Saturday, April 16, 2016

Man's Speech Must Exceed his Grasp, Else What's a Meta For?

Normally, my classes tend to explain some aspect of the medieval mind. Sometimes they are even taught in persona, from the point of view of a 13th-century woman who has no knowledge of the modern world.
In my last class for a Bardic Madness (at least for a while) I broke with that trend, and used cable TV and 1940s radio to encourage bards to more interesting speech. My plan was to demolish trite phrases, cliché expressions, weasel words, and pleonasms by encouraging more engaging metaphors.
Aristotle suggests how to do this in On Poetics XXII, so I'm not making stuff up. He says that the poet must see the scene portrayed with "utmost vividness". Metaphors, which both deviate from normal language (thus being distinctive) and conform partially to normal language (bringing it clarity) aid in that portrayal.
Old time radio programs depended on language alone to draw the scene. For some examples, I recommend listening to "Pat Novak for Hire", a radio program that shot smart similes like a nervous gangster with a tommy gun.
Period examples of metaphoric scene-painting include Norse kennings, Chaucer's Prologue, and even Dante's Divine Comedy.
I brought some objects, pictures, and scenes for the class to describe in metaphor. (Look at the object on your left. Describe it as a skald or a Pat Novak writer might.)

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