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Allegory

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Allegory

Postby Dr. Goodword » Thu Jun 13, 2013 10:28 pm

• allegory •


Pronunciation: æl-ê-go-ree • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: The representation of abstract ideas as real people and events.

Notes: Today's Good Word is a member of a large, happy family. Don't forget to replace the Y with an I when you write them, though. The adjective is allegorical and the adverb, allegorically. A person who writes allegories is an allegorist who allegorizes. The same Y > I rule applies to the plural of this word: allegories.

In Play: Let us begin with one of the classic allegories of American literature: "Melville's Moby Dick is an allegory about a man's quest for his dream." This means that all the frustrations, joys, failures, and successes of Captain Ahab can be seen as symbolically representing the struggle of any person to achieve a monumental goal in life. We can see allegories in ordinary life, too: "Growing up with my mother was an allegory of the struggle between good and evil, with every aspect of her life representing either one or the other."

Word History: Today's Good Word originated in ancient Greek allegoria from the verb allegorein "to imply something other than what you are saying". This verb is made up of allos "other" + agoreuein "to speak publicly". Agoreuein comes from the name of our discussion room, the Agora. Agora is the Greek word for "market, public space". It comes from the same original root as the greg "flock, herd" in congregate, aggressive, and egregious. (We want to imply nothing but our sincere gratitude to Loren Baldwin, who suggested today's Good Word.)
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Re: Allegory

Postby LukeJavan8 » Fri Jun 14, 2013 9:59 am

Plowing thru Moby Dick, I wish I'd had Doc's sympathetic
definition of allegory. All I saw was misery, how to cook
blubber, etc.
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Re: Allegory

Postby Philip Hudson » Fri Jun 14, 2013 10:06 pm

I read "Moby-Dick" as an eight year old child and as a student in a university. I have two real copies plus a horrible condensation. I searched “Moby-Dick” recently for Melville's take on the war in Afghanistan. I remembered it from an earlier reading. Ishmael was miffed because the news from Afghanistan trumped the news of his going to sea at that particular time. The war we are fighting now in Afghanistan is just an extension of that war, which has actually been going on since the fall of the Persian Empire or perhaps since time began.

Contrary to Luke's experience, my childhood view of “Moby-Dick” was that of a ripping good adventure story. I'm not sure if I knew what allegory meant at the time.

At the university where I painfully suffered for a BS, my English professor was all into allegory. However, his weird little mind saw an allegory that Melville surely never intended. To be brutally blunt about it, he thought “Moby-Dick” was about big penis envy. When I took exception he penalized my grade. I tried to have him disciplined by the Faculty Dean. The Dean and several faculty members admitted the professor was nuts and not qualified to teach. The Dean ordered the professor to restore my grade. I got no other measurable results. The dean and I were personal friends and he explained that sleeping dogs were best allowed to lie.

I still like Moby Dick for its narrative and style. It remains a ripping good adventure story. I don't think much allegorically about it any more. I supposed I have gotten past that part of the book.
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Re: Allegory

Postby Perry Lassiter » Fri Jun 14, 2013 11:07 pm

All classics begin as ripping good stories. If not, they would not have lasted. Most of the outstanding once have a way with words that convey beauty, almost poetry. I have trouble with Dickens because I want to savor the words. Shakespeare was fantastic as a working playwright/actor. I wonder how many of his immortal lines were scribbled after a practice when the original line or scene didn't work. Never read books to get deep. Read for the pure enjoyment. If something else is there, it'll grab you. Example: To Kill a Mockingbird.
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Re: Allegory

Postby Slava » Fri Jun 14, 2013 11:11 pm

A long-standing critique of those who espouse a phallic interpretation of Moby Dick: Sometimes a whale is just a whale.
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Re: Allegory

Postby Perry Lassiter » Sat Jun 15, 2013 11:41 am

And a good cigar is a smoke.
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Re: Allegory

Postby gailr » Mon Jun 17, 2013 12:49 am

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Re: Allegory

Postby call_copse » Mon Jun 17, 2013 6:35 am

Slava wrote:A long-standing critique of those who espouse a phallic interpretation of Moby Dick: Sometimes a whale is just a whale.


Sheesh, next you'll be saying there's no homoerotic subtext?

Rictor Norton, "Herman Melville", Gay History and Literature, 9 Jan. 2000, updated 12 January 2011 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/melville.htm>
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Re: Allegory

Postby MTC » Mon Jun 17, 2013 9:14 am

VERBUM BONUM, AN ALLEGORY

Once there was a Mighty Wizard who lived in a Kingdom called "Verbum Bonum." The Wizard was known far and wide for his wisdom, and for the lavish balls he threw for his subjects. Everyone looked forward to finding one of the Wizard's gilt-edged invitations in the mailbox. Over the years the Wizard's popularity grew. Indeed, it seemed the sunny state of affairs between Wizard and subjects would last forever, except that from time to time a dark cloud appeared. Sometimes when subjects arrived for the ball they found the palace gates locked and no lights within. The would-be ballgoers were "all dressed up with no place to go." To salvage their disappointment, some held small parties of their own. But many others walked away in high dudgeon. When the Wizard was asked for an explanation he simply smiled, and said nothing. At first these occasional let downs had little effect on the Wizard's popularity. After all, they were infrequent, and the balls were entertaining and free. But as cancellations accumulated over the years, many subjects decided not to attend the balls rather than risk disappointment. Gradually the Wizard lost the popularity he had gained through his largess. Only a few of his many subjects continued to attend the balls. The great ballroom which once echoed with merriment fell sadly silent. Here and there knots of loyal subjects gathered around the ballroom floor to reminisce about gladsome times gone by. Until finally one day a sign abruptly appeared on the palace gates: "BALL CLOSED INDEFINITELY." And so, dear listeners, our story comes to an end.

Any resemblance to real persons, places, and things is entirely deliberate.

from the Apocrypha of MTC
Last edited by MTC on Tue Jun 18, 2013 12:49 am, edited 5 times in total.
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Re: Allegory

Postby Perry Lassiter » Mon Jun 17, 2013 5:40 pm

Ahh, illustrating an allegory full of metaphor...or something!
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Re: Allegory

Postby Slava » Mon Jun 17, 2013 6:49 pm

call_copse wrote:Sheesh, next you'll be saying there's no homoerotic subtext?

Rictor Norton, "Herman Melville", Gay History and Literature, 9 Jan. 2000, updated 12 January 2011 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/melville.htm>
Honestly, I consider the vast majority of such theories bunk. If you want to find something, you can. That's about it.

In a class I took a few years ago, we read a piece by a woman writer who took issue with all sorts of dumb things. The first was, of course, the "phallic" image of a rocket. Well, yeah, it can be taken as such, but it wasn't made to be so. Had she never heard of aerodynamics?

And, please, yes we do "penetrate" enemy territory, but it has nothing explicitly to do with sex.

The worst was her going off on the acronym MIRV. She claimed the military was trying to dumb it down and make it sound innocent by using RV, which she demanded we interpret as Recreation Vehicle. Dumb, dumber, and worthless.
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Re: Allegory

Postby Perry Lassiter » Mon Jun 17, 2013 10:56 pm

Conspiracy theories abound!
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Re: Allegory

Postby call_copse » Tue Jun 18, 2013 6:57 am

Slava wrote:... Honestly, I consider the vast majority of such theories bunk. If you want to find something, you can. That's about it.
...


I was being a little tongue in cheek on that one but let's see:

"I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers' hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes."

I honestly think you'd have to be either totally in denial, or innocent as a new born lamb, not to think there is SOME reference to the sexual on the part of the author, conscious or not. It tallies with the rest of the story and the relationship with Queequeg e.g:

"Queequeg now and then affectionately throwing his brown tattooed legs over mine, and then drawing them back; so entirely sociable and free and easy we were"
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Re: Allegory

Postby MTC » Tue Jun 18, 2013 12:59 pm

As you point out, cal copse, it would take a naif to discount the sexually charged language in Moby Dick. Over the years I have found some people take an almost visceral, instinctive dislike to the psychological interpretation of literature. Attempting to persuade them with the facts generally falls on deaf ears. People of a conservative mindset, often in the sciences are particularly unreceptive.

An incident from my own life will illustrate. English majors at UC Berkeley are required to write many papers. There are (or were) no multiple choice exams. One day without warning Professor Starr invited me to read to the class my paper on Moll Flanders which explored the heroine's actions from a psychological perspective. It was my first attempt at this approach to literary criticism, but the facts seemed to cry out for it. So I went ahead, little knowing the controversy it would cause. Anyway, asking a student to read a paper aloud was itself unprecedented--at least I had never heard of it being done. Apparently professor Starr thought the class would benefit from looking at Defoe's* novel from a fresh vantage. When I finished reading, trailing clouds of glory, the reaction from some members of the class was quite hostile. No matter my theory dovetailed neatly with the text, and accounted for Moll's otherwise inexplicable behavior. Of course psychological interpretation can be overdone. Not every literary work lends itself to this approach. And sometimes it reduces itself to pure subjectivity, to a kind of literary rorscach test: you see elephants, I see cows, etc. But other times the approach (Freudian or other) explains the text in a way other approaches cannot. The language you quoted from Moby Dick is a case in point. How to account for these frankly sexual and clearly homoerotic passages? What part do they play in the novel? It won't help to stick our heads in the sand, if that figure of speech is not too suggestive.

*Corrected from Fielding.
Last edited by MTC on Wed Jun 19, 2013 7:34 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Allegory

Postby Philip Hudson » Wed Jun 19, 2013 2:39 am

"Mol Flanders" was not written by Fielding but by Defoe. Fielding wrote "Tom Jones" which doesn't have any hidden sexual context at all, it being quite open and obvious. Defoe was more complex than Fielding but often more absurd. There are obviously sexual innuendos and even almost porn in Defoe's writings. Witness his detailed descriptions of the giants and their sexual proclivities, for example.
Although there is some erotica in"Moby Dick", it is not about penis envy.
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