Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Newitz on Literary Devices in Genre Fiction

Over at io9, Annalee Newitz talks about literary devices and shows where they crop up in genre fiction. Excerpt:
For thousands of years, humans have been creating stories -- and for just as long, they've been coming up with words to describe all the tools and techniques that make a story work. But these "literary devices" don't just show up in classical drama and Anglo-Saxon poetry. They also show up in today's science fiction. Here are ten literary devices you've already seen in movies or on TV, perhaps without even realizing it.
Read the whole thing. Apostrophe, aporia, bathos -- Newitz provides worthwhile definitions and examples of these and other such terms. And while I wish she'd drawn a clear distinction between synecdoche and metonymy (which always confuse me to no end), the article's a good start for those without a lot of literary learning. Other options include plowing through Thrall and Hibbard's A Handbook to Literature. Of course, that's a task best left to chronic insomniacs.


Chestertonian Rambler said...

According to not-Cicero (the Rhetoric ad Herennium)--and I should have known this without looking it up--synecdoche substitutes a member for the whole (or visa versa), while metonymy is slightly more general, letting you travel along the line of associations: abstract for concrete, cause for effect, instrument for user, material for object, &c.

So synechdote:

"They stole fifty heads of cattle from us."

And metonymy:

"We're gonna hire us 50 guns and take care of those cattle-stealing ********."

However, this is only true of one tradition. There seems to be some controversy as to where to draw the line, and a surprising amount of debate. Some people would consider both the above examples synecdoche, while others would consider all synecdoche to be a subset of metonymy.

In short, while there has been some interesting philosophical and linguistic discussion emerging from the tropes and figures, I'm skeptical about the absolute philosophical value of these classical terms. After all, rhetoric was from the beginning a system of rough-and-ready tips and techniques designed for effective communication. What does it matter if the categories overlap, as long as you speak well?

Chestertonian Rambler said...

In other news, Newitz has nerd-chutzpah. I've never heard anyone else refer to "a great example in this great scene from The Matrix Reloaded" before, and I probably never will again.

Loren Eaton said...

I'm skeptical about the absolute philosophical value of these classical terms.

Alas, my professor for "Rhetorical Theory" wasn't. I still remember half of the class raging at him for drawing such a fine line between the two devices.

I actually agree with Newitz on those sections from Reloaded. But the movie itself? Yeah, it stunk.