Monday 13 July 2015

Postmodern Shibboleths

In contemporary usage a “shibboleth” is a word or style or behaviour or custom which identifies you as being part of an in-group--or not.  Postmodern shibboleths are numerous.  If you encounter people who consistently say “discourse” when they mean “theme,”   “the signified” when they mean “the meaning,”  or “deconstruct” when they mean “analyze,” you can be sure you are dealing with postmodernists.  

In the not too distant past the ultimate identifier of a postmodernist was the frequency with which s/he used the word “postmodern”--although this might be taken more as the team cheer rather than a shibboleth.  Upon encountering anything that was kitch, ironic, self referential, or lacking unity, coherence and conclusion, the postmodernist would loudly declare, in the hope someone might overhear, that it was postmodern.

The irony of postmodernism is that its only redeeming social value has been the promotion of tolerance, yet the postmodern catchphrase “political correctness”--a hallmark of intolerance--promises to outlive postmodernism itself.  A postmodernist is someone who can tell you, with conviction, to shut up, while arguing in favour of the right to free speech.

One of the postmodern concepts which I have found to be occasionally useful is “the subject.”  In postmodern speak “the subject” stands in for a variety of possibilities:  the self, the individual, the person, the ego, the “I,” and is a strong counterpoint to the soul, the personality, character and spirit.  In attempting to use “the subject” in my writing, I discovered the other side of employing postmodern shibboleths.  Once you have used an established postmodern catchphrase, you are pretty well locked in, by reader expectation, to following with a typical, well-worn postmodern argument about how the victims of power suffer and the terrible things we already thought about power are even worse than we imagined--which is why most postmodern essays turn out to be convoluted on the surface, obvious underneath, disingenuous overall, and incredibly tedious to read.

Sunday 5 July 2015

Binary Thinking Versus the Other Kind

I still remember from my first-year-undergraduate “Philosophy of Mind” course that the human brain is incapable of thinking, imagining or understanding one thing in isolation without bringing in another, a background, a difference, an opposite.  You can test yourself by trying to think of just one thing.  The notion of a dialectic is based on the binary functioning of the mind; every concept contains its opposite:  the notion “long” requires “short,” “big” invokes “small.”  In an even more rudimentary fashion, in order to know a “thing,” you must be able to say what is “not that thing.”

If you have ever found yourself in a debate with a postmodernist, chances are the postmodernist turned on you at some point to announce dismissively, “oh, that’s binary thinking!”  The postmodernist’s gambit is based on the assumption of binary thinking.  The bluff works because you find yourself thinking “Gee, there was must be a superior, more advanced form of thinking that isn’t binary.”  Is there?

No, there isn’t, but the trickle-down effect of postmodern intellectualizing results in something like this claim from the online “Postmodern Literature Dictionary”:

“If you use ‘binary thinking,’ you are a person who sees no gray, no fuzziness between your categories. Everything is black or white.”

In postmodern speak “binary thinking” has become a synonym for the already well-known and understood idea of “simplistic thinking,” again with the implication that those “non-binary” thinkers must be smarter than the rest of us. How did we arrive at this “two legs bad” juncture?  

The cause is rooted in “poststructuralism,” the theoretical backbone of postmodernism.  In order to understand “poststructuralism” (literally “after structuralism,” therefore a continuation and improvement of) it is necessary to have some grasp of structuralism.  Structuralism is closely aligned with “semiotics,” a term coined by the linguist Saussure meaning the science of signs.  John Fiske offers a clear, accessible and succinct description of semiotics/structuralism in his Introduction to Communications Studies.

Semiotics is a form of structuralism, for it argues that we cannot know the world on its own terms, but only through the conceptual and linguistic structures of our culture. [. . . .] While structuralism does not deny the existence of an external, universal reality, it does deny the possibility of human beings having access to this reality in an objective, universal, non-culturally-determined manner. Structuralism’s enterprise is to discover how people make sense of the world, not what the world is.  (Fiske, 115)

Fiske’s description anticipates the core dispute in the the feud which will eventually take place between postmodernists and empirical scientists like Sokal as I have described in my post The Postmodern Hoax.  Current repudiations of “binary thinking” find their origin in a paper delivered by Jacques Derrida at a structuralism conference at Johns Hopkins University in 1966 entitled  “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences”.  (The French-language original, "La structure, le signe et le jeu dans le discours des sciences humaines" is slightly more readable than the English translation.)

In this essay, Derrida dismantles (Derrida uses the term "deconstructs") the work of anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, in particular Lévi-Strauss's The Raw and the Cooked.  Although Derrida never explicitly refers to "binary thinking" or "binary opposition" in his essay, it is understood that the structure Lévi-Strauss uses, derived from the linguists Saussure and Jacobson and all of structuralism, is the binary functioning of human thought, and is the target of Derrida's critical inquiry into the "structurality of structure" (“Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences”).

The Longman anthology Contemporary Literary Criticism, in addiction to a translation of Derrida's paper, offers in addendum a transcription/translation of the discussion which took place between Derrida and the leading lights of structuralism immediately after his presentation.  It's interesting to see some of the finest minds in structuralism struggling to understand what the hell Derrida was talking about and, at the same time, to see Derrida cornered into giving a straightforward definition of "deconstruction."   Okay, "straightforward" is never a word that can be applied to Derrida, but with my ellipses eliminating all the asides and parentheses this is what he said:  "déconstruction [. . .] is simply a question [. . .] of being alert [ . . .] to the historical sedimentation of the language which we use [. . .]" (497). This is the definition of "deconstruction" that I typically gave students and, at the same time, I pointed out that even though "deconstruction" was suppose to be something innovative, radical and distinctly postmodern, the Oxford English Dictionary has been"deconstructing" the English language for literally hundreds of years--meaning that the OED gives you the multiple meanings of a word and the year ("the historical sedimentation') in which a particular meaning/definition can be proven to have come into usage.

 Back to structuralist anthropology. As Fiske explains:
The construction of binary oppositions is, according to Lévi-Strauss, the fundamental, universal sense-making process. It is universal because it is a product of the physical structure of the human brain and is therefore specific to the species and not to any one culture or society. (116)
Contrary to popular understandings of "binary thinking,"  the whole point of structuralist anthropology (the binary approach) is to understand how societies, through their mythologies for example, deal with the failures of and exceptions to binary opposition.  Fiske applies the Lévi-Strauss approach to a Western and concomitantly demonstrates how the approach teases out subtextual themes at play in the movie, and how this particular interpretation of the film might stretch credibility.  Even today, 50 years later, it is difficult to fathom exactly what new, radical, distinctly postmodern objection Derrida is raising.  

Certainly it makes sense to challenge how binary thinking is applied in a particular case.  The objection isn't to binary thinking but to a particular application.  If you are going to launch a campaign against food on the grounds that it causes obesity, you should at the same time be ready to present an alternative to eating food, something that goes beyond the absurd claim that "eating food is bad."

Friday 26 June 2015

Falling in Love is Unprofessional

"Falling in Love and Crying in the Academic Workplace"

In the wake of Nobel laureate Professor Tim Hunt’s ironic comments on women in science, a draft article entitled “Falling in love and crying in the academic workplace: ‘Professionalism’, gender and emotion” has been circulating in social media.  

Do We Need Gender?

The challenge that this type of article faces, that this one doesn’t quite overcome, is that it/they end up reinforcing the gender stereotypes they ostensibly set out to oppose.  

I used to challenge students to imagine a world where the words (and concepts) “man” and “woman” didn’t exist, and we were all just people: some of us with brown eyes, some with blue, some of us left-handed, some of us right, some with vulvas, others with penises, some capable of bearing children, some better at lifting heavy objects--no absolute, mutually exclusive binary categories necessary.  Intellectually speaking we don’t “need” the categories “men” and “women.”  The intent of this “thought experiment” was to show the intellectual ease with which gender difference could be erased and to demonstrate how, in the abstract, gender is a fragile and superficial concept.  

However, the fact that students never show much interest in the project of gender erasure shows how culturally attached we are to this dichotomy.  If I pushed the discussion, eventually a fastidious female would vociferously declare: “There is no way I want to share a bathroom with a bunch of smelly guys!”  End of discussion.

Stereotypes and Prejudices

The problem isn’t that gender differences and stereotypes exist, the problem, as Judith Butler would point out, is that these differences and stereotypes are policed and enforced.  There is a difference between a stereotype and a prejudice.  A stereotype is an extreme or rigid form of assigning type (“stereo” means “hard” or “firm”), but it usually has some basis in fact when applied in general to a large group of people. A prejudice is assuming and insisting that a stereotype applies to any and all individuals of a type or category.  It is a gender stereotype that men are physically stronger than women.  It is a scientifically verifiable correlation that, on average, people with penises enjoy more muscle mass than do those endowed with vulvas. 

Enforcing Stereotypes

The problem begins when this generalization is enforced on an individual and we tell John that he is failing as a man because he is not stronger than the average woman, and suspect Mary of not being a real woman because she is stronger than the average man and, of course, John and Mary cannot be a couple because she is stronger than he is; nonetheless John could get a construction job, but Mary can’t, etc, etc.  As a society, we extrapolate, police and enforce these stereotypes.

Solving Prejudice

How do we get beyond stereotypes and prevent them from devolving into prejudices?  it is too easy to say that stereotypes and prejudices are products of ignorance.  We are all ignorant and prejudiced in varying degrees.  In a world of Twitter, instant messaging and an up-to-the-minute news cycle we are constantly being called upon to “pre-judge,” our sympathies and outrage being called upon long before anything approaching a comprehensive knowledge of the facts is possible.  The only solution is to question and to withhold judgment until a sufficient number of facts have come our way; to rigorously apply our reading skills and logic to the facts available, and then to cut the world some slack without slipping into apathy.

The other solution when facing stereotypical differences is to consider other possible paradigms, other axes of comparison.  I admired that  in “Falling in Love and Crying in the Academic Workplace,” the author, Rachel Moss, at least temporarily shifted the discussion to “professionalism.”  Falling in love is unprofessional, mostly because the root of the word “amateur” is “amour,” “to love.”  Even in the study of theatre and drama, I have found ample reason to prefer amateur productions and performances over the professional, though the value system runs in the other direction.  It is not without reason that we describe prostitution as a profession.   It has its rules, and one of them is not falling in love.   

How to Talk about Cultural Differences

In my research I have tried to talk about some of the same differences that Rachel Moss discusses in her article.  I tried to talk about them as the differences between oral and visual cultures (following from Havelock, Ong and McLuhan), and when that didn’t quite work I turned to what John Vernon called “garden” and “map” culture.   Ultimately we have to admit that what we are talking about is “human” culture versus “machine” culture and our society shows an ever-increasing admiration for humans who behave like machines.

"You Fall in Love with Them, They Fall in Love with You"

On that note, a concluding word about Tim Hunt.  Apparently, he has two daughters who love his cooking, but I’ll bet he’s seen the girls cry when he criticized them.   His wife, Professor Mary Collins, was once his student.  So when he said the trouble with girls in the lab is that “you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you” could he have been thinking about himself and his wife?  What an amateur!

Tuesday 23 June 2015

After “the Death of the Author” It Only Takes 39 Words to End an Academic Career

39 Words versus curing cancer

It only takes 39 words to end an academic career even if you are a Nobel laureate in physiology . . . or maybe it’s because you are a Nobel laureate.  The sexist comments of the average smuck don’t go viral on Twitter.

I can’t help imagining some futuristic Wikipedia article on “the cure of cancer.”  It would go something like this: “Professor Tim Hunt’s work on cell division proved instrumental in developing the cure for cancer, however he became notorious and his career was ended in 2015 for his off-the-cuff remarks on women in science at a conference in Korea.”

The 39 words in question

According to The Guardian these are the 39 words which Professor Hunt uttered:

The Danger of irony

His wife, Professor Mary Collins, an immunologist, concurs with most of the critical commentary that “It was an unbelievably stupid thing to say.”  Hunt himself confessed apologetically,  “I was very nervous and a bit confused but, yes, I made those remarks – which were inexcusable – but I made them in a totally jocular, ironic way.”  (I’ve already covered the problems with irony but if you need a refresher see  Do No Harm Part II: Avoid Irony).

The Context is the meaning

No-one is denying that Professor Hunt said what he said, but my reason for commenting is that his words are being so widely reported and repeated out of context.  The context is the meaning.  The only way to understand what an action or an utterance means is to consider the context.  In saying this I know I am indirectly defending “the bad guys” (and "girls"):  the politician who complains of being quoted “out of context” and the adulterer who claims that the sex “didn’t mean anything.”  The truth is that politicians are frequently quoted out of context and their words attributed meanings that are different from, worse than or in complete opposition to their intentions.  And yes, a single act of coitus can be as meaningless as friction.  The only way to know what sex means is to consider the context, and the spectrum of possibilities range from criminal sadism to love.

To Read is to put a text in its proper context

For at least a generation now (the Twitter generation?), we have been training university students to read out of context.  As a professor of literature I thought of my job as teaching my students to be the best possible readers, to be able to analyze and re-synthesize some of the best works that have ever been written.  Reading well meant having a thorough understanding and appreciation of the various contexts within which a work could be read.  As time marches on the new meanings of old works are constantly changing but if we care about meaning, we have to consider the many contexts within which literature is/was written and read.

The "Death of the author" is the death of meaning

However, I noted with chagrin that many of my postmodernist professors and colleagues were quickly and firmly attached to Roland Barthes’ proclamation of “the Death of the Author.”  Fixed meanings were no longer possible, according to Barthes, because professional readers (i.e., postmodern professors) no longer considered the author (who she was, her context or intentions) when interpreting a literary work.  Looking at the author to determine the meaning of a text simply wasn’t done. Whether Barthes was reporting what he witnessed around him or was announcing what should and had to be, on the ground in university classrooms the idea of considering the life of the author as part of the study of a literary work had become so passé that it would be radical to consider this approach.

The "Death of the author" is power grab by pro readers

To my knowledge no-one has ever pointed out how self serving the “Death of the Author” was for university professors.  In the new postmodern context, meaning no longer resided with the author but with the reader, and if you wanted to know what a literary work “really” meant (even though such an absolute was never possible) you had to turn to a professional reader, a professor of literature.  It was clearly a power grab, but no-one seemed to notice--or was it that no-one cared?

The precedents  and procedures for quoting Professor Hunt out of context have been established  and taught.  Everyone is invited to posture self-righteously by attacking him and his un-contextualized utterances.

Tim Hunt is the context of his remarks

When that gets old we might consider challenging the ”Death of the Author,” and taking to heart Professor Collins’ observation that what her husband said “could be taken as offensive if you didn’t know Tim”  and her assurance that “he is not sexist. I am a feminist, and I would not have put up with him if he were sexist.”

What are the proper contexts within which we should read Professor Hunt’s utterance?  My counsel is that we need to be conscious that we are reading different contexts and, in this case,Tim Hunt is one important context of the utterance, not the other way around.  We won’t get the meaning of Tim Hunt by reading the 39 words he uttered in Korea. 

Friday 12 June 2015

Mateus da Costa, the Very First, Original, Authentic, Pure Laine Québécois de Souche and the Real Santa Claus (with Addendum)

Here’s a scenario I used to play out for undergraduate students.

Your roommate comes home from Christmas shopping  and announces enthusiastically that he just saw a guy at the mall who looks “just like the REAL Santa Claus!”

 You, an adult sceptic, reply in your most practiced sarcastic tone, “Duhh! Dude, there is no REAL Santa Claus!”

Most people over the age of eight might agree with you, but you have to admit that you sort of understand what your roommate means.  In fact, on second thought, you understand exactly what he means:  he saw an elderly, roly-poly gentleman with white hair and beard, rosy cheeks and a twinkle in his eye, dressed in a red suit and cap trimmed with ermine.  The man he saw captured with surprising precision the various quintessential images of Santa Claus he has seen on TV, in movies, on posters, Christmas cards and in Coke Cola commercials.

The lesson here is that what we typical consider “real” and “true” are those ideas, images, and notions that fit with what we already happen to believe, the ideas and icons that our culture has preconditioned us to accept.  Even though what we might spontaneously describe as “real” and “true” may have nothing to do with the facts, logic, science, truth or reality, our feelings about what is true and real have enormous influence in our lives.

One of the casualties of last year’s PQ-Marois-Drainville “charter of values” ploy (in addition to the Marois government itself) was the expression “Québécois de souche.”   Until the 1970s a Québécois was a citizen of Quebec City.  The idea of identifying all residents of the province of Quebec as “Québécois” didn’t become current until the mid-70s.   The original expression, whose origin I have not been able to trace or date, was “Québécois de vieille souche” (literally “from the old stump”) and is usually translated as “old stock.”  

Since the word “Québec” is Mik’maq (for “where the river narrows”), it’s pretty obvious that the Mik’maq and their First-Nations brothers and sisters are the oldest stock in Quebec and Canada, but “Québécois de vielle souche”  implies being able to trace your lineage to the first European settlers.  Over time “Québécois de souche” has come to mean any resident of Quebec with a French-sounding name who happens to speak French.

As a resistant expression of pride in the heritage, culture and history of a disadvantaged, oppressed and denigrated minority, I seconded and celebrated the expression “Québécois de souche,” but context changes meaning. In fact, the context is the meaning.  Certainly some commentators had long claimed that the expression smacked of ethnocentrism and xenophobia, but when a nationalist government with aspirations of statehood under the slogan “Nous sommes une peuple” (“We are a people/nation”) came forward with a proposed “charter of values” to rewrite the existing “Quebec charter of individual rights and freedoms” and to guarantee that the history of Quebec could only be retold in one correct, Catholic, French way, it became impossible to disassociate the expression “Québécois de souche” from ethnocentrism and xenophobia.

But there is a way to salvage the expression.  Just as the iconic Santa Claus is taken to be based on Saint Nicolas, the 4th-century monk born in what is now Turkey, we might ask (and answer) who was the first, original, authentic, pure laine Québécois, the person sailing from Europe to settle in New France in advance of all other Europeans, whom we could identify as the primordial source of the expression “Québécois de souche.”  My candidate is Mateus da Costa, for the very simple reason that he was Samuel de Champlain’s secretary on the voyage to settle New France, and da Costa was chosen for the job because he already knew the native languages which implies that he lived in what would become New France for some years before Champlain’s voyage.

Mateus da Costa must have been a brilliant, resilient and resourceful man.  He was of Black-African descent and a resident of Portugal, but most of his history is based on speculation from contracts and court documents.  We know from contract documents that his services were much in demand for anyone who wanted to explore the new lands across the Atlantic.

Mateus da Costa’s Portuguese connection is important in order to understand how it is possible for him to have settled, at least temporarily, in what would become New France prior to Champlain.  The evidence is ample that Portuguese fishers travelled back and forth to Canada, and in particular to Newfoundland’s Grand Banks well in advance of Champlain, Jacques Cartier and Christopher Columbus.  Part of the evidence is the frequency of Portuguese place names all over Newfoundland.  

(Living in Portugal, I discovered that “canada” is a Portuguese word.  Literally it means “here is nothing;” that is, “ca nada,”  but it is used as an equivalent of “rural route” in Portuguese addresses . . . but I digress.)

My point is simply that the next time you hear or use the expression “Québécois de souche” perhaps this (speculative) image of Mateus da Costa should come to mind, and dissipate any sub-text of xenophobia.

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Terrorism and Madness: Between Sympathy and Understanding

When I was researching the uses of madness in literature I came across a paradox from the philosophy of causality. If you are able to analyze the etiology, the causes, of madness, you can no longer claim that what you have analyzed is madness.  You can’t claim that you have found rational causes and effects for a behaviour, and continue to claim that the behaviour is mad.  

Thomas Szasz, a trained and practicing psychiatrist, made a career out of denying the existence of mental illness.  According to Szasz, madness was a “legal fiction.”  Like other such fictions--things that could not be proven to  exist--it was useful for institutions like hospitals, the courts, police forces, governments, and so on, to pretend that they existed, in order to establish procedures and policies for how to deal with particular situations, behaviours and people.

In recent days and weeks and years, the distinction between madness and terrorism has become a matter of significant debate.  Acts which are identified as “terrorism” supply significant political capital to governments interested in the paradoxical project of curtailing the citizenry’s rights and freedoms in the name of protecting those same rights and freedoms.  Madness, on the other hand, is perceived as an individual, personal, private phenomenon, outside the purview of government.  Announcing a war on mental illness has none of the  purchase, cache or logic of a war on terrorism.  

I have come to the conclusion that in both cases we are dealing with “legal fictions,” but legal fictions with powerful, even lethal, consequences and repercussions.  Although we might assume that putting actions and behaviours into particular categories is designed to help us understand and deal with them; historically, these two legal fictions--terrorism and madness--have been used to prevent us from looking further at their causes.  As legal fictions we can deal with them without having to understand them.

Suggesting that we should attempt to “understand” terrorist acts, you will be accused of weakness, naivety, inexperience, and ultimately, “sympathizing” with the enemy.  In some quarters, escalation is considered the only legitimate response to terrorism.  In the Middle Ages,  the common treatment for madness was to lock the madman in a dark room, then starve and beat him. Do you see a parallel?

But really, what are the risks of our trying to understand the causes of terrorism?  Is it that, as with madness, if we begin to understand, we will cease to believe that terrorism is terrorism?  What is the 21st-century alternative to our understanding terrorism?

I get that the intention of a terrorist act is to make a point.  If we admit that we get the point, then the terrorist can claim success.  The dominant, current strategy is a repeated public message that we simply do not understand.  In fact, the message often goes beyond just not understanding all the way to  . . . well, perhaps “madness” is too dramatic a word, but “irrational” and “illogical” seem un-dramatic and appropriate descriptors.   

The example I am thinking of is that it has become common to describe terrorist acts in which terrorists have sacrificed their own lives as “cowardly.” I can see the argument that suicide is cowardly, a refusal to brave life’s hardships, and that terrorists attack “soft” rather than military targets--children, women, men, civilians all. Nonetheless, of all the derogatory descriptions that could be applied to terrorists--evil, immoral, bestial, cruel, inhuman, misguided, foolhardy, disgusting, tyrannical, heartless, mindless, fanatical--what is the logic of describing them as “cowardly”?

Bill Maher lost his job as the host of the TV show Politically Incorrect for contradicting President George W. Bush’s claim that the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre was “cowardly.”  “Say what you want about it,” Maher said, “not cowardly.”

This insistence on the idea that terrorism must be described as cowardly brought to my mind the penultimate chapter of George Orwell’s 1984.  Winston is in prison, under the thumb of his interrogator and torturer, O’Brien, and realizes that he has been under surveillance of the Thought Police for the last seven years.  He writes these three sentences in an attempt to prove that he has recuperated and is ready to think as and whatever the regime thinks:




Whatever stance we adopt toward terrorism, we must ensure that our position makes sense and we do not become what we oppose.

1 Shakespeare used this treatment of madness for comic effect in his play Twelfth Night.

Sunday 11 January 2015

The Many Ways that the Evaluations of Teachers Go Astray

The difficulty of arguing against the evaluating of teachers is that it seems so obvious, so common-sensical:  you evaluate the teachers and, as a result, the good ones get better, the incorrigibles move on, and education overall improves.  Despite the rock-solid logic of the abstract theory, in practice, they typically turn out to be half-baked, ill conceived, closed-minded, stifling, corrupt, vacuous, bluffing attempts at intimidation,  bureaucratic absurdities, and grounds for peevishness and petty jealousies.  Thanks to the good luck of the right chemistry and the generosity of my students I enjoyed favourable and gratifying evaluations throughout the last nineteen years of my teaching.  In terms of self interest, I should be strongly in favour, in fact, a defender of these evaluations.  I am in favour of some system, procedure or custom that would allow teachers’ work to be recognized, supported, encouraged, rewarded and improved, but the evaluations as they are carried out never seem to come close to these objectives.  I am only in favour of “some system” because without it good teaching would receive no recognition at all, but I remain ambivalent about whether this pursuit of recognition improves or undermines the quality of education overall.  

Prior to my being evaluated by students, my teaching was evaluated by a “Senior Teacher” who, despite the title, was a full-time administrator not a teacher, who would observe one class of my choosing every year.  I was a temporary Senior Teacher myself for a couple of years, and despite my determination to be conscientious in my observations, feedback and support, the tokenism of the process was beyond obvious, not to mention that every teacher’s objective was to get through the observation and not have to think about it for another year.  Tokenism, defensiveness and scapegoating replaced what should have been happening, such as regular meetings of teachers to discuss teaching, exchange ideas and offer invitations to observe each other’s classes.  These are the things that never happened at the university level and rarely in the other institutions where I taught.  To get at the real problems of evaluation you have to look at the details of specific cases.

For example, when I taught at a military college, the novelist Rock Carrier, who was Principal of the college, announced to the gathered faculty with an aporetic shrug that 80% of us had been evaluated as excellent the previous year.  “How could 80% of the faculty be excellent?” he asked rhetorically.  A directive had been received from Ottawa, the bureaucratic equivalent of “the word of God,” specifying that for the current year only 20% of teachers could be assessed as excellent.  I wondered how Rock Carrier would take it if the media decided that one of his novels could not receive a favourable review because the 20% quota of excellent novels had already been reached.  

For teachers of English like me, the situation was even worse because there were only four of us.  As our Senior Teacher pointed out, if he gave even one of the four of us an excellent assessment that would be 25% and in contravention of the directive from Ottawa.  He bravely suggested that since we had all been excellent teachers throughout our careers, he would be our Don Quixote and rebel against the regulations if we agreed to take turns being assessed as excellent teachers.  Each year, by mutual agreement, one of us would be excellent and the other three would volunteer to be something less.  The idea that teachers’ performances were actually being evaluated went out the window, and bureaucracy reigned. 

Thursday 1 January 2015

The Sour Glossary

actually (adverb)

as an actual or existing fact; really. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)
[False cognate warning: Francophones will sometimes mistakenly use “actually” (or actual) 
when they mean currently, presently, at the moment and up to date.]

allegory [. . .] 

symbolic fictional narrative that conveys a second meaning (or meanings) beyond the explicit, literal details of the story (my definition, adapted from Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature). A simple allegory would be something like a story about Mary Whiteteeth and Johnny Toothbrush and their enemy named Sugar. The story, in this case, is not about these three characters but about the importance of brushing your teeth.
"[. . .] the term allegory can refer to specific method of reading a text."

allusion (noun)

IIn literature, an implied or indirect reference to a person, event, thing or a part of another text. [. . . ] Allusions to biblical
figures and figures from classical mythology are common in Western literature [. . .]. (Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of

Apocrypha (noun)

1.   With a capital letter (Apocrypha) it means a group of 14 books, not considered canonical, included in the Septuagint
and the Vulgate as part of the Old Testament, but usually omitted from Protestant editions of the Bible.
2.   various religious writings of uncertain origin regarded by some as inspired, but rejected by most authorities.
3.  writings, statements, etc., of doubtful authorship or authenticity. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)
The opposite would be the canon.
apocryphal  (adjective)
1.   of doubtful authorship or authenticity.
2.   of or pertaining to the Apocrypha, of doubtful sanction; uncanonical.
3.  false; spurious: He told an apocryphal story about the sword, but the truth was later revealed. (Random House 
Unabridged Dictionary)

comedy (noun)

1. a play, movie, etc., of light and humorous character with a happy or cheerful ending; a dramatic work in which the
central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstance, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion.
2. that branch of the drama which concerns itself with this form of composition.
3. the comic element of drama, of literature generally, or of life.
4. any literary composition dealing with a theme suitable for comedy, or employing the methods of comedy.
5. any comic or humorous incident or series of incidents. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)

canon (noun)

5.   a standard; criterion: the canons of taste.
6.   the books of the Bible recognized by any Christian church as genuine and inspired.
7.   any officially recognized set of sacred books.
8.   any comprehensive list of books within a field.
9.   the works of an author that have been accepted as authentic: There are 37 plays in the Shakespeare canon.
 (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)
The opposite would be  Apocrypha. The adjective form is "canonical."
Note that in literary studies the word "canon" has sometimes been used to identify those books considered to be part
of "great literature" and therefore worthy of study.

conceit (noun)

1. an excessively favorable opinion of one's own ability, importance, wit, etc.
2. something that is conceived in the mind; a thought; idea: He jotted down the conceits of his idle hours.
3. imagination; fancy.
4. a fancy; whim; fanciful notion.

5. an elaborate, fanciful metaphor, especially of a strained or far-fetched nature.

6. the use of such metaphors as a literary characteristic, esp. in poetry. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)
Note: 5 and 6 (above) are the relevant definitions for literary studies.

consummate (verb)

1. to bring to a state of perfection; fulfill.
2. to complete (an arrangement, agreement, or the like) by a pledge or the signing of a contract: The company
consummated its deal to buy a smaller firm.
3. to complete (the union of a marriage) by the first marital sexual intercourse. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)

courtly love

"A modern term for the literary cult of heterosexual love that emerged among the French aristocracy from the late 11th
century onwards, with a profound effect on subsequent Western attitudes to love. [ . . . .] An elaborate code of behaviour
emerged around the tormented male lover's abject obedience to a disdainful, idealized lady, who was usually his social
superior. [. . . .] this form of adoration also imitated both feudal servitude and Christian worship, despite celebrating the
excitements of clandestine adultery (as in stories of Lancelot and Guinevere) rather than the then merely economic
relationship of marriage" (The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms).  A  philosophy of love and a code of lovemaking
which flourished in chivalric times, first in France and later in other countries, especially in England. The exact origins of
the system cannot be traced, but fashions set by the Provençal troubadours and ideas drawn from the
Orient and especially from Ovid were probably the chief sources. The conditions of the feudal society and the
veneration of the Virgin Mary, both of which tended to give a new dignity and veneration to woman,* also affected it.
 [. . . .] Andreas Capellanus late in the twelfth century wrote a treatise in which he summarized prevailing notions of
courtly love through imaginary conversations and through his thirty-one "rules"** (A Handbook to Literature).
*Note that in some interpretations of history, the Catholic Church raised the profile and importance of the Blessed
Virgin in order to counter the growing popularity and influence of courtly love.**In recent times, Ellen Fein and Sherrie
 Sneider wrote a series of popular books with the repeated title of The Rules instructing women on how to behave on
dates and in relationships with men."

coy (adjective)

1. artfully or affectedly shy or reserved; slyly hesitant; coquettish.
2. shy; modest.
3. showing reluctance, especially when insincere or affected, to reveal one's plans or opinions, make a commitment,
or take a stand (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)
If we deconstruct (that is, study the history) of the word “coy,” we will discover that it is most often applied to women. In fact,
being coy was for a long time considered part of traditional, typical and expected female behaviour. Being coy was considered
part of the “essence” of being a woman. Therefore, when a woman said “no,” it was understood that she really meant “yes.” The
word “coy” is a good example to demonstrate how sexism can be subtly inscribed in the language. In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet
actually apologizes to Romeo for her failing to be coy, but she tells him, “I’ll prove more true than those that have the cunning to
be strange.” “To be strange” here means the same thing as “to be coy.”

cuckold (noun)

1. the husband of an unfaithful wife.
2. to make a cuckold of (a husband).
[ allusion to the cuckoo's habit of laying its eggs in other birds' nests] (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)

deconstruction (noun)

a philosophical and critical movement, starting in the 1960s and especially applied to the study of literature, that questions all
traditional assumptions about the ability of language to represent reality and emphasizes that a text has no stable reference or
identification because words essentially only refer to other words [. . .] (Random House Unabridged Dictionary).
This term and its verb form, “to deconstruct,” are strongly associated with Jacques Derrida, a French philosopher, and a paper he
delivered in 1966 at Johns Hopkins University entitled “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences.” When
questioned after the presentation, Derrida defined deconstruction by saying: “Here or there I have used the word déconstruction,
which has nothing to do with destruction. That is to say, it is simply a question of (and this is the necessity of criticism in the
classical sense of the word) being alert to the implications, to the historical sedimentation of the language we use [. . .].” (Davis, Robert
Con ed. Contemporary Literary Criticism 497).
In Against Deconstruction, John M. Ellis pointed out that deconstruction turns out to be principally a movement against essentialism (35).
By deconstructing words, and therefore concepts, we discover that they are constructed over time within a culture and in relation to
other words. The meaning of a word does not come from its reference to an “essence” existing in reality and outside of language.

decorum ( noun)

1. dignified propriety of behavior, speech, dress, etc.
2. the quality or state of being decorous; orderliness; regularity.
3. Usually, decorums. an observance or requirement of polite society.
—Synonyms: politeness, manners, dignity. See etiquette.

dialectic (adjective) Also, dialectical.

1. of, pertaining to, or of the nature of logical argumentation.
2. dialectal.
3. the art or practice of logical discussion as employed in investigating the truth of a theory or opinion.
4. logical argumentation.
5. Often, dialectics.
a. logic or any of its branches.
b. any formal system of reasoning or thought.

dysphemism (noun)

1.   the substitution of a harsh, disparaging, or unpleasant expression for a more neutral one.
2.   an expression so substituted. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)
The antonym (word meaning the opposite) is euphemism. Some examples of common dysphemisms are: "knocked up" (for pregnant),
 "to fuck" (for " to have sexual intercourse"), "on the rag" (for "menstruating"), " pissed off" (for " angry").

dystopia (noun)

a modern term invented as the opposite of utopia, and applied to any alarmingly unpleasant imaginary world, usually of the projected future. The term is also applied to fictional works depicting such worlds. A significant form of science fiction and of modern satire,
dystopian writing is exemplified in H.G. Wells's The Time Machine (1895) and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). (Concise 
Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms)

earnest (adjective)

1. serious in intention, purpose, or effort; sincerely zealous: an earnest worker.
2. showing depth and sincerity of feeling: earnest words; an earnest entreaty.
3. seriously important; demanding or receiving serious attention.
Synonyms: fervent, intent, purposeful, determined, industrious, ambitious. EARNEST, RESOLUTE, SERIOUS, SINCERE imply having
qualities of depth and firmness. EARNEST implies having a purpose and being steadily and soberly eager in pursuing it: an earnest
student. RESOLUTE adds a quality of determination: resolute in defending the right. SERIOUS implies having depth and a soberness
 of attitude that contrasts with gaiety and frivolity; it may include the qualities of both earnestness and resolution: serious and thoughtful.
 SINCERE suggests genuineness, trustworthiness, and absence of superficiality: a sincere interest in music. (Random House 
Unabridged Dictionary)

essay (noun)

a short written composition in prose that discusses a subject or proposes an argument without claiming to be a complete or thorough
exposition. A minor literary form, the essay is more relaxed than the formal academic dissertation. The term ('trying out') was coined by
the French writer Michel de Montaigne in the tile of his Essais (1580), the first modern example of the form. Francis Bacon's Essays
(1597) began the tradition of essays in English. (Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms)


The idea that words get their meanings from one-to-one correspondence with the “essences” of objects in the world.  

etiquette (noun)

1. conventional requirements as to social behavior; proprieties of conduct as established in any class or community or for any occasion.
2. a prescribed or accepted code of usage in matters of ceremony, as at a court or in official or other formal observances.
3. the code of ethical behavior regarding professional practice or action among the members of a profession in their dealings with each
other: medical etiquette.
[ —Synonyms:  DECORUMPROPRIETY imply observance of the formal requirements governing behavior in polite society.
ETIQUETTE refers to conventional forms and usages: the rules of etiquette. DECORUM suggests dignity and a sense of what is
becoming or appropriate for a person of good breeding: a fine sense of decorum. PROPRIETY (usually plural) implies established conventions of morals and good taste: She never fails to observe the proprieties.

ethnocentrism (noun)

1. the belief in the inherent superiority of one's own ethnic group or culture.
2. a tendency to view alien groups or cultures from the perspective of one's own.
(Random House Unabridged Dictionary)

etymology (noun)
1. the derivation of a word.
2. an account of the history of a particular word or element of a word.
3. the study of historical linguistic change, esp. as manifested in individual words
(Random House Unabridged Dictionary)

euphemism (noun)

1.   the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt.
2.   the expression so substituted: "To pass away'" is a euphemism for "to die." (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)
The antonym (word meaning the opposite) is dysphemism. Some examples of euphemisms are: "being in a family way" (for "pregnant")
"having her lady's time" (for menstruating), "making love" or "being intimate" (for "having sexual intercourse"), "powder room" (for "toilet")

fate (noun)

1. something that unavoidably befalls a person; fortune; lot: It is always his fate to be left behind.
2. the universal principle or ultimate agency by which the order of things is presumably prescribed; the decreed cause of events; time:
Fate decreed that they would never meet again.
3. that which is inevitably predetermined; destiny: Death is our ineluctable fate.
4. a prophetic declaration of what must be: The oracle pronounced their fate.
5. death, destruction, or ruin.
6. the Fates, in Classical Mythology, three goddesses of destiny, known to the Greeks as the Moerae and to the Romans as the Parcae.
(Random House Unabridged Dictionary)
NB This word is important and often comes up in discussions of tragedy.  Be careful not to confuse the word “fate” (destiny) with “faith” (religious or
spiritual belief). Fate is often an important theme in tragedy. We see this theme in Oedipus, the King and Romeo and 
Juliet. Some readers might also see the theme of fate in Streetcar Named Desire.

genre (noun)

 A type or category of literature or film marked by certain shared features or conventions. The three broadest categories of genre include

poetry, drama, and fiction. These general genres are often subdivided into more specific genres and subgenres. For instance, precise examples of genres might include murder mysteries, westerns, sonnets, lyric poetry, epics, tragedies, etc. Bookstores, libraries, and services like Redbox or Netflix may label and subdivide their books or films into genres for the convenience of shoppers seeking a specific category of literature.  (Literary Terms and Definitions at

I have typically listed the literary genres as poetry, drama and prose, with prose divided in fiction and non-fiction, fiction into novels and

short stories.  As you can see the number of genres can quickly expand and become a bit chaotic.  I have found it useful to offer this pie
chart to illustrate the differences and connections among tragedy, comedy, satire and melodrama--the most typical genres of drama and

Comedy and tragedy are in direct opposition to each other in terms of their most typical features; nonetheless, there is a genre called 
tragicomedy which incorporates features of both.  Satire and melodrama are directly opposed to each other, but G.B. Shaw labelled his 
play The Devil's Disciple "a melodrama," while intending it to be a satire.  All variations are possible.  However, the line between 
side-by-side genres is sometimes blurry and often debated when it comes time to categorize a specific literary work. For example, 
historically some critics have claimed that the play, Streetcar Named Desire isn't a tragedy, but that it is a melodrama.  Both genres 
share intense emotions as a potential feature.  A melodrama shares features of both tragedy and comedy.  Some comedies seem close 
to melodrama, in particular, if they are love stories.  We typically categorize these plays, films and stories as romantic comedies.  Some 
satires lean strongly toward comedy, like the short stories and novels of Kurt Vonnegut.  Some satires lean toward tragedy like Orwell's 
1984 and Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.

The pie chart is useful in clarifying some of what is going on in the film adaptations of literary works; i.e. how much a work is being 

transformed and effects of specific changes.  For example, Kurt Vonnegut's short story "Who am this time?" is a comic satire, but is 
transformed into a romantic comedy in the TV movie of the same name.  By changing the ending of the play in the film version, Elia 
Kazen transformed Streetcar Named Desire from a tragedy with satiric leanings into a melodrama.  Film adaptation of A Handmaid's 
Tale transformed the story into a melodrama, and so on.

grammar (noun)

1. the study of the way the sentences of a language are constructed; morphology and syntax.
2. these features or constructions themselves: English grammar.
3. an account of these features; a set of rules accounting for these constructions: a grammar of English.
4. Generative Grammar. a device, as a body of rules, whose output is all of the sentences that are permissible in a given language,
while excluding all those that are not permissible.
5. See prescriptive grammar.
6. knowledge or usage of the preferred or prescribed forms in speaking or writing: She said his grammar was terrible.
7. the elements of any science, art, or subject.
8. a book treating such elements. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)

haste (noun)

1. swiftness of motion; speed; celerity: He performed his task with great haste. They felt the need for haste.
2. urgent need of quick action; a hurry or rush: to be in haste to get ahead in the world.
3. unnecessarily quick action; thoughtless, rash, or undue speed: Haste makes waste. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)
Adjective form is "hasty." Traditional expression "to make haste" means "to hurry" or "to rush."

Hegelian dialectic (noun)

an interpretive method, originally used to relate specific entities or events to the absolute idea, in which some assertible proposition
(thesis) is necessarily opposed by an equally assertible and apparently contradictory proposition (antithesis), the mutual contradiction
being reconciled on a higher level of truth by a third proposition (synthesis).

hegemony (noun)

"the OED defines that which is 'hegemonic' as 'the ruling part, the master-principle'. Often used to refer to power which is so dominant
that it appears unquestionable, even natural" ("Glossary." Allen, Graham. Intertextuality).

hermeneutics (noun)

The science of interpretation.

heterosexual ( adjective)

1. of, pertaining to, or exhibiting heterosexuality.
2. Biol. pertaining to the opposite sex or to both sexes.
3. a heterosexual person.
heterosexuality (noun)
sexual feeling or behavior directed toward a person or persons of the opposite sex.

hyperbole (noun)

A figure of speech that is an intentional exaggeration for emphasis or comic effect. (Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature)

hypocrisy (noun)

1. a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess.
2. a pretense of having some desirable or publicly approved attitude.
hypocrite (noun)
1. a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, esp. a
person whose actions belie stated beliefs.
2. a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, esp. one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her
public statements.
—hypocritical (adjective)
—hypocritically (adverb)
—Synonyms: deceiver, dissembler, pretender, pharisee.

ideology (noun)

1.the body of doctrine, myth, belief, etc., that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group.
2. such a body of doctrine, myth, etc., with reference to some political and social plan, as that of fascism, along with the devices for
putting it into operation.
3. in philosophy, the study of the nature and origin of ideas.a system that derives ideas exclusively from sensation.
4. theorizing of a visionary or impractical nature. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)
in his book Ideology: An Introduction, Terry Eagleton describes ideology as follows: " A dominant power may legitimate itself by
promoting beliefs and values congenial to it; naturalizing and universalizing such beliefs so as to render them self-evident and
apparently inevitable; denigrating ideas which might challenge it; excluding rival forms of thought, perhaps by some unspoken but
systematic logic; and obscuring social reality in ways convenient to itself. Such `mystification', as it is commonly known, frequently
takes the form of masking or suppressing social conflicts, from which arises the conception of ideology as an imaginary resolution of
real contradictions" (5-6).

intertextuality (noun)

a term coined by Julia Kristeva to designate the various relationships that a given text may have with other texts. These intertextual relationships include anagram, allusion, adaptation, translation, parody, pastiche, imitation and other kinds of transformation. The literary theories of structuralism and post-structuralism, texts are seen to refer to other texts (or to themselves as texts) rather than to external reality. The term intertext has been used variously for a text drawing on other texts, for a text thus drawn upon, and for the
relationship between both. (Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms)

In Intertextuality, Graham Allen describes "intertextuality" in the opening of the book this way:

The idea that when we read a work of literature we are seeking to find a meaning which lies inside that work seems completely commonsensical. Literary texts possess meaning; readers extract that meaning from them. We call the process of extracting meaning from texts reading or interpretation. Despite their apparent obviousness, such ideas have been radically challenged in contemporary literary and cultural theory. Works of literature, after all, are built from systems, codes and traditions established by previous works of
literature. The systems, codes and traditions of other art forms and of culture in general are also crucial to the meaning of a work of literature. Texts, whether they be literary or non-literary, are viewed by modern theorists as lacking in any kind of independent meaning. They are what theorists now call intertextual. The act of reading, theorists claim, plunges us into a network of textual relations. To
interpret a text, to discover its meaning or meanings, is to trace those relations. Reading thus becomes a process of moving between texts. Meaning becomes something which exists between a text and all other texts to which it refers and relates, moving out from the independent text into a network of textual relations. The text becomes the intertext. (1)

irony (noun)

The three traditional types of irony are:
i) verbal irony, saying something but you mean something else, sometimes the opposite (antiphrasis); this is the dictionary definition
(i.e., opposite meaning) but this is rare in real life and literature.  When people think of "irony," what often comes to mind is "sarcasm,"
which is a low form of verbal irony.
ii) situational irony; when the opposite of what we expect to happen happens; also called the irony of fate; this strongly applies to
Oedipus, the King
iii) dramatic irony; so-called because it often occurs in plays (theatre, film and TV); a situation becomes amusing because we know
something that one or more of the characters doesn’t; example, John starts talking to his wife Mary about his “good friend” Steven
while Steven is hiding in the bedroom closet

Linda Hutcheon, in Irony's Edge, describes what she calls "semantic irony" as always having two meanings and those meanings rub
against each other. What is the final meaning of an ironic statement? Consider the rabbit/duck image:

 As with the duck/rabbit image,  irony “happens” when we are faced with two or more meanings and they conflict with each other.
We have to hold on to both (or all) the meanings.

The problem with these various descriptions and types of irony (verbal, situational, dramatic, semantic) is that they all seem so
different from one another.  In my own thinking, Paul de Man's description of irony as an extended form of "parabasis" (179) is useful
because it is more encompassing and comprehensive than anything else I have encountered. "Parabasis," in de Man's words, "is the
interruption of a discourse by a shift in rhetorical register" (178).

I see the shift of register (of say from a serious tone to comic or vice versa, or maybe religious register to scientific, or formal to
vernacular) as the key to signaling verbal irony. The idea of "the interruption of a discourse" goes a long way in describing all forms
of irony.  "Discourse" in a basic sense is just the way sentences are held or glued together with expression like "on the other hand,"
 "however," "additionally" and "in conclusion."  A discourse can be something broader and vaguer like the theme of a composition or
 speech which we can demonstrate by noting repeated words, synonyms or concepts. Putting something into a speech that contracts
or seems to mock the seriousness of your own theme can be called "ironic."  A "narrative discourse" is how a story is held together,
usually through a build-up of expectations based on the formulas that stories often follow or thematic elements and the ethos of the
characters.  Irony in this case is a particular twist in the story that contradicts expectation in a particularly sharp, incisive, poetic and
surprising way; i.e, "situational irony."  To reach my conclusion I have to invent another form of discourse, which I would have to call
"mental discourse" which is a mental construct of our expectations which erases the absolute distinction between a discourse and a
situation.  Imagine you are looking out the window on a cold, rainy, sleet-filled day and a friend sidles up beside you and says
"Beautiful weather."  You both know that he is being ironic because his comment contradicts, is incongruous in, this situation.  I would
describe this situation as a "mental discourse" of expectations which his comment "interrupts."  The same argument can be applied to
dramatic irony.

You might argue that the "interruption of a discourse" could be something random rather than ironic.  I have noticed that many
instances of what I would call "ironic" and consequently comic or dramatic, my son and his cohort call "random."   The ironic and
the random are clearly on the same axis.  

To return to the pedagogical issue discussed in my posting on irony (Do No Harm Part II:  Avoid Irony), keep in mind, that if you
employ irony in your teaching or lecturing, you are "interrupting" your own discourse.

literal (adjective)

1. in accordance with, involving, or being the primary or strict meaning of the word or words; not figurative or metaphorical: the
literal meaning of a word.
2. following the words of the original very closely and exactly: a literal translation of Goethe.
3. true to fact; not exaggerated; actual or factual: a literal description of conditions.
4. being actually such, without exaggeration or inaccuracy: the literal extermination of a city.
5. (of persons) tending to construe words in the strict sense or in an unimaginative way; matter-of-fact; prosaic. (Random House
Unabridged Dictionary)

literary (adjective)

1. pertaining to or of the nature of books and writings, especially those classed as literature: literary history.
2. pertaining to authorship: literary style.
3. versed in or acquainted with literature; well-read. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)

love (noun)

1. a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
2. a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
3. sexual passion or desire.
4. a person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart.
5. (used in direct address as a term of endearment, affection, or the like): Would you like to see a movie, love?
6. a love affair; an intensely amorous incident; amour.
7. sexual intercourse; copulation.
8. (cap.) a personification of sexual affection, as Eros or Cupid.
9. affectionate concern for the well-being of others: the love of one's neighbor.
10. strong predilection, enthusiasm, or liking for anything: her love of books.
11. the object or thing so liked: The theater was her great love.
12. the benevolent affection of God for His creatures, or the reverent affection due from them to God.
13. Chiefly Tennis. a score of zero; nothing.
14. a word formerly used in communications to represent the letter L.
15. for love,
a. out of affection or liking; for pleasure.
b. without compensation; gratuitously: He took care of the poor for love.
16. for the love of, in consideration of; for the sake of: For the love of mercy, stop that noise.
17. in love, infused with or feeling deep affection or passion: a youth always in love.
18. in love with, feeling deep affection or passion for (a person, idea, occupation, etc.); enamored of: in love with the girl next door;
 in love with one's work.
19. make love,
a. to embrace and kiss as lovers.
b. to engage in sexual activity.
20. no love lost, dislike; animosity: There was no love lost between the two brothers.
21. to have love or affection for: All her pupils love her.
22. to have a profoundly tender, passionate affection for (another person).
23. to have a strong liking for; take great pleasure in: to love music.
24. to need or require; benefit greatly from: Plants love sunlight.
25. to embrace and kiss (someone), as a lover.
26. to have sexual intercourse with.
27. to have love or affection for another person; be in love.
28. love up, to hug and cuddle: She loves him up every chance she gets.
—Syn. 1. tenderness, fondness, predilection, warmth, passion, adoration. 1, 2. LOVE, AFFECTION, DEVOTION all mean a deep
and enduring emotional regard, usually for another person. LOVE may apply to various kinds of regard: the charity of the Creator,
reverent adoration toward God or toward a person, the relation of parent and child, the regard of friends for each other, romantic
feelings for another person, etc. AFFECTION is a fondness for others that is enduring and tender, but calm. DEVOTION is an i
ntense love and steadfast, enduring loyalty to a person; it may also imply consecration to a cause. 2. liking, inclination, regard,
 friendliness. 21. like. 22. adore, adulate, worship.
—Ant. 1, 2. hatred, dislike. 21, 22. detest, hate. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)

maidenhead (noun)

1. the hymen.
2. maidenhood; virginity.

metaphor (noun)

1. a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a
resemblance, as in "A mighty fortress is our God.'
2. something used, or regarded as being used, to represent something else; emblem; symbol (Random House Unabridged Dictionary).

metaphysical (adjective)

1.pertaining to or of the nature of metaphysics.
2. In philosophy: concerned with abstract thought or subjects, as existence, causality, or truth. Concerned with first principles and
ultimate grounds, as being, time, or substance.
3. highly abstract, subtle, or abstruse.
4. designating or pertaining to the poetry of an early group of 17th-century English poets, notably John Donne, whose characteristic
style is highly intellectual and philosophical and features intensive use of ingenious conceits and turns of wit

metonym (noun)

a figure of speech that consists of the use of the name of one object or concept for that of another to which it is related, or of which it is
a part, as "scepter' for "sovereignty,' or "the bottle' for "strong drink,' or "count heads (or noses)' for "count people." (Random House
Unabridged Dictionary)
See Wikipedia for a discussion of the concept of metonymy, as opposed to metaphor, and its importance in cognition and linguistics.

nature (noun)

Few terms are so important to the student of literature--and so difficult--as this one. [. . . .] Both neoclassicists and romanticists would
 "follow Nature"; but the former drew from the term ideas of order, regularity, and universality, both in "external" nature and in human
nature, while the latter found in nature the justification for their enthusiasm for irregularity ('wildness") in external nature and for
individualism in human nature. Other contradictory senses may be noted: the term nature might mean, on the one hand, human 
nature (typical human behavior), or, on the other hand, whatever is antithetical to human nature and human works--ahs has not been
 "spoiled" by human beings. (A Handbook to Literature)

novel (noun)

a prose narrative fiction of considerable length and complexity

oxymoron (noun)

a figure of speech which seems incongruous or contradictory, or has a seemingly self-contradictory effect, as in "cruel kindness' or "to
make haste slowly." (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)
In the poem "To His Coy Mistress," "vegetable love" is an example of an oxymoron. In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet tells Romeo that
"parting is such sweet sorrow." "Sweet sorrow" has become the most famous oxymoron in English literature. (Random House 
Unabridged Dictionary)

pantheism (noun)

A philosophic-religious attitude which finds the spirit of God manifest in all things and which holds that whereas all things speak the
glory of God it is equally true that the glory of God is made up of all things. Finite objects are at once both God and the manifestation
of God. The term is impossible to define exactly since it is so personal a conviction as to be differently interpreted by different
philosophers but for its literary significance, it is clearly enough described as an ardent faith in NATURE as both the revelation of
deity and deity itself. (A Handbook to Literature)

personification (noun)

1. the attribution of a personal nature or character to inanimate objects or abstract notions, esp. as a rhetorical figure.
2. the representation of a thing or abstraction in the form of a person, as in art.
3. the person or thing embodying a quality or the like; an embodiment or incarnation: He is the personification of tact.
4. an imaginary person or creature conceived or figured to represent a thing or abstraction. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)

play (noun)

1. a dramatic composition or piece; drama.
2. a dramatic performance, as on the stage. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)

poem (noun)

a composition in verse

postmodernism (noun)

term used to designate a multitude of trends in the arts, philosophy, religion, technology, and many other areas that come after and
deviate from the many 20th-century movements that constituted modernism. [. . .. ] Widely debated with regard to its meaning and
implications, postmodernism has also been said to relate to the culture of capitalism as it has developed since the 1960s. In general,
the postmodern view is cool, ironic, and accepting of the fragmentation of contemporary existence. It tends to concentrate on surfaces
rather than depths, to blur the distinctions between high and low culture, and as a whole to challenge a wide variety of traditional
cultural values. (The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition)

poststructuralism (noun)

Any of various theories or methods of analysis, including deconstruction and some psychoanalytic theories, that deny the validity of
structuralism's method of binary opposition and maintain that meanings and intellectual categories are shifting and unstable. (The 
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition.)

promiscuity (noun)

1. the state of being promiscuous.
2. promiscuous sexual behavior.
3. an indiscriminate mixture.
promiscuous (adjective)
1. characterized by or involving indiscriminate mingling or association, esp. having sexual relations with a number of partners on a
casual basis.
2. consisting of parts, elements, or individuals of different kinds brought together without order.
3. indiscriminate; without discrimination.
4. casual; irregular; haphazard.
—Syn. 1. unchaste. 2. hodgepodge, confused, mixed, jumbled. See miscellaneous. 3. careless.
—Ant. 1, 2. pure. 3. selective.

propriety (noun)

1. conformity to established standards of good or proper behavior or manners.
2. appropriateness to the purpose or circumstances; suitability.
3. rightness or justness.
4. the proprieties, the conventional standards of proper behavior; manners: to observe the proprieties.
—Synonyms: decency, modesty. See etiquette. 2. aptness, fitness, seemliness. 3. correctness.

psychoanalysis ( noun)

1. a systematic structure of theories concerning the relation of conscious and unconscious psychological processes.
2. a technical procedure for investigating unconscious mental processes and for treating psychoneuroses. (Random House 
Unabridged Dictionary)

pun (noun)

1. the humorous use of a word or phrase so as to emphasize or suggest its different meanings or applications, or the use of words
that are alike or nearly alike in sound but different in meaning; a play on words.
2. the word or phrase used in this way.
3. to make puns. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)
For examples and further discussion see:

Puritan (noun)

1. a member of a group of Protestants that arose in the 16th century within the Church of England, demanding the simplifications
of doctrine and worship, and greater strictness in religious discipline: during part of the 17th century the Puritans became a powerful
political party.
2. a person who is strict in moral or religious matters, often excessively so. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)
Note: When referring to a member of this religious group, "Puritan" is capitalized. When referring to someone who is "strict in moral
or religious matters" but not a member of the religious group, "puritan" is in lower case. The adjective form is "puritanical."

quenchen (verb)

Middle English verb meaning "quench, extinguish, put an end to." ("Glossary." The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. 2nd Edtion, edited
by F.N. Robinson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1957.)

queynte (noun)

"pudendum" [that is, female genitalia, vulva, vagina] ("Glossary." The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. 2nd Edtion, edited by F.N. Robinson.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1957.)
Note: the word is derived from the verb "quenchen."
queynte (adjective)
"strange, curious, curiously contrived; elaborate, ornamented; neat; artful, sly; graceful; 'make it queynte,' be offish or disdainful, make
it strange or difficult; also show pleasure or satisfaction. ("Glossary." The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. 2nd Edtion, edited by F.N.
Robinson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1957.)
Note we can see both the noun and adjective forms of the Middle English word "queynte" in the description of Nicolas's first attempt
to make a pass at Alyson in "The Miller's Tale":

Whil that hir housbonde was at Oseneye,

As clerkes ben ful subtile and ful queynte
And privelyy he caught hire by the queynte,
And seyde, "Ywis, but if ich have my wille,
For deerne love of thee, lemman, I spille." (3274-3278)

raisonneur (noun)

A character in a drama who is the level-headed, calm personification of reason and logical action. (A Handbook to Literature)

restoration (noun)

1. the act of restoring; renewal, revival, or reestablishment.
2. the state or fact of being restored.
3. a return of something to a former, original, normal, or unimpaired condition.
4. restitution of something taken away or lost.
5. something that is restored, as by renovating.
6. a reconstruction or reproduction of an ancient building, extinct animal, or the like, showing it in its original state.
7. a putting back into a former position, dignity, etc.
8. Dentistry.
a. the work, process, or result of replacing or restoring teeth or parts of teeth.
b. something that restores or replaces teeth or parts of teeth, as a filling, crown, or denture.

9. the Restoration,

a. the re-establishment of the monarchy in England with the return of Charles II in 1660.

b. the period of the reign of Charles II (1660–85), sometimes extended to include the reign of James II (1685–88).
10. (cap) of, pertaining to, or characteristic of the Restoration: Restoration manners.

Restoration comedy

English comedy of the period of the Restoration, stressing manners and social satire.

rhetoric (noun)

1. (in writing or speech) the undue use of exaggeration or display; bombast.
2. the art or science of all specialized literary uses of language in prose or verse, including the figures of speech.
3. the study of the effective use of language.
4. the ability to use language effectively.
5. the art of prose in general as opposed to verse.
6. the art of making persuasive speeches; oratory.
7. (in classical oratory) the art of influencing the thought and conduct of an audience.
(Random House Unabridged Dictionary)

satire (noun)

"a text which ridicules [mocks] or ironically comments on socially recognizable tendencies [and the tendencies of a society] or the
style or form of another text or author" ("Glossary." Allen, Graham. Intertextuality).

scabbard (noun)

The holster or case in which the blade of a sword or dagger is kept; a sheath. The English word "vagina" (1682) and the French word
"vagin" derive from the Latin "vagin" or "vagino" meaning scabbord or sheath. Pictures of scabbards and swords.

semiotics, or semiolgogy

"The systematic study of signs, or, more precisely, of the production of meanings from sign-systems, linguistic or non-linguistic"
(Baldick, Chris. Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms). "Sign-systems can be any recognizable field of human communication.
Clothing might signify withing the cultural fashion system, for example. semiotics and semiology as developed in structuralism and
poststructuralism can treat anything emanating from a signifying system as a text to be read" (Allen, Graham. Intertextuality. "Glossary.").

short story (noun)

a piece of prose fiction, usually under 10,000 words. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)

shrift (noun)

1. the imposition of penance by a priest on a penitent after confession.
2. absolution or remission of sins granted after confession and penance.
3. confession to a priest. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)

simile (noun)

a figure of speech in which two unlike things are explicitly compared, as in "she is like a rose." (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)

structuralism (noun)

1.   any theory that embodies structural principles.

2.   See structural anthropology.

3. See structural linguistics." a movement which stems particularly from Saussure's vision of semiology, the study of all the

sign-systems operative in culture. Structuralism took texts, from works of literature to aspects of everyday communication, and
accounted for them in terms of the system from which they were produced" ("Glossary." Allen, Graham. Intertextuality. )
structural anthropology
a school of anthropology founded by Claude Lévi-Strauss and based loosely on the principles of structural linguistics
structural linguistics
1.   approach to language study in which a language is analyzed as an independent network of formal systems, each of which is
composed of elements that are defined in terms of their contrasts with other elements in the system. (Random House Unabridged

tragedy (noun)

1. a dramatic composition, often in verse, dealing with a serious or somber theme, typically that of a great person destined through a
 flaw of character or conflict with some overpowering force, as fate or society, to downfall or destruction.
2. the branch of the drama that is concerned with this form of composition.
3. the art and theory of writing and producing tragedies.
4. any literary composition, as a novel, dealing with a somber theme carried to a tragic conclusion.
5. the tragic element of drama, of literature generally, or of life.
6. a lamentable, dreadful, or fatal event or affair; calamity; disaster: the tragedy of war.
[[ goat + song; reason for name variously explained] (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)

transtextuality (noun)

" . . . all that sets the text in a relationship, whether obvious or concealed, with other texts" (Genette, Gérard. Palimpsests: Literature 
in the Second Degree). Genette's term "transtextuality" is his particular variation on the idea most other critics call intertextuality. He
reduces the term intertextuality to "a relationship of copresence between two texts or among several texts . . . the actual presence
of one text within another." ("Glossary." Allen, Graham. Intertextuality. )
Genette categories the various forms of transtextuality; that is, all the possible relations between two texts, as follows:
i) intertextuality: quotation, allusion and plagiarism
ii) paratextuality: titles, covers, epigraphs, introductions
iii) metatextual: a critical relationship
iv) architextuality: genre suggested by title
v) hypertextuality: hypertext to hypotext; film adaptations are often described as "hypertexts" with the literary upon which the film is
based called a "hypotext"

Utopia [or utopia] (noun)

1. an imaginary island described in Sir Thomas More's Utopia (1516) as enjoying perfection in law, politics, etc.
2. an ideal place or state.
3. any visionary system of political or social perfection. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)
[literally, "utopia" = no where]

woo (verb)

to seek the favor [favour], affection, or love of, especially with a view to marriage.
Synonyms: court, pursue, chase.
Origin: before 1050; Middle English "wowe," Old English "wōgian"  ( Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.)

As discussed in my earlier posting, "How to Make Love to a Logophile," until the 1920s the expression "to make love" meant "to court"
or "to woo."  "Woo" is used a half dozen times in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.  My favourite instance occurs when Juliet realizes
that she has not followed the proper feminine behaviour according to the rules of courtly love and tells Romeo:
"[. . .]if thou think'st I am too quickly won,
I'll frown and be perverse an say thee nay,
So thou wilt woo; [. . .]"

Why Is the Vagina Masculine? And What’s the Alternative?

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