The Read from This Side of Suite 711 (5)



Certain words are greatly important to Realist, so Realist spends much time repeating those words; however, those words are not so much defined as invoked.  What does Realist see in those words?  In order to answer this question we must first answering another.

“What is a noun?” 

Most of you answered that a noun is a person, place, or thing. Now, look around the room or wherever else you may be while reading this post and name the things that you can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch.  That is, make a list of nouns.  For example, look at the list below:


            yellow-mustard walls,

            antique wooden desk,

            blue vase and yellow carnation,

            beam of sunlight,       

            sparkling window pane,

            blue ceramic coffee mug,

            puffs of steam,

            scent of vanilla,

            CD player,

            Burt Bacharach. 

Now look at this list again.  Did it generate an emotion, a mood or an idea?  You might have answered “relaxing” or “wakeful” or “Sunday morning.”  Many different responses are possible.  The point is that this simple list of concrete nouns (with a few noun-adjectives/adjectives mixed in) elicited something greater than itself: an abstract noun.  That’s because nouns have denotations and connotations.  Connotations can produce emotions in the reader.  You need only sing this lyric to hear the difference: “And a house is not a home when there’s no one there. . . .”  

Making a list of concrete nouns is an activity that encourages students to be more observant of their surroundings and to incorporate concrete language into their compositions.  (Show, don’t tell is the guiding principle creative writing teachers pass on to their students.)  Assigning an activity likes this early in the semester can give students the confidence and success necessary to complete assignments of ever-increasing levels of difficulty.  The activity also increases student awareness of the affective dimension of language (i.e. diction and tone).  However, making a list of concrete nouns is only a starting point when one is learning how to write a composition: student responses to this activity may be quite creative, but the responses will still be wholly subjective, and the list itself – while undeniably aglow with its referents – creates no argument.

Of course, college professors must encourage students to engage with assigned materials in a way that goes beyond simple subjective responses, but this can prove to be a real challenge.  For one thing, many students instinctively choose to write assigned essays in the first person.  Therefore, their essays skew toward anecdotes, personal opinion, and maybe some figurative language.  Another challenge is that when students write about personal experiences, they often lack the critical distance necessary to perform a vigorous analysis of the events that they narrate, failing to situate those events within, say, a larger political or social context.  Still, if the essays demonstrate correct grammar and punctuation, professors may assign a passing grade or partial credit even though an actual argument – an objective analysis with supportive evidence – is lacking.  This is entirely reasonable as long as the need for objective analysis and evidence is addressed somewhere down the road. 

However, sometimes professors mistake a lengthy meditation or a lengthy play on words for critical self-reflection and/or an objective analysis.

(To be continued. . . .)

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