216, Literature, Technology, and Society: Invented Worlds
Terms from Film and Fiction Useful in Writing About our Works: definitions by the instructor.
You can find a complete list of film terms at the Internet Movie Database's Movie Terminology Glossary.
anti-hero: A central figure in a work that repels us by his or her actions or morality, yet who is not a villain. The Anti-hero accomplishes a useful purpose or even does heroic deeds. Max of The Road Warrior epitomizes the 1970-80s anit-hero.
archetype: A term from Jungian psychology that has been applied to literature. Jung meant the symbolic figure of myth and legend, or even a racial memory that we carry in a "collective unconscious." Archetypes embody an entire type of character from many cultures. Thus Hercules is an archetypal flawed hero, Odysseus or the Native-American Coyote are archetypal trickster figures. In literature and film the term can be more broadly applied, so we have the suffering mother of sentimental fiction, the greedy landlord of stage and film, the doomed private writing a letter home the night before the D-Day invasion, and the kind-hearted "tough guy" in many works.
black comedy: a subgenre of humor that uses cruelty or terrible situations to make the reader or viewer laugh, sometimes uncomfortably. Some Social-Darwinist works (Frank Norris' best known novel, McTeague) are also black comedies.
camera movement: cameras can remain stationary and move side to side (a pan), up and down (a tilt). It can move along on a vehicle or set of tracks straight backward or forward (a track or tracking shot). The camera can be carried for a wobbly (but often powerful) handheld shot.
cyberpunk: genre of science fiction pioneered by William Gibson and a few others in the 1980s; Gibson first coined the term "cyberspace." In these texts and films, humans have begun to merge with computer technology and the future is generally dark as major corporations replace governments as oppressive power-brokers. Life is usually short and uncertain with huge gaps between a small corporate elite and the gangs, the poor, and the insane who make up the bulk of the population. Cyberpunk protagonists are often cynical rebels--punks, mercenaries, hackers, spies, and nomads--who work outside the system and the "suits" who run it.
denouement:The "end game" of a work of fiction. More than "how the plot comes out," the denouement (a French term using French pronunciation) suggests the ways in which several plot elements work out toward the end of a text or film.
dystopia/utopia: A fictional world so oppressive that it might be a nightmare for someone from our society. Examples of dystopian fiction would be Orwell's 1984. Some post-apocalyptic worlds (see below) are dystopias, but the usual feature of most dystopian fiction and film is that some type of society, however awful, still exists. A utopian world is exactly the opposite--a paradise of some sort. The eternal bliss of the biblical Garden of Eden and the perfect technological future predicted at the 1939 World's Fair in the film The World of Tomorrow are both utopian.
exegesis: the art of close reading in order to interpret a text. We often do this for poetry, but for fiction it works as well to tease out the effect of certain words or phrases, uses of repetition, references to earlier events in the text or hints about what is to come.
hard-boiled: a tone of writing for fiction and film often associated with American detective fiction by Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane, and Dashiell Hammett. Often film noir (which has several specific themes and even recurring images, such as spiral staircases) adopts a hard-boiled tone. Hard-boiled narrators are usually men, "tough guys" who speak like this "
homage: a French term pronounced that way, this is "a nod of the head" in a film to a past director or actor. Directors watch lots of good and bad films, so many engage in this practice. Directors of mysteries or suspense films often include an homage to Alfred Hitchcock. The opening shot of Miller's The Road Warrior resembles Benedek's The Wild One closely enough to qualify as an homage.
magical realism: a type of fiction in which the world appears just as ours in all respects but very extraordinary things happen: a poor family finds a sick angel in the back yard and nurses him back to health, one morning a man wakes up in his family's apartment to find that he's become a giant bug. Gabriel Garcia Marquez and many Latin-American writers use the technique well. Unlike science fiction, most magical realism makes no attempt to explain such events. They simply happen, often with people reacting as if such things are not all that unusual.
MacGuffin: Alfred Hitchcock coined this term; he meant plot device that makes the action happen without being important in and of itself. For instance, two strangers sitting next to each other might lead to a murder or a love affair. The plane ride is the MacGuffin. See http://sc.essortment.com/alfredhitchcoc_rvhd.htm for more information
matte shot: The end shot of the 1968 Planet of the Apes provides a perfect example. When Taylor falls to his knees in front of the Statue of Liberty, our actors were (I'm fairly certain) facing a blank background. A painted background was added--a matte painting--of the ruined statue.
mise-en-scene: unlike montage, this is physically what is in a shot or scene and does not involve editing. It can involve camera movement and focus, placement of people or objects, and other elements a director can make happen on the set rather than later on in the editing process.
montage: how directors connect ideas in a film. The shots are put together deliberately with transitions and by theme so that "elements should follow a particular system, and these juxtapositions should play a key role in how the work establishes its meaning, and its emotional and aesthetic effects" (Manovich 158).
naturalism & Social-Darwinism: simple difference here; naturalistic works depict life as it is "warts and all," without romanticizing. It can depict rich and poor, healthy and ill, young and old without the sentimental treatment one might get, say, in Uncle Tom's Cabin. Social-Darwinist work tends to feature humans under the influence of outside or internal forces that reduce them to the level of animals, prey to their instincts. Consider these lines from Norris' McTeague: "McTeague's mind was as his body, heavy, slow to act, sluggish. Yet there was nothing vicious about the man. Altogether he suggested the draught horse, immensely strong, stupid, docile, obedient." Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath contains both elements; Goldings' Lord of the Flies provides an archetypal example of Social-Darwinism.
polemic: a work that intends to stir up controversy. A polemical work can be didactic (trying to teach us something) and/or entertaining. Technically, it does not have to be a "rant." Still, in popular usage a polemic has come to mean a pointed and heated film or piece of writing intended to stir up its audience.
post-apocalyptic: fictional worlds depicting life after a global disaster such as a nuclear holocaust, alien invasion, or ecological collapse. The tone is usually grim, so The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a comic piece of science fiction occurring after the earth is destroyed, would not be post-apocalyptic. Planet of the Apes, in its original 1968 movie form, is both dystopian and post-apocalyptic (evolved apes running a society with human slaves thousands of years after a nuclear war).
protagonist: Central figure(s) in a text or film.
scene: a series of connected shots that establish location and continuity. The scene ends by cutting (often using a visible transition) to another location, time, or person. A"car-chase scene" is a rather common example where several cameras follow the action from different perspectives and are edited to make one long scene.
shot: part of a film presented without any editing, as seen from a single camera's perspective. A shot can include close-ups, panoramic shots, camera movement and other techniques.
surrealism: associated with painting and film more than with writing, but the term has grown with use. Surrealist work tends to delve into the nonsensical, or the wildest sides of psychological and physical experiences. Some horror movies become surreal (a man's severed hand begins to stalk him) and even in realistic work, surreal scenes can occur. For example, Wyatt's and Billy's acid-trip in New Orleans toward the end of Easy Rider is filmed from their LSD-soaked points of view, so for the viewer this sequence of scenes is surrealistic. Surrealist work can be absurd, but a film such as the comedy Office Space would more accurately be called black comedy.
technological sublime: British Romantics and American Transcendentalists felt a power beyond themselves, often a healing and teaching power, in nature. This feeling came to be know as the Sublime. Futurists like Marinetti and the businessmen, planners, and engineers depicted in the film The World of Tomorrow found solace and a power greater than themselves in technology, architecture, and industry. This is a very 20th-century phenomenon; today most of the technologies we use are smaller and ubiquitous.
tension: in most texts and films we study, several tensions may exist. These are dramatic or even melodramatic elements of plot, setting, or character that serve to "move things along" well. Unlike a MacGuffin, however, the tension is significant. A love triangle might not be the subject of a film, for instance, but it would certainly be one of the tensions.
transition: the type of editing technique used to connect shots. Sometimes there is no transition, and others can be quick complicated. Fading to black is a popular transition, as are wipes and dissolves.
Alt: A resident's alter-ego in SL. It is not uncommon for people to create multiple identities.
Avatar: The 3D figure who represents you in Second Life.
Big Six: Linden Lab's rules of conduct, also known as the community standards. Well worth knowing; violating them can get an avatar suspended or banned from the metaverse. Intolerance, harassment, assault, disclosure, indecency, and disturbing the peace are The Big Six.
Camp/Campers: Campers are avatars who hang out at locations that pay them a few Lindens to stick around. Noobs (see below) often earn their first in-world money this way. Camping is often profitable for business owners because the metrics for "popular sites" in the SL search engine are driven by numbers of avatars present. Paying a little, for instance, to campers at the club or mall will move the site closer to the top of the popular places list, and thus bring more avatars...like free offers for small items in real life stores.
Furry: An avatar who appears in the form of bipedal fusion of human and animal. Nekos (see below) are not considered furries.
Grid: Another term for the "world" of Second Life, but this refers to the information infrastructure that supports the virtual world, a cluster of thousands of servers. I think that each Sim (see below) is run on a server of its own. Servers can go offline, thus making part of the Grid unavailable, but at times the entire Grid goes offline for service.
Griefer: A malicious avatar who tries to harm others by assault, entrapment, or harassment. They should be reported to Linden Lab with a snapshot of the "griefing," a copy of anything said, as well as a name.
Lag: A phenomenon when things slow down, sometimes drastically, in SL. An avatar may not appear to move, for instance, when commanded and then will move in one big jump. Or objects requested will only appear after a substantial delay. Slow computers, lots of avatars in an area, or many scripted items being used can cause lag.
LL: Shorthand for Linden Lab, maker of SL.
Machinanima: Videos produced from within games or virtual worlds. They can be well scripted, have soundtracks, and more. Cecil Hirvi, who portrays a Borg from Star Trek in Second Life, is a real-life independent filmmaker who produces machinanima in-world. South Park's brilliant "World of Warcraft" episode is an example of Machinanima.
Metaverse: Term coined by Neal Stephenson for Snowcrash that inspired Philip Rosedale. Now a popular term for the "world" of Second Life.
Neko: Avatars that appear part cat, part human. A large subculture of Nekos exists in SL. I am not sure of the origin of the term; I'd heard it comes from Japan and "Hello Kitty."
Noob, Newbie, Newcomer: You all will be. I was once, as was everyone else in SL.
OOC: Short for "out of character." Avatars role-playing in, for instance, a Star Wars setting may, to make a point as their real selves, begin a statement with "OOC."
Prim: The building-blocks of all objects and avatars in SL. Short for "primitive," a prim is a geometrical shape than can covered with a texture (see below), linked to other prims, and scripted.
Resident: Never "player." SL is a world with games, not a "game." Not everyone agrees about this :)
Rez: to pull an item from one's inventory and make it appear, magically, in-world
RP: Roleplay. This is SL at its most game-like. There are communities of Elves, Star-Wars and Star-Trek avatars, dragons, and, of course, a large and active adult-themed community all "in character."
Sim or Region: A square-shaped area such as Richmond's Island. The Metaverse is made of thousands of sims. When you do a place search, usually it's by sim-name (Richmond, Info Island, Svarga).
SL: Short for Second Life.
Teleport: To move instantly from point to point on the Grid.
Texture: An image file that lets a plain prim look like, say, a brick wall or sheet of glass. Residents create their own textures but the library in your avatar's folder is full of good textures--I build my SL house/office with stock textures.
Tiny: An avatar in the form of a very cute animal that walks on its hind legs. There is an entire community of tinies in the Raglan Shire sim.
Literary Terms, Selected, from the Web site for English 299: Intro to Literary Analysis
1) aesthetics: "Philosophical investigation into the nature of beauty and the perception of beauty, especially in the arts; the theory of art or artistic taste." (CB)
2) allegory: "A story or visual image with a second distinct meaning partially hidden behind its literal or visible meaning. In written narrative, allegory involves a continuous parallel between two (or more) levels of meaning in a story, so that its persons and events correspond to their equivalents in a system of ideas or a chain of events external to the tale." (CB)
4) ambiguity: "Openness to different interpretations: or an instance in which some use of language may be understood in diverse ways." Defended by modern literary critics as "a source of poetic richness rather than a fault of imprecision." (CB)
5) connotation: "The emotional implications and associations that words may carry, as distinguished from their denotative meanings." (HH)
6) convention: "An established practicewhether in technique, style, structure, or subject mattercommonly adopted in literary works by customary and implicit agreement or precedent rather than by natural necessity." (CB)
8) denotation: The basic dictionary meaning of a word, as opposed to its connotative meaning.
9) diction: Literary word choice.
10) didactic: A work "designed to impart information, advice, or some doctrine of morality or philosophy." (CB)
11) figure of speech: "An expression that departs from the accepted literal sense or from the normal order of words, or in which an emphasis is produced by patterns of sound." (CB)
12) genre: "The French term for a type, species, or class of composition. A literary genre is a recognizable and established category of written work employing such common conventions as will prevent readers or audiences from mistaking it [with] another kind." (CB) Genre as a term is distinguished from mode in its greater specificity as to form and convention.
13) irony: "A. . . perception of inconsistency, [usually but not always humorous], in which an apparently straightforward statement or event is undermined by its context so as to give it a very different significance. . . [V]erbal irony. . . involves a discrepancy between what is said and what is really meant. . . .[S]tructural irony. . . involves the use of a naive or deluded hero or unreliable narrator whose view of the world differs widely from the true circumstances recognized by the author and readers. . . . [In] dramatic irony. . . the audience knows more about a character's situation than a character does foreseeing an outcome contrary to a character's expectations, and thus ascribing a sharply different sense to the character's own statements". (CB)
14) metaphor: A figure of speech "in which one thing, idea, or action is referred to by a word or expression normally denoting another thing, idea, or action, so as to suggest some common quality shared by the two." The term, "metaphor" is often reserved for figures of speech in which the comparison is implicit or phrased as an "imaginary identity," but it has become more common in recent years to refer to all figures of speech that depend upon resemblances as metaphors. You will therefore sometimes hear similes, where the comparison is explicit and no identity is implied, referred to as metaphorical figures. All metaphors, in any case, are based on the implicit formula, phrased as a simile, "X is like Y." The primary literal term of the metaphor is called the "tenor" and the secondary figurative term is the "vehicle." "[I]n the metaphor the road of life, the tenor is "life" and the vehicle is "the road" (CB).
15) mode: "An unspecific critical term usually identifying a broad but identifiable literary method, mood, or manner that is not tied exclusively to a particular form or genre. [Some] examples are the satiric mode, the ironic, the comic, the pastoral, and the didactic." (CB)
16) motif: A recurrent image, word, phrase, represented object or action that tends to unify the literary work or that may be elaborated into a more general theme. Also, a situation, incident, idea, image, or character type that is found in many different literary works, folk tales, or myths. (CB& HH, adapted)
17) novel: Usually an extended realistic fictional prose narrative most often describing "a recognizable secular social world often in a skeptical and prosaic manner. . . ." (CB) Note that "extended" well: calling a short story or piece of non-fiction a "novel" counts as an Essid Pet-Peeve. I will deduct a full +/- from anyone who does this in a paper.
18) paradox: "A statement or expression so surprisingly self-contradictory as to provoke us into seeking another sense or context in which it would be true. . ."Paradoxical language is valued in literature as expressing "a mode of understanding [that] . . . challenges our habits of thought." (CB)
19) point of view: "The position or vantage point from which the events of a story seem to be observed and presented to us." (CB)
20) prose: "In its broadest sense the term is applied to all forms of written or spoken expression not having a regular rhythmic pattern." (HH) "[A]lthough it will have some form of rhythm and some devices of repetition and balance, these are not governed by a regularly sustained formal arrangement, the significant unit being the sentence rather than the line." (CB)
21) subjectivity: "The quality originating and existing in the mind of a perceiving subject and not necessarily corresponding to any object outside that mind." (HH) In literary critical usage, texts which explore the nature of such a perceiving subject are said to be interested in subjectivity.
22) symbol: ". . . .[S]omething that is itself and also stands for something else. . . . In a literary sense, a symbol combines a literal and sensuous quality with an abstract or suggestive aspect." (HH)
23) syntax: "The way in which words and clauses are ordered and connected so as to form sentences; or the set of grammatical rules governing such word order." (CB)
24) theme: "A salient abstract idea that emerges from a literary works treatment of its subject-matter; or a topic occurring in a number of literary works." (CB)
Note: where indicated, the above definitions are taken from Chris Baldick, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (Oxford UP, 1990) (CB) or C. Hugh Holman and William Harmon, A Handbook to Literature, 6th edition (Macmillan, 1992) (HH).
Manovich, L. The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.
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