Writing In Public celebrates the art and intelligence of essays, online and in print.

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A writer’s imagined camera

A writer’s imagined camera

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Rob Goodman explores the literary origins of our visual grammar @ The Millions.Maybe you’re young enough to remember Blue’s Clues, or old enough to have a little one hanging on the mystery-solving adventures of Steve and Blue as you read this. If, by any chance, Blue’s Clueshappens to be on in the background, try this experiment: watch and see how long the camera holds on a single shot.You will, by design, be waiting a long time. The child psychologists who helped create Bluediscovered that young viewers don’t know what to do with cuts and edits; they understand them as a new scene, not the same scene shot from a different angle, and they’re soon too confused to keep up. So the Blue’s Clues camera almost always holds steady, in a series of long and deliberate takes.On the grown-up channels, the camera can do more—but only because we’ve already learned the complicated visual grammar that makes the camera make sense. Think of the long list of visual cues we take for granted. How do we know, without struggling to process the fact, that a scene shot from three angles by three cameras is the same scene? How can we tell the difference in emotional register between a series of rapid-fire cuts and a single, slow, agonizing take? Who says that a series of short shots often indicates the passage of time? As much as we may take these conventions for granted, as natural as their emotional associations might seem to us, they make sense largely because we’ve had “practice.”Who invented this visual grammar? A film historian might look to pioneering pictures likeBattleship Potemkin or Birth of a Nation; but before there was such a thing as a movie camera, it was a writer’s job to juxtapose and jump between images—from a battlefield to Mount Olympus, from medias res to the far past, with resources limited only by imagination and the price of ink.read more

Awkwardness is an essential condition

Awkwardness is an essential condition

An intimate new friend in the house of books

An intimate new friend in the house of books