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Imitation Cheese March 1, 2009

Posted by jeffclef in Uncategorized.
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Farewell Blogspot, no more joys do you bring;
You make me gag, Google’s ugly offspring.
Wit, Craft, and Invention, you dost discourage,
Cannot compete with ten gigabyte storage;
And next to her, peels your cheap, pallid skin,
Widgets, themes. A wizened barnacle’s chin,
To the pearl and the prime of fair WordPress.
You grow old; and I grow bored, bold, and restless.

– J.Q. Nguyen

a poem on the occasion of moving from Blogspot to WordPress

My students in English 10B (a survey of Brit. lit.) have to write an imitation or parody of something we’ve read so far. “So far” includes the prose and poetry of the Restoration (Rochester, Dryden), Enlightenment (Swift, Pope, Johnson), and Romantic periods (Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge). Unlike parody, imitation demands fidelity to the syntax of the original. You can change the content, but you try to preserve the form. The exercise, which originates in classical pedagogy, promises to expand your command of the language by exposing you to the style and variety cultivated by past masters. Winston Churchill, for example, fondly remembers his days as one of the “stupidest boys” in his class learning English by imitation while the “cleverer boys” were learning Latin and Greek.

Mr. Somerwell…was charged with the duty of teaching the stupidest boys the most disregarded thing–namely to write mere English…He took a fairly long sentence and broke it up into its component parts by means of black, red, blue, and green inks. Subject, verb, object: Relative Clauses, Conditional Clauses, Conjunctive and Disjunctive Clauses! Each had its colour and bracket. It was a kind of drill…Thus I got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary British sentence-which is a noble thing.

Wanting to get in on the action, I took up the challenge of imitating Samuel Johnson. He did after all write one of the first dictionaries of the English language. Here, though, he’s talking about the social function of fiction:

The chief advantage which these fictions have over real life is that their authors are at liberty, though not to invent, yet to select objects, and to cull from the mass of mankind those individuals upon which the attention ought most to be employed; as a diamond, though it cannot be made, may be polished by art, and placed in such situation as to display that luster which before was buried among common stones.

– Samuel Johnson, “Rambler No. 4″ [on fiction]

Johnson’s prose is characterized by long, sweeping sentences, balanced through schemes of antithesis (the juxtaposition of contrasts within a sentence). Along with Johnson’s extended simile, these are the features I tried to approximate in an imitation on the relative merits of paper clips and staples.

The major advantage these clips have over their cousins, the staples, is that, though unable to permanently fasten, they are yet gentle to the fingers and still gather from the clutter of the counter those scattered sheafs which demand our watchful eye; though, like any office trifle, they menace the vacuum, they are more easily spotted on the floor, and when set upon a flat magnet instantaneously assume the most delightful form which before was unimaginable amidst the debris of the drawer.

– J.Q. Nguyen, Imitation of Johnson

Though it be cheese, it be delicious. What say you?

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