Develop This!

Running dry on ideas? Only see “repetition” and the tone in one character’s lines? Really can’t find anything to say?

To develop your analysis of one point, you can think about the progression of a character / persona’s tone or effects — how the tone intensifies or shifts — while close-analysing the “key points” or “turning points” in the progression.

This close analysis means you have to: (i) explore the quotations in finer detail, looking out for nuances / minute differences (e.g. the reference to “Dad”); and (ii) explore the effects in finer detail, looking at how “desperation” is “not-so-desperate” early on, or how a patient appeal can escalate towards a firm demand.

Here are a couple of figures that might help, especially if you’re in the graph-plotting crowd. Evidently, I am too. 😉 Examples below are taken from the Proof (2000) extract in Paper 3 CA4.

Developing Your Analysis

Narration

In our second Lit Cut after the first one on metaphors, we will be studying the art of narration and the many different ways we can analyse the narrator. In the first half, we’re split hairs on what or who an omniscient narrator, limited narrator, first-person narrator, unreliable narrator all mean. Once our voices are hoarse with these literary terms, we’ll progress to analysing examples of Austen’s narrator from Pride and Prejudice.

Continue reading “Narration”

Unpinning the Dress

ITMFL2

In this extension tutorial, 17-E1 examines the use of voice and rhythm to Christine Chia‘s pithy and potent ‘New Year Dress’.  Remember to apply the skills of picking out (for voice) perspective, tone, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, (for rhythm) pauses, end-stopped lines and enjambment from our retread of Larkin’s ‘Mr Bleaney’. 🙂

New Year Dress

A dress is not just a dress
when your mother gives it to you
with the instruction that you
must wear it on the first day
of Chinese New Year.                                      5
You’ll never buy anything like that
but you put it on,
so that she’ll be happy,
radiant in front of the relatives
because she birthed you,                                10
clothed you, owned you,
like the dress she gave you.

> ‘.’ <

Write a critical paragraph on the above poem, relating it to the portrayal of the relationship between parent and child. You may respond to the guiding questions below, or roam free. Upon completion, let Mr. Lim know and await a few less-than-motherly words of affection. If given the green light, your newly clothed paragraph can see the light of day – post it as a comment here. Remember to leave your name somewhere!

> ‘.’ <

What

  • Who is the persona, and what are her feelings about the ‘New Year Dress’?

How

  • Why does the poem employ the second-person point of view (‘you’)? What is the tone, or attitude towards the dress?
  • Which words in lines 1-9 express the persona’s tone? Identify patterns of words (e.g. conjunctions, modal verbs, adjectives) and closely analyse how they evoke the tone.
  • Comment on the progression (change in effects) in lines 10-12, considering 1-2 features listed below:
    – Enumeration, or the listing of verbs (birthed, clothed, owned)
    – The repetition of ‘you’ at the end (i.e. epistrophe) and the pauses after ‘you’
    – The shift from enjambment (lines 1-5) to end-stopped lines (lines 10-12)

Why

  • What does the persona’s attitude towards the dress suggest about her relationship with her mother?
  • What can we say about the relationship between a parent and a child in general?

An Introduction to Drama

Rip You to Pieces

Hello students! We’ll be studying a grand total of THREE plays this year, so you should expect to be swimming in a lot of character dialogue, stage directions and ‘visualisation’ of stage action, stage movement and characters’ expression.

We will be using much of our tutorial time in the first few weeks of Term 2 to expose you to these aspects and how to read / analyse a dramatic text of course.

I thought you might find the following lecture I did in 2015 useful and maybe enjoyable (I know I did, but that’s me). You will also see for the umpteenth time my obsession with the Hamlet reference on the SCGS banner within the notes, so I apologise in advance. It did have a role in me teaching you, so maybe it’s not all that bad? Maybe? (P.S. I just used a mix of rhetorical questions).

That’s So Drama (Notes)

That’s So Drama (Slides)

Thoughts on ‘Buzzcut Season’

lorde-team

On song choice

In crafting today’s lecture, I went searching for something more contemporary like Anohni, Solange, maybe even Sia for us to pick apart but I returned to Lorde, whose lyrics  were no less accessible than the three listed artistes, no less socially conscious than the first, and no less evocative or scream-worthy than the latter two. The more prominent single ‘Royals’ was the basis of an introduction lecture a few years back (Memory! All alone in the moonlight!) and would recount a similar adolescent struggle with socio-economic class, media-inspired fantasy (here about celebrity and luxury) and an attempt, futile as it may be, at self-consolation – of being your own ‘ruler’ in your imaginary world.

The parallels between ‘Royals’ and ‘Buzzcut Season’ are drawn easily, even as the latter edges toward the more complex lines drawn between reality and simulation, the world as it is and the bubble that we sometimes isolate ourselves in. These lines, as noted in today’s reference to good boy Spicy, are harder to see. We could argue that fact and fiction are not just indistinguishable, but that fiction has come to subvert fact and fact is in permanent retreat.

On universality and ambiguity

‘Buzzcut Season’ makes no explicit reference to our context, because by the laws of time and space, it cannot. Its allusions to ‘men on the news’ and ‘explosions on TV’ are vague enough to refer to any context – the war on Iraq, the annexing of Crimea, or the lone-wolf terrorist attacks that turn up on our front pages. By that vagueness they acquire universality – it is the reader who puts together his or her knowledge of the world (see examples above), recovers his or her reaction to those events (e.g. despair, dejection) and finally connects to the persona’s abandonment, rejection or desire to escape from grim reality. This grimness stretches into the persona’s personal reality, starting from the image of constricted spaces (‘we ride the bus with the knees pulled in’) and ending on the revulsion towards expired ‘cola with the burnt-out taste’.

I think it is fair to say that the song, as one student aptly put it, leaves you with more questions than answers. What’s wrong with this ‘home’ the persona does not want to go back to? What really is this ‘hologram’ she is talking about? Place what call? And what’s so laughable about losing your hair or choosing to lose your hair in any case? The title of the song, ‘Buzzcut Season’ itself challenges our familiar conception of pop – sure, it could literally mean that many people are getting their heads shaved, probably in summer when it’s hot, but does it really make obvious its meaning in the same way, say, ‘I Don’t Wanna Live Forever’ does?

[Complete digression: the aforementioned song actually answers its own question. What is happening to you? Uh, you’re feeling crazy, you just told me this three lines earlier and a few more lines down!]

Like most of the poetry that we will encounter, ‘Buzzcut Season’ avoids the straightforward declarations of emotion and demands that you read and hear the teenage angst that pours out from its exclusion of ‘People‘ and ‘They‘, the wilfulness of ‘I’ll never go’ and ‘Shut my eyes…., and the self-justification of ‘But it’s so easy’ and ‘So now we live…’ None of the underlined words scream out their respective effects; it is the reader who analyses and interprets them.

 

On becoming a seasoned reader
What I am really trying to say is that it is OKAY to struggle in your first, second or even third reading of ‘Buzzcut Season’. The ambiguity, and universality, of the lyrics may be challenging at first, but these same qualities make it a rich text for you to make your own meaning of it… with reasoned analysis, lest we forget.

Despite the initial apprehension and lack of confidence, we were better placed in the second half of the lecture to claw at the song’s many possible ideas. Moving around, I saw that many of you had a clear sense of what you wanted to discuss, armed with a smattering of words drawn from the song itself. Just so you don’t feel alone, here are some struggles (again, perfectly normal!) that you faced:

  • Feeling stuck at lines / stanzas you did not understand… or immediately understand
  • Not knowing what to do after selecting one line, or one word of evidence
  • Being lost when it came to ‘effects’, especially abstract qualities (e.g. surreal) and feelings (e.g. disillusionment)

These ‘issues’ are common and I dare say central to facing the Unseen poetry, prose and drama components across the two papers. In the next few weeks, you will learn to overcome these struggles by:

  • Leaving aside certain lines and coming back to them later
    – There will always be parts of the text that are obscure to you. Keep reading, form a ‘big picture’ (i.e. how does the persona feel in general about reality?), and then go back to the part you were stuck at. Does it cohere? Is its effect or meaning the same?
  • Identifying patterns
    – You will be able to locate lines, words and images that are similar to the point you are already making (e.g. ‘explosions on TV’ and ‘men on the news’ go together)
    – Looking back, I wish I had emphasised that structures recur whether you are studying a geometric series in Math or a poem made out of words and lines. Some of you may have spotted the contrast in the slides themselves: each stanza would appear to be divided into a portrayal of depressing reality and a retreat into fantasy, with the third line always starting on a point of rejection (‘shut’, ‘but’, ‘so’). Spot one thing? Go spot some more.
  • Evaluating effects by questioning
    – We naturally approach foreign ideas by connecting them to familiar ones. The ‘bus’ might remind you of a ‘refugee bus’ or a ‘concentration camp’. The questions to ask yourself then could include, ‘how would refugees in this bus feel?’ (e.g. Deprived? Dehumanised? Despairing?) or ‘how would I describe a concentration camp’? (e.g. Cruel? Inhumane? Pathetic?).
    – When lines seem neutral and unremarkable, we could try reading them aloud, or in our heads, a few times. A line such as ‘People should see how we’re living’ can slowly reveal itself to be indignant, disgruntled and maybe self-pitying especially if we play up the distance between ‘People’ and ‘we’re’, or if we read ‘should’ with mighty gusto (umm, you SHOULD!)
  • If it’s repeated, it’s important. If it’s at the start, it’s important. If it’s at the end, it’s important.
    – I did hear groans (which speak positively of a desire to know) during the few minutes I gave you to discuss what the song was about. The first stanza is set up to bewilder, and the concept of a ‘buzzcut season’ is hardly familiar. Reading further down, the images of reality do lay down a few ideas. It is not until the chorus – meant to be repeated, meant to be read as the closing lines – that the song lets us in on the separation from home, and the movement towards a ‘hologram’, ‘hyper-real’ world full of ‘make-believe’. These three quotations are repeated, and they effectively repeat each other in meaning and content. Would it be fair to surmise that the song is about this hyper-reality, this make-believe world of ‘play(ing) along’? Of course. You need to run along and keep running until you find… a quotation, a ‘favourite friend’ of that quotation, and more company.

Too long; didn’t read
We read, and we learn. Some of the above points might come naturally to some of us, we might have been explicitly taught some of them, but whatever the case, know that we are all learning. What is valuable to us is to admit to what we are not sure about because we can’t know everything. We can choose to confront the ‘explosions’, the loss, the ugly reality of our lives, or we can – it’s easier than it seems – swim in false notions of comfort that ‘goes’ as easily as it comes.

Poetry in Parliament: A Brief Analysis

One month on and the school is in the news for the same reason – its name (I hereby profess that I love the local media as much as LKY loves SIA pilots). For this reason, we had a brief debate in the office today on the intention of Seah Kian Peng’s parliamentary speech. Is he chiding Eunoia? Is he on its side? Those who saw extended criticism cited the transcript Those who took the latter position referred to the call to action after his literary sleight-of-hand: ‘And to the students of Eunoia, be confident and make the name your own’. So what we have here is… a difference in interpretation of the same event.

My answer, is not cheem
But every week I walk around Braddell Heights, Marine Parade,
Serangoon Central (and yes Aljunied too)
I can see
Our language, is one kind,
Our style, you don’t mind I say
Is other places cannot find.
Nasi Lemak and Roti Prata,
Our yong tao foo got halal one.
Who is the Singaporean?
I ask you, you just listen, can tell lah.
By the way, I ask you, what is this – “Eu-no-ia”?

Seah Kian Peng

Continue reading “Poetry in Parliament: A Brief Analysis”