heater). And what gives our memories that roasting-by-the-fireside glow? Well, the heat of the devil's touch is, as they kind of say, in the details.

With parrot-like fanaticism, I stress the importance of "showing" the details of one's story rather than settling for simply relaying facts. The effect is striking--good "showing" brings the reader into the story with you. I've linked before to Professor Dennis G. Jerz's website that does a wonderful job explaining the difference between showing and telling.

We don't "show" every moment in our narratives; we couldn't. We choose to "tell" certain parts, backgrounding them, so that the moments of showing are that more vibrant and noticeable. Recently I've come to think of these selected moments of showing as short YouTube clips, where we are practically pressing the Play button in our computers to animate the story and bring the reader in.

In the following clip from the sadly-defunct Arrested Development, note how the video starts with a short sentence, a tell: "Job was being taken out to lunch." What follows--what we see, hear, and feel as a result of the action and dialogue--are a lot of details that shows what "Job was being taken out to lunch" entails.

When we go to write stories, we must be prepared to show the sights, the smells, the sounds, the feelings, the gestures, the dialogue, the comparisons that take a simple sentence into an overly dramatic reading of a menu. Remember: when in doubt of whether you are showing and telling, always check for club sauce.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Computer: Snarky's Machine?

I’d like to expand on last week’s contemplation on the importance of outsiders’ comments to blog posts. The ability to participate in and perhaps shift the conversation into new directions and the notion that, as long as the original post is still accessible, no conversation is truly “finished,” offer writers and readers of blogs a sense of community and a broader epistemological opportunity than those who share other types of texts. However, there are potential pitfalls. I mentioned the potential of gravitate to blogs that conform to an already established worldview and how the comments can potentially serve to simple support that view with little attempts at challenge, negotiation, or complication. However, there is a phenomenon in tone prevalent in many blogs that can also serve to simply disrupt communication rather than participate in it: the snarky comment.

Snark, often roughly understood as a sense of snide and detached delivery, has come under fire recently in a book by New Yorker movie critic David Denby. Denby posits that the prevalence of snark that he sees in the national conversation is damaging to public conversation. He sees snark as little more than bullying, a position that has been met with supporters and detractors.

For the purposes of the class blogs, I would expect to see little evidence of snark in the comments, like in the previous quarters. Most of the students’ comments are attempts at supporting one other through the act of public writing that there is little desire to get snarky, even when there are disagreements. And this is probably a good thing. While snark—especially when it’s smart and when it’s pointing out the absurdity of another’s actions or opinions—can be strong and effective, but blog comment sections are teeming with examples of snark for snark’s sake. While they can be enjoyable to read, often they are lame and lazy attempts at engaging in some demanding and (what should be) stimulating issues.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Comments: Acorns of the Blog Post Tree

One of the blog's most definitive features is that it allows for its readers to leave immediate comments to the original text. While any piece of writing can--and does--inspire reaction, that reaction often stays private in the reader's mind. Sometimes, it finds it way into public conversations (in the classroom, over dinner, at city council meetings, in letters to the editor), but the blog allows for, enourages--thrives on--immediate feedback to complicate the original text and further the conversation. Beware the blog that diasbles the Comments function; by denying others participation in the discussion, the blogger is far too concerned authorship ans authority to realize the full potential of online writing.

This is not to say that all comments to blogs are gems. Indeed, one of the drawbacks of blogs--of any text, for that matter--is that we as readers often seek out what we already favor. Thus, the comments section can turn into an echo chamber, many different different simply assenting to the original idea. Likewise, like the blog posts themselves, the comments can fall short in areas of knowledge, reason, vivacity, or respect. Nonetheless, reading beyond the original post, clicking the links and reading the comments, gives the reader a deeper perspective on the the issue at hand. And, often, people in the comments section prove themselves knowledgeable and witty. Most importantly, the comments section promotes a sense of community on your blog, one that anyone who can be respectful in sharing their opinion is invited to join.

As far as the 109.02 class goes, I'm already heartened by some of the conversation going on in the comments section (see Ethan and Paige's comments for a couple of strong examples).

Friday, January 9, 2009

Feeling Lucky?

It is time yet again for students in 109.02 to keep public records of their opinions in the form of blogs. In so doing, we investigate a pervasive and increasingly salient form of expression and communication by--in part--performing it. We will form a small community on a distant prairie of the Internet, but if past classes are any indication, we are not fully incapable of reaching out and tapping strangers on the shoulder. We have many ideas to share and negotiate with one another in the coming weeks, not to mention images and links, important aspects of posting to blogs that we will investigate in time.

So on the onset of this third effort of class blogging, I wonder where our words will go. Will we be able to make a splash outside of our classroom? Expand our virtual community? Come to some enlightened definition of terms like "writing," "audience," and "reading"? Will this third time be the proverbial charm? Perhaps, but I prefer to move forward keeping Branch Rickey's words at the front of my mind: "Luck is the residue of design."

I mean, that's why I write a syllabus, right?