Saturday, September 13, 2008

Between the words

Since it was assigned for school, I am reading the acclaimed book "Reading Between the Lines" by Gene Veith. Although it is monotonous/repetitious and has miniscule print, I am mining a couple gems from it.

For instance: What is the meaning of words like obscene, and vulgar, and profane?

Literally, obscene means "off stage" or "out of scene". Though I hadn't thought about it before, he points out that in Greek Drama, certain actions and things would not take place on stage "for fear of violating decorum"...specifically "presenting violence".

He says:
"Why this reticence? The Greeks were hardly prudish or moralistic. The reason was a sound aesthetic one. When the audience is enthralled by a dramatic action, involved in the characters and their dilemmas, the spectacle of overt violence literally breaks the aesthetic mood... The delicate evocation of vicarious experience is disrupted by grisly special effects..."

"The Greeks did not shy away from dealing with sexuality or violence. Oedipus Rex deals with incest, patricide, self-mutilation, and suicide. It somehow manages to deal with such scarifying topics while maintaining taste, dignity, and a serious moral tone... By maintaining decorum, by presenting the character's actions and anguish in language of exalted poetry, but never explicitly presenting the horrors onstage. Obscenity is not only a moral fault; as the Greeks understood, it is also an artistic fault. Insensitivity to aesthetic decorum is perhaps one of the worst weaknesses of contemporary literature."

"As writers [fail] to appeal to [their audience's] aesthetic pleasure, the intrinsic limitations of the imagination cheapens their work. Characters become coarsened and stereotyped... The result will be superficial characters such as are found everywhere in today's literature... Such one-dimensional and predictable characters inhibit realism, complexity, and sophisticated aesthetic effects. As the reader's threshold of stimulation keeps getting higher, writers...must always be going beyond earlier boundaries."

Vulgar literally means "the common people". He says:
"...the implication is that the lower classes exhibit behavior and conversation that cultivated people would avoid... Notice that in the original sense of the word, vulgarity is embarrassing not so much to the hearers but to the speaker. Someone who is vulgar reveals poor education and a subservient social position.

Profane comes from Latin meaning "outside the temple".
"If something were profane--that is, ceremonially unclean--it would not be allowed inside the is the opposite of sacred. In the present context, profanity violates what is holy... Profanity is not a matter of language alone. an extreme case of profanity."

"...Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things."

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