Category Archives: Formal analysis

Bookfish (HUM220/ HUM303/ HUM415)

Look at this book. Nothing in it is accidental. It is written. Everything has been put here for a reason. This certainty provokes our desire. There is a message here to interpret. How are we to understand it?

Knowledge is formed according to different methods. You can study the history of a thing, its development. You can analyze its structure by breaking it into parts.

Think of a fish. If you want to know the fish you can observe it: watch its action and see where it goes. If you really want to understand the fish you can capture it. You can kill it and open it up. Doing so entails a necessary violence. Understanding comes at a price.

The same is true for a book. The moment of fully engaged reading is like a swimming fish: pure process, complete absorption. That’s the story, working; the spell produced by its movement. But any effort to account for the story—to explain how it works—requires stillness.

Creating stillness—arresting the story in order to understand how its effects emerge from the interrelationship of its elements– is the act of interpretation.

Crimson Peak (HUM220/HUM303)


I wouldn’t go so far as Stephen King in assessing Crimson Peak. For those who prefer incessant gore and rapid-fire shocks the film probably won’t seem stimulating enough. Instead, elements of mise-en-scene produce many of its most pronounced dramatic effects. While there are several sharp moments of fright and violence, del Toro places the greatest emphasis on visual texture and detail. Thus, anyone intending to watch Crimson Peak critically might focus on some particular aspect of the production design. The obvious candidate for sustained scrutiny would be Allendale Hall, which, like the castle of Otranto, functions not only as a setting but a character. Yet because mise-en-scene analysis always seeks to understand relations between visual elements it’s necessary to look elsewhere as well. Costume, for example, performs a vital function in terms of characterization and mood. With that in mind, one question to consider is how costume and decor relate at specific points in the narrative.


The Gothic Track Assignment (HUM220/HUM303)

I haven’t worked out how to post a youtube video to ilearn forum yet. I’ll need to look into that on Monday. In the meantime here’s a model for what I’m now calling the Gothic Track assignment. The idea is that everyone posts and everyone evaluates. We’ll talk in class next week about the practicalities associated with all this.

“A Forest”

This track from The Cure’s 1980 album Seventeen Seconds is easily one of the band’s most famous songs. Its popularity may have something to do with with simplicity of the lyrics and the spareness of instrumentation, which allow room for an audience to use its imagination. At the lower end of the song the bass and keyboards maintain a dark, reverberating tone, which contrasts with Robert Smith’s vocals and jangly guitar. The overall effect– the atmosphere of the track– is mysterious, compulsive, and, apparently, doomed. In the final moments of the song the bass evokes the heartbeat of someone alone and vulnerable. Abandoned by the other instruments, the bass line ends in a small burst of faster notes. Then silence.

The lyrics resonate so powerfully because they seem to be drawn from the vocabulary of fairy tales and ghost stories. Their very generality– the absence of peculiar or notable details– is what gives them psychological force:

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