Monday, September 19, 2011

Perfection through Imperfection

Reading Asch, I had a flashback of middle school when my English class was assigned "Huckleberry Finn". I hated it. I hated trying to translate Huck's infernally Southern dialect, let alone Jim's ebonics. I didn't care for its chattiness or its silly/stupid characters. It was not a straightforward and easily-digestible book and I was relieved when the unit was over.

Now that I've done some growing and maturing as a reader, I feel differently. "Huckleberry Finn" is a classic and one of my favorites. It's a time capsule into a place and time past. Most importantly it is an excellent interpretation of a unique pocket of Americana. Unlike Asch, when writing the novel Mark Twain had no need to interpret his subjects: he grew up along the Mississippi and was immersed in the culture and dialect of the South his whole life. Although Southerners and blacks of that era spoke a form of English far removed from the King's English of the upper crust, it was a form which made its own unique contributions to American English.

The point is, despite the apparent imperfections of the language in writing, it is important to remember Ong: it is impossible to get down in writing every idiosyncrasy present in oral, face-to-face communication. However, writing in a rural, local dialect rectifies this lacking quality in the best way possible. Just as every word in the dictionary has multiple meanings, so do dialects have different modes and shades of meaning depending on delivery. In fact, it could be argued that the use of dialect is a more "perfect" means of communication than scholarly language.

I believe that the study of academic English is important as a learning tool and as a means of intellectual discourse, but I would very much like to see a more widespread and universal use of dialect in poetry, novels and other forms of both fiction and nonfiction. It's an essential part of the study of language which demands development and expansion as its own separate field of inquiry.


  1. What a wonderful post, Chris! Honestly, the New York Times is going to be calling... I enjoy your style of writing. It's deeply factual and detailed and concise... and readable.

    I'm agreeing with something you didn't say-- that Asch overportrayed his characters and didn't expect enough from his readers, as perhaps Mark Twain did in "Huckleberry Finn" when he either expected his readers to understand the south or to have enough imagination to couple with their life experience in order to paint a suitable picture. Since "Huckleberry Finn" is widely considered a classic, I'm concluding Twain imagined his audience effectively, and, over the years, readers have risen to the occasion Twain presents.

  2. I believe the over portrayal of Asch’s characters is not an underestimation of the audience, however more as a way to clarify and lead individual interpretation towards the same conclusion or moral. His concrete characters leave no room for disagreement in his dialectic. Asch’s narrator was on a mission to retell a story America had already heard, but tended to ignore. I believe the blatant character creations are a rhetorical tool that are bold enough in their own existence that the intentions are perceived all too clearly, which almost acts as an insult towards more intelligent readers, as if to “ruffle feathers” of the more fortunate and in a roundabout way, shame them into action. Once again, I believe this was intentional and not a flaw in the audience construction.


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