Today’s class was a lot like that one show, with that guy. You know, Jim Carey. No, the guy with the glasses. DREW Carey. Whose Line Is It, or whatever.
Yeah, it was kind of like that. Except, since all the students were too scared to do the real improv stuff, we had to do it English-class style, on paper.
So we’re still talking about Holden’s voice, but now we’re looking at ways he expresses his unique attitude through narrative structure (the structure of his story), rather than through word choice, which we’ve been talking about for the past few days. Specifically, we’re exploring the “digression.” The word digression literally means “a turn away from the main path.” Basically, that means you start with one topic, which then reminds you of something else, and you go on at length about the new topic, often completely leaving the old topic behind.
Here’s what we did in class. I drew a bunch of lines on the board. The bottom one is labeled “Main topic.” The lines step up 4 or 5 times, reach a climax, and then step back down to another line labeled “main topic.” I took random suggestions from the audience about what to put on the lines as they moved away from, and then back toward the main topic. When all that was done, students had 5 minutes to create a narrative that took in each topic in order, and then came back somehow to the main. In effect, they created massive digressions. The results turned out to be quite amusing. See a few of the key quotes below.
After that was done, I gave students the “digression map” handout (see downloads at the bottom of this post), which they took notes on as they listened to the reading. (We read to page 75.) While we read, students tried to make a map of how Holden’s many digressions related to the main storyline of the novel. For example, when Holden is putting on his shirt, something reminds him of his kid sister, Phoebe, so he talks about various things relating to Phoebe. Each time he talked about a different aspect of Phoebe, we created a new branch of his digression, until he eventually snapped back to the main action of the story.
The fact that Holden carries on in this informal way says something about his attitude and emotions. Remember, Holden is remembering these events as he sits alone in a hospital room. This style of writing mirrors the natural way people think, in a lot of ways, with the brain associating one thing with another, and exploring the ins and outs of subjects that don’t seem related, at first. Holden’s loose narrative structure is part of what gives him a distinctive voice and conveys his emotional state as he tells his story. Think how different Holden would be if he was delivering a formal, objective, rationally ordered narrative.
If you missed class today, get a copy of the book (or come borrow it during project period), read the part, and fill out the digression map.
For those of you who were here, save your digression stories for Coffee House night. Some of those things were shear poetry. Poetry, I tell you.
Quotes of the day:
“Hey! My spleen is also named Joe!” Ben B.
“It is filled with a liquid I like to call ‘spluid'” Michael K.
“Everyone knows tacos make llama fur soft and shiny.” Nina C.
“Gouda cheese has a brain. It used its brain to put on pants.” David L.
Downloads: digression map handout