O(ld-ass manuscripts of)thello

I’ll be completely honest: when I first looked at this blog prompt, I rolled my eyes a little. “Really? Haven’t we dissected this play enough over the past two weeks?” I wondered to myself. But, perhaps unsurprisingly to you, Mr. Wilson–I address you directly because I know no one else would regularly read this wonderful blog unless they were getting paid to do it–I actually kind of enjoyed looking at the older versions of Othello. It is easy to forget how English has evolved over the centuries into what we read and speak today, as well as how the language is cast on the page. The first thing I noticed as I perused the First Folio was simply how different the words look. “W” was “VV”, and the letter “s” often seemed to resemble the integral symbol “∫” that tends to torment me in BC Calculus the period before I visit your class, for example. What’s more, the difference between the First and Fourth Folios was dramatic: the spelling of words was so much more familiar in the more recent text, even though only sixty or so years elapsed between the publication of the First and Fourth.

Furthermore, the suggestion in the prompt to ponder the inclusion of the first word of the next page on the bottom right-hand corner of each page immediately seemed obvious to me. Since, in effect, the manuscripts we read were scripts of the play, having the next word up makes it much easier to turn the page and not have a break in the dialogue.


Pun and Satire

This week, my example of satire comes from my favorite website of all time, The Onion:

Government To Confiscate One Person’s Guns Just To Make Rest Of Them Squirm

In this post, The Onion ridicules the NRA-esque protest that the government is out to “take away your guns” and that President Obama wants to “end the Second Amendment” (not that he used to be a professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard University or anything….). By casting the gun confiscation argument in a satirical light, The Onion is able to delegitimize the discussion entirely, pointing to how absurd and impractical such an undertaking would be. “In a massive, highly coordinated raid, 50 armed agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives will reportedly storm the home of a randomly selected law-abiding gun owner in the dead of night and seize every weapon on the premises. According to sources, the surprise operation has been several months in the planning stages and is being conducted entirely for the sake of watching the individual gun owner—and subsequently, the nation’s gun-rights activists as a whole—completely freak out over it.”

Though English may not be as beautiful a language as Italian or Spanish, it certainly does have its shining moments. My favorite pun I have encountered in my recent reading comes from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. In chapter 13, following a lengthy discussion of the importance of soul food in the black identity through a street vendor selling yams, the narrator famously declares, “I am what I am.” Immediately when I read that line, I laughed out loud–I was on a plane, sitting by a stranger, so it was a little awkward, but the genius play on words deserved it. Not just because I understood the original context of the famous Popeye quote, but because it interjected humor into an otherwise philosophical discussion of identity and race.

Oxymoron and Paradox

Disclaimer: I am going to intentionally break the rules of this assignment in order to give (what I believe to be) a better example and explanation of these literary devices than I would have encountered in my ordinary reading during the week. Put aside your prejudices and preconceptions about rap music for a few minutes, please.

In artist ScHoolboy Q’s latest album, “Oxymoron”, Q discusses his complex life circumstances. Born and raised in a poor region of South Los Angeles, Q found himself trapped in a cycle of poverty and crime. Q became a single father as a teenager, and started selling prescription drugs soon thereafter in order to survive, since his criminal record significantly limited his access to decent, well-paying jobs. However, caught up in the rush of the drug trade, Q developed an addiction to some of the painkillers and psychiatric medicines he was selling for off-label use to others. In his song “Blind Threats”, which delves into the difficulty of having faith in a higher power when surrounded by poverty and suffering, Q repeatedly mentions “living to die”. This is an example of an oxymoron: Q is describing the perils of living a dangerous lifestyle, teetering on the brink of death with dangerous drugs in order to obtain a sensation of “feeling alive” while high.

On a larger scale, “Oxymoron”explores the difficult relationship between crime-ridden South LA and the opulent areas of the city just a few miles away, such as Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and West Hollywood. Though he does not state it in such blunt terms, ScHoolboy Q asks how people can live in abject poverty and receive little help or sympathy while others bask in luxury practically next-door. The United States absolutely has the power and resources to lift its poorest individuals out of squalor and into safer, more comfortable lives, yet the complication of allocating these resources and smoothing out the politics behind it make this next to impossible. This paradox of poverty is apparent to Q, who admits he is still somewhat hesitant, deep down, to give more of his earnings from his music career to his community back home in South LA. He fears that you cannot “throw more money” at a problem like poverty and make it disappear. Defeating poverty requires structural changes in the access poor communities have to education, financial advising and planning, and safety from crime. Paradoxically, with this understanding, simply giving money to someone in poverty may not make them any less poor.

Rap often gets a bad rap in the public’s eyes, and for good reason: many of the most popular songs celebrate violence, crime, the objectification of women, homophobia, dangerous images of masculinity, sexuality, and drug use, and, of course, foul language. However, it is a genre capable of producing inspiring, thought-provoking art, and should not be dismissed simply because it is rap. More often than not, the lyrics of these songs contain valuable insights into the life of young people in (often) poor, (often) black communities, and, on occasion, can stand alone as works of literature themselves, such as Kendrick Lamar’s recent album “To Pimp A Butterfly”.

Yes, I understand what oxymorons and paradoxes are. I understand that this assignment is intended to encourage me to read more and find these devices in literature. However, most of my reading is of nonfiction and/or news articles, which makes finding literary devices difficult. I feel that searching for these devices in areas I encounter on a more regular basis, such as news media and music, will help me deepen my understanding of them equally well.

Surf: An Album Review

Few albums radiate happiness and positivity like Chance the Rapper’s most recent project, Surf. Born as Chancellor Bennet, Chance’s humble beginnings in south side Chicago shaped his musical mantra. He has no record label, and views himself as both an independent artist and a member of his band, Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment. And Surf indeed  is an experiment in many regards: it was released for free on iTunes, dabbles in many genres, and espouses messages of hope and happiness that feel all too rare in today’s musical marketplace. Deriving inspiration from hip-hop (obviously), R&B, gospel, rock, soul, funk, and jazz, Surf is the epitome of summertime freedom. Chance’s poetic discussions of self-love and affirmation are artfully intertwined with effects-heavy trumpet solos and guest verses from major recording artists, including J. Cole, Quavo, Big Sean, and Erykah Badu, among countless others. Here’s a snippet from an especially powerful track, “Wanna Be Cool”:

Is being cool that cool? (Really?)
Is being a tool that big of a duel? (Is it?)
It doesn’t matter if a n**** is wearing Supreme
If a cool guy shits his shit’s still gonna stink
If a cool guy’s cool in the middle of the forest
Man nobody f*****g cares
So why don’t you just be the you that you know you are
You know, when nobody else is there?
You’ll be aware, it’s easy, and it’s so important
Being cool shouldn’t cost a fortune
Baby got her jeans from Goodwill
But I bet that ass look good still
Okay let’s remember that shopping at Payless
It just means that you pay less, it don’t make you bae-less
If you don’t get re-tweets, it don’t mean you say less, okay?
So I’mma post this shitty-ass selfie on IG
And I don’t care if anybody likes it or likes me, it’s cool

Albums like Surf often serve as anthems to different periods of my life. In particular, this album, released in the early summer of 2015, was the soundtrack to my soul-searching that took place between my Junior and Senior years. Each track is a completely new experience that defies summarization. In essence, Surf ‘s message is this: you’ll only find true happiness if you love yourself. The world is full of joy, so trust yourself enough to go out there and experience some of it for yourself. Live in a way that brings happiness to you and those you love. Dark winters help you appreciate the sunlight of the summer. And, above all else, everything is going to be okay.


Imagine how different the world could be if more artists made music like Surf.