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William Haskins
12-11-2007, 03:49 AM
http://moreintelligentlife.com/node/298

Philip Davis pleasures his brain with shifting Shakespearean syntax, measures the results on an electroencephalogram, and finds evidence that powerful writing can literally change the ways in which we think ...

From THE READER (http://www.thereader.co.uk/) magazine
I have always been very interested in how literature affects us. But I don't really like it when people say, "This book changed my life!" Struggling with ourselves and our seemingly inextricable mixture of strengths and weaknesses, surely we know that change is much more difficult and much less instant than that. It does scant justice to the deep nature of a life to suppose that a book can simply "change" it. Literature is not a one-off remedy. And actually it is the reading of books itself, amongst other things, that has helped me appreciate that deep complex nature.

Nonetheless, I do remain convinced that life without reading and the personal thinking it provokes would be a greatly diminished thing. So, with these varying considerations, I know I need to think harder about what literature does.

And here's another thing. In the last few years I have become interested not only in the contents of the thoughts I read—their meaning for me, their mental and emotional effect—but also in the very shapes these thoughts take; a shape inseparable, I feel, from that content.



Moreover, I had a specific intuition—about Shakespeare: that the very shapes of Shakespeare's lines and sentences somehow had a dramatic effect at deep levels in my mind. For example, Macbeth at the end of his tether:
And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have, but in their stead
Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honour, breath
Which the poor heart would fain deny and dare not. I'll say no more than this: it simply would not be the same, would it, if Shakespeare had written it out more straightforwardly: I must not look to have the honour, love, obedience, troops of friends which should accompany old age. Nor would it be the same if he had not suddenly coined that disgusted phrase "mouth-honour" (now a cliché as "lip-service").

Williebee
12-11-2007, 03:59 AM
Thank you, Mr. Haskins. That's quite fascinating. I have had the opportunity to sit in on a few presentations to K-8 level teachers, regarding various brain activity and thought studies. More and more, we are being shown that we are spending money in schools on the wrong things to advance our kid's education. We cut the arts and sciences and glorified the sports. Then we reshaped the testing to make it look like our students were just as smart as they used to be.

Thanks again, I will share this elsewhere.

Jenny
12-11-2007, 04:09 AM
I think I may be hooked on this website. Interesting article - and the one about saving snippets of not-quite-there poems to a blog. Thanks for the link.

As to the subject of the post here, I wonder for how many people this would be true. Hook a high school student up to the machine while they're studying Shakespeare and what do you get? Brain dead. Interest and educated knowledge are surely necessary for the response. [On re-reading what I wrote, I thought I should add that I wasn't disparaging the kids. They have other things to worry about than an enjoyment of Shakespeare] And Williebee, I agree about the over-emphasis of Sport - which is very unAustralian of me]

Shady Lane
12-11-2007, 04:19 AM
Hook a high school student up to the machine while they're studying Shakespeare and what do you get? Brain dead.

*cough*

*clears throat*

Jenny
12-11-2007, 04:26 AM
Um ... on the other hand, some high school students are wonderfully intelligent, sensitive and talented and could explain Shakespeare to me (better?) -- they could be the next Shakespeare!

Shady Lane
12-11-2007, 04:30 AM
Um ... on the other hand, some high school students are wonderfully intelligent, sensitive and talented and could explain Shakespeare to me (better?) -- they could be the next Shakespeare!

Much better.

:D

Danger Jane
12-11-2007, 05:34 AM
Very very interesting. And not at all hard to believe. I mean, music alters the brain--why not writing?

And, Jenny, I don't think it really has to do with age, as far as enjoyment of great literature goes...the kids who don't like reading, or who don't like reading the classics, well...their parents probably read the same as they do. Me? Not a huge Shakespeare fan, but I was practically hyperventilating when I finished Mrs. Dalloway--and yes, I'm in high school.

lfraser
12-11-2007, 07:28 AM
Interesting article.

I can't speak to the validity of the research, but I do know that Shakespeare's writing is lovely in a way that most writing these days is not. There seems to have been a shift within the past 25 years or so to an emphasis on story rather than use of (love of?)language. I can absorb a modern story at a fast clip; with Shakespeare I have to slow down and savour.

maestrowork
12-11-2007, 07:44 AM
I agree that the change is not instantaneous, but we can't really argue that the constant, high-level information and concepts and even literary constructs are going to change us in a gradual way, working on the subconscious and well as conscious levels. With these constant stimuli (both positive and negative), the brains has the ability to rewire itself, especially when we are young.

I know that I get certain pleasure from reading exquisite prose -- it's not really about stories anymore, but about how the literary constructs actually stimulate me on a deeper level. Poetry, literary fiction, etc. More often than not I don't read them for stories, but for some inexplicable satisfaction of consuming those words, like I would a delectable configuration of salt, spices, and sugar. It was not about hunger anymore, but about pleasure.

Medievalist
12-11-2007, 09:19 AM
http://moreintelligentlife.com/node/298

Philip Davis pleasures his brain with shifting Shakespearean syntax, measures the results on an electroencephalogram, and finds evidence that powerful writing can literally change the ways in which we think ...

From THE READER (http://www.thereader.co.uk/) magazine


And here's another thing. In the last few years I have become interested not only in the contents of the thoughts I read—their meaning for me, their mental and emotional effect—but also in the very shapes these thoughts take; a shape inseparable, I feel, from that content.



Moreover, I had a specific intuition—about Shakespeare: that the very shapes of Shakespeare's lines and sentences somehow had a dramatic effect at deep levels in my mind. For example, Macbeth at the end of his tether:
[COLOR=black]And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have, but in their stead
Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honour, breath
Which the poor heart would fain deny and dare not. I'll say no more than this: it simply would not be the same, would it, if Shakespeare had written it out more straightforwardly: I must not look to have the honour, love, obedience, troops of friends which should accompany old age. Nor would it be the same if he had not suddenly coined that disgusted phrase "mouth-honour" (now a cliché as "lip-service").

Rhetoric / style / syntax; my drugs of choice.

kuwisdelu
12-11-2007, 09:19 AM
I agree with the point that too much modern-day writing has moved away from great language and has shifted the emphasis onto stories. I know many writers would defend this move, saying that the story should be more important than self-important wordplay, but I think that's one of the things that made writers like Shakespeare brilliant--the use of language. Modern day writers and readers have too low standards for prose these days and it saddens me that some even look down on writing that aspires to be beautiful because it's trying too hard to be "literary" or something. I recognize that there are some who think the best prose is invisible, because it should not get in the way of the story, but I think this defeats the purpose of literature. To me, that's not writing. That's storytelling. Which there is a place for, of course, and which is also necessary, too. Take Dan Brown, for example. He's a wonderful storyteller, but he's not a writer by a longshot.

Dawnstorm
12-11-2007, 12:55 PM
This sounded familiar to me, and sure enought there was an article about this on Langauge Log (http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003968.html). The upshot is:

- +Semantics/-Syntax = P600 is correct.
- That's not new.
- Neither is it restricted to Shakespear. You get the same effect from "the current favorites to podium at the Beijing Olympics"

In other words, the "Shakespeared brain" is a routine response to odd syntax that makes semantic sense. And most often the P600 induces people on writing boards to jump on you.

Why?

Because you're not Shakespear, and because "you must know the rules before breaking them".

josephwise
12-11-2007, 09:40 PM
I agree with the point that too much modern-day writing has moved away from great language and has shifted the emphasis onto stories. I know many writers would defend this move, saying that the story should be more important than self-important wordplay, but I think that's one of the things that made writers like Shakespeare brilliant--the use of language.

Shakespeare's wordplay is anything but self-important. It is effective, communicative, and exists in service of the story.

Language being in constant evolution, a return to Shakespearean prose at this point usually IS self-important, though, and in most cases exists at the expense of the story.

Works like On The Road and Pulp Fiction manage to advance the language in ways that stimulate the reader/viewer's mind, AND give full respect to the story at the same time. And they don't need to employ expired language conventions to do so.

So, I'm one of those who thinks story is more important than language. And I think Shakespeare would agree. It's just that too many writers fail to realize what a great tool thoughtful language can be, in supporting the story.

maestrowork
12-11-2007, 10:28 PM
So, I'm one of those who thinks story is more important than language. And I think Shakespeare would agree. It's just that too many writers fail to realize what a great tool thoughtful language can be, in supporting the story.

If by "story" you mean "something of meaning" then I would agree. But if it's just about "plot" then no. Word are just words but if they're strung together to tell us something -- human condition, for example -- then the words have power. Poetry, for example. The greatest poetry, to me, is not just words and vivid imageries, but also tells a story or something of meaning, mood, emotions, etc. It strikes you at a deep level. The words are not there to convey a plot. But a total "story" if you will.

kuwisdelu
12-11-2007, 11:05 PM
Shakespeare's wordplay is anything but self-important. It is effective, communicative, and exists in service of the story.

Language being in constant evolution, a return to Shakespearean prose at this point usually IS self-important, though, and in most cases exists at the expense of the story.

Works like On The Road and Pulp Fiction manage to advance the language in ways that stimulate the reader/viewer's mind, AND give full respect to the story at the same time. And they don't need to employ expired language conventions to do so.

So, I'm one of those who thinks story is more important than language. And I think Shakespeare would agree. It's just that too many writers fail to realize what a great tool thoughtful language can be, in supporting the story.

I think you misunderstood me. I agree with you in a lot of ways. I think writers trying to write in the same manner of Shakespeare would be self-important and often at the expense of the story. But I'm talking about writers today who aren't trying to be self-important either, and are trying to write in a way that's beautiful, too. I think too many other writers would call them out on trying to be pretentious and overwriting when really they're trying to do the same thing Shakespeare and Kerouac did.

I would call On the Road a work of literature that has great language, and it's a fun ride too, but think about it--there isn't even really much of a story at all. Kerouac just wrote about his life and changed the name Neal Cassady to Dean Moriarty. But he explored language and told a fun travelog while doing it, and taken together it holds up as a great novel.

I think the Kerouac's prose is great, and he was pushing the language in a direction that helped him set the mood for his own time period and the story he had to tell. But take the last passage, for example, I think if someone on AW were to post something like it on SYW, critiquers would tell him he's "trying too hard" to be literary or something like that.

I think there are lots of writers today who are pushing the language in new directions too that are beautiful and extraordinary, but too often they are ignored or looked down upon because people accuse them of trying to hard to be "literary," producing writing that seems self-important, or writing pretentiously. Take a writer like David Foster Wallace. I think his prose is great and serves his stories wonderfully rather than detracting any, and it's a joy to read, but there are many who find it self-important and useless. I don't see that at all, and I think it's more of a result of a newfound prejudice toward more "literary" writing any actual crime of the author or his prose.

josephwise
12-12-2007, 12:08 AM
That makes sense.

And by story, I do mean "something of meaning," or as I like to think of it, "the human result." Under that definition, On the Road is one of those novels that's all story and no plot. The human result there is the mind-set of the Beat generation, Moriarty and Paradise being the poles. Can you imagine that "story" even being possible without the language Kerouac used to tell it? Let alone the fact that, as you put it, it is a wonderful exploration of language itself. I agree, language is definitely an important tool that is all too often overlooked.

I guess it's the way we use it that counts, and not the language itself. Some writers try to be verbose just for the sake of imitating greatness. Others go out of their way to be spare just to make a point about what does and doesn't need to be said. Either way, they're making statements irrelevant to the story, which can be just as self-defeating as lazy prose.