Brainstorm
Services

EDUCATIONAL
MATERIALS


West Chester University

Spring 2006 and Fall 2005

West Chester University

Fall 2004and
Spring 2005

Spring 2003

Fall 2002

Spring 2002

Fall 2001

 

 

 

Home

Contact

Course Syllabi and Announcements
  LIT 165 Syllabus
  LIT 165 Announcements and Assignments
  WRT 120 Syllabus
  WRT 120 Announcements and Assignments

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2008)
  A Reading of THE TEMPEST

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Rites of Passage (Spring 2006)
  Goals of the Course
  Fundamental Questions about Literature
  Valuing Literature
  Critical Thinking and Reading Literature
  Critical Approaches to Literature
  Literature as ART
  Ambiguity
  Approaching the Art of Fiction
  Defining the Short Story
  Evaluating Short Fiction
  Craft of Fiction: PLOT
  Craft of Fiction: CHARACTER
  Small Group Exercise
  ARABY by James Joyce
  WHERE ARE YOU GOING, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? by Joyce Carol Oates
  Our RITES OF PASSAGE Theme
  A note about GIRL
  POE and the art of STORY OF A HOUR
  THE YELLOW WALLPAPER
  YOUNG MAN ON SIXTH AVENUE
  Notes on Innovative Fiction
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #1
  Fiction and Ambiguity - Your Questions
  Writing Workshop - Short Fiction
  Poetry Journal Project Assignment Sheet
  LITERARY SYNTHESIS PROJECT
  Defining Poetry
  Reading Poetry
  The Craft of Poetry
  Drama and Tragedy
  Study Questions: DEATH OF A SALESMAN

Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2006)
  Paper #4 Assignment Sheet
  Critical Thinking and Commentary
  Casebook: Evaluating Sources Worksheet
  Selecting Information
  Evaluating Arguments
  CASEBOOK PROJECT Assignment Sheet
  Approaching Persuasive Writing
  Topic Development - Profile Essay
  Generating Ideas for the Profile Essay
  Paper #2 Assignment Sheet
  Profile Exercise
  Analyzing THE FIVE BEDROOM, SIX FIGURE ROOTLESS LIFE
  Objective Writing: Selected Readings
  Writing Workshop: Paper #1
  Expressive Writing in the NYTimes
  Writing Effective Introductions and Conclusions
  Paper #1: IDENTITY
  Expressive Writing
  Open Letter Exercise and Examples
  EMERSON on Individuality vs. Conformity
  Literature related to IDENTITY
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'

Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Writing Assistance on the Web
  Blackboard at WCU
  WCU Homepage
  WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Fall 2005)
  One Last Look at Imaginary Worlds
  Franz Kafka's BEFORE THE LAW
  Analyzing WAITING FOR GODOT
  Approaching WAITING FOR GODOT
  Paper #3: Assignment Sheet
  Paper #4: Independent Project
  The Problem of Stability in BRAVE NEW WORLD
  UTOPIA/DYSTOPIA Links
  Analyzing Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD
  Defining Utopia
  Embarking on Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD
  A Reading of Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST
  From today's news (11/3/05)
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #2
  Goodbye to Dante's Imaginary World
  Stepping Through Dante's Inferno: Cantos 10-34
  Stepping Through Dante's Inferno: Cantos 1-10
  INFERNO: Questions/Analysis: Cantos 32-34
  INFERNO: Questions/Analysis: Cantos 18-31
  INFERNO: Questions for Analysis: Cantos 12-17
  INFERNO: Structure
  INFERNO: Questions for Analysis: Cantos 1-5
  INFERNO: Analyzing Canto 1
  Relating to Dante's Inferno
  Approaching Dante's DIVINE COMEDY
  A Little Help with Dante's INFERNO
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #1
  Notes on LEAF BY NIGGLE
  Responses to LEAF BY NIGGLE
  ON FAIRY STORIES: An Essay by Tolkien
  Notes on Axolotl
  Reading Ovid's Tales
  From Myth to Literature: Approaching Ovid's Tales
  Notes on THE EYE OF THE GIANT
  Functions of the Genesis Tales
  Analyzing Mythic Tales
  Defining Mythology
  Filtering the Introduction to FANTASTIC WORLDS
  Commentary on LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI by Keats
  Commentary on DARKNESS by Byron
  Handout: Imagination Poems Set
  What is Imagination?
  Our Course Theme: Imaginary Worlds
  LIT 165 Assignments: Fall 2005
  LIT 165 Announcements: Fall 2005
  Imaginary Worlds: Course Syllabus

Notebook for Effective Writing I (Fall 2005)
  Paper #4: Independent Thinking/Reading/Writing
  Casebook Preparation Checklist
  Casebook Assignment Schedule
  Evaluating Sources for the Casebook
  Casebook Project Assignment Sheet
  Notes on Rational Argument
  Argument
  Assignment Sheet: Objective Writing
  Reviewing Elements of the Profile Essay
  Writing the Profile Essay
  Readings: Objective Writing
  Assignment Sheet: Expressive Writing
  Rubric for Evaluation of Writing
  About SKIN DEEP
  Emerson on Individuality vs. Conformity
  Mind-map: Identity
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'
  Assignments Page
  Announcements Page
  WRT 120 Course Syllabus for Fall 2005

ENG Q20: Basic Writing

Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Writing Assistance on the Web
  Blackboard at WCU
  WCU Homepage
  WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library

 

~~ George Orwell's
"Politics and the English Language" ~~

George Orwell is—after Frederick Douglass—our next really formidable, really first rate writer. And like Douglass, reading his words can be both inspiring and instructive-as long as we take our time and understand his meaning. Just like Douglass, Orwell is a political animal, deeply involved in the crises and movements of his day. Even his imaginative literary masterpieces, 1984 and Animal Farm, were politically motivated, powerful expressions of his deeply held belief in the evil of totalitarianism and his conviction that danger resides where people turn from clear thinking and blindly follow orthodoxies.

In "Politics and the English Language" we're asked to consider the connection between corrupted (and corruptive) language and political manipulation.

In "Politics and the English Language" we're asked to consider the connection between corrupted (and corruptive) language and political manipulation. Specifically, we are asked to consider whether "ugly" language (defined as staleness of imagery and lack of precision) contributes to muddy or "foolish" thinking. Orwell believes it does, although the process is anything but simple. Political and economic pressures produce ugly language, which then produces foolish thinking; but then, foolish thinking produces even uglier language, and the cycle continues. For Orwell, this was not a purely philosophical or academic problem; the essay moves towards a position which links the degeneration of language with the rise of totalitarianism.

Is the connection between "Politics and the English Language" and the previous material on propaganda fairly obvious, or just a little bit subtle? The previous material instructed you to recognize the tools of the propagandist, how he uses language-everything from name-calling and card-stacking and euphemisms, you name it-to manipulate and gain influence. While Orwell doesn't specifically discuss "propaganda" by that exact term, he makes the case that political writing (including speech writing) is "bad" because, like propaganda, it renders language practically meaningless, muddying thought and destroying rational decision-making. His essay analyzes the corrosive trends in the writing of his day, but decades later, we can still share his disgust and still find a million examples to prove that bad writing (or speaking) is a cause of the public's blindness.

Orwell explores the function of language in this essay; he analyzes how the corruption of language gives rise to massive political conformity, a consequence that makes the propagandists shiver all over in victory thrills. With Hitler a recent nightmare and Stalin beginning his purges, and others in the wings, the threats were real enough. The power of political propaganda was in the air. Bad writing was in the air. Muddy thinking was in the air.

For Orwell, "bad writing" is stale writing. He blames "stale imagery" for a host of writing ills. What exactly does he mean? What is a stale image? It's something you've heard before. In fact, the more you keep hearing it, the more you realize you've heard it maybe a thousand times. Maybe a million. You've heard it so many times, you don't even think about it anymore. That's it's special mission-to enable you not to think about it anymore. It does your thinking for you. All you have to do is register your attention for a nanosecond-that's all the thinking that's required.

We can do better, America! Better than what? What will we do exactly to be "better"?

I'm the candidate of Hope. Hope for what? Are we hoping for the same thing? All tens of millions of us? What exactly are we hoping for? How will we know when our hopes are answered if we don't even know what we're hoping for?

I want to protect America. Protect it against what? Foreign enemies? The freedom of its own citizens?

It doesn't matter what these phrases mean. We've completely stopped thinking about them. They sound familiar, they sound pretty good. They're stale as hell, but that doesn't stop politicians from using them. In fact, they like to use stale language like this because it's so much less likely to require us to think.

Why is Orwell so against staleness of imagery and imprecision with words? It's not just the pain of empty language, although sometimes it is that. But more importantly, staleness and imprecision are odious because they lead to vagueness, which (especially in politics) can lead to anything. Meaning is sometimes deliberately manipulated. Rather than doing their real job which is to clarify meaning, slack or hack writers open channels through which "the ready made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you-even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent-and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself."

These ready and endlessly repeated bromides are what permeate the air as we inch towards our presidential election. It'll be a good intellectual challenge for you to begin to identify them, expose them-on both sides.

Further along in his essay, Orwell catalogues a few of the more prominent vices:

  • Dying metaphors (worn out clichés that originally were fresh metaphors)
  • Operators, or false limbs (wordy phrases that could be single words)
  • Pretentious diction (wraps what could be clarified in a hazy vagueness)
  • Meaningless words (abstractions that are so open to interpretation that they don't say anything precise anymore, although once they might have)

He uses examples culled from professional writing to illustrate these mind-numbingly disastrous trends he's observed all around him. He really drives the point home when he translates Ecclesiastes into "ugly" modern prose.

Orwell insists that the corrosiveness of modern prose is in the air we breathe and when we need the "right" phrase, it just floats down to us ready-made, easy to assemble, euphonic and effortless. The only way to keep ourselves from becoming degenerates, part of the problem, is to consciously ask a few relatively simple questions:

  • What am I trying to say?
  • What words will express it?
  • What image will make it clearer?
  • Is this image fresh enough to have any effect?

And two more:

  • Could I put it more shortly?
  • Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

And then to follow some simple advice (p. 172):

  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

If we follow Orwell's advice, maybe we can rescue language from the power-grip of advertisers, propagandists, politicians, and others who would subvert it as our primary instrument for creating and expressing thought.

 

 

 

     

 


Questions? Contact me.

All materials unless otherwise indicated are copyright © 2001-2008 by Stacy Tartar Esch.

The original contents of this site may not be reproduced, republished, reused, or retransmitted
without the express written consent of Stacy Tartar Esch.
These contents are for educational purposes only.