Office Hours may be cancelled, but the Gift Shop is open.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Titulary Discourse

Is a title more important than the substance? Generally, we give them a great deal of thought. But for those absent from an author's direct acquaintance or specialty, they can seem obtuse. C'mon. Admit it. Sometimes they're just plain ridiculous, but some can be just right, just so.

This year I've served on two search committees, both of which have been chaired by Prof. Crustivita, the Dark Lord. He is too quick to judge a person's œuvre by titles. We reign him in, but sometimes, and I hate to concede this, he is right. (Ouch, that hurts to type.) Some show that an author is trying to impress with the jargon/discourse of a trendy sub-field, at the expense of the object of the study. Amateurs, as Crustivita calls them, actually include the proper adjective of their favorite theorist whose work seems to guide the argument more than the author's own thinking. "This is an admission that s/he has nothing interesting to say," barks Crustivita. "I've already read that theorist and would know what he would say about this: pour la poubelle!" Some reach for the stars and try to write something that seems authoritative, seminal even. These of course avoid the colon wholly.

Concerning titles with a colon: it would seem that the title could survive without one of the pharases, although it does ensure that the title will take a second line in bibliographies and CVs. Of course, titles with foreign-language phrases in them must have a colon.

It's true: we ought not judge a book (or article) by it's cover, but the title is fair game.

Some criteria for a good title:

  • an (in)offensive pun.....4 points, 6 if potentially offensive

  • figura etymologica.....3 points

  • chiasmus.....6 points

  • catachresis.....4 points

  • made-up words (2 points if it ends in "-ism", 3 if in "-isme" or "-ismus").....2 points

  • reference to children's literature or folktale.....4 points

  • gerunds before the colon (2 extra points if improperly formed form a noun).....2 points

  • substantive adjectives, or adverbs with definite articles.....3 points

  • parentheses and hyphens.....1 point each

  • a cliche, appropriate or not.....3 points

  • reference to popular culture.....4 points

  • French (or German or some Continental language, past or present).....6 points

  • literary reference to something beyond the scope of study.....5 points

  • proper adjective derived from a scholar's/theorist's name.....3 points

  • reference to a "methodology".....1 point

  • using a Greek prefix on a Latintate root, or vice versa (in any other context, such a crime would require one to surrender his philologist's license).....4 points

A test drive:

A Word's Worth: a Lacanian reading of early 19th century British poetry (8 points)

Creating Titles, Entitled Creation: appellationism deconstructed (13 points)

Here and Now, The Now and The Then: einst and jetzt in the narratology of self and other (24 points, although the chiasmus is debatable)

Magic Beans: bucolic meta-urbanism in Hugo (8 points)

See Dick Run: phallogenetica in American political culture (12 points)

Monkeying Around: the semiotics of simiatics in the performative rhetoric of the Senate (8 points)

The Weltanshauung of L'Autrisme (ooh! a seminal work!....12 points, plus 5 bonus points, pour l'audace.....17 points)

Sublime Liminality: a comprehensive diachronic survey of turnstiles and (sub-)urban localities in London, 1919-1923 (8 points)

Discoursing Running Asunder: meta-stercoration and trans-scataficationism in the epinomenclaturismatica of neo-cultural studies (24 points)

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star: a post-Freudian reading of diminutives in Newton's Principia (8 points)

Reap What You Sow: Schadenfreude and the pessimism of polity in Vergil's Georgics (9 points)

Speaking Volumes, Volumes of Speech: a post-Foucault discourse analysis of the oratory of Hubert Humphry (13 points)

What Big Teeth You Have: the hermeneutics of dental registry accounts in post-War Shropshire (5 points)

Ciao, Ciao, Chow Chow: the canid semiotics of exotica in the performative (dis)course of passagiato (17 points)

Empowering Placement and the Power of Place: topos and logos in the Lonely Planet cycle (15 points)

Blinded by the Light: (re-)deconstructing the voice as hypocultural lens in the productionist texts of IKEA lighting fixtures (14 points)

Drinking Voices, the Voice of Drink: writing orality and the Temple Bar narratives of Spring Break '04 (16 points)

Doh!: the exclamatory as manifesto in Iliad (7 points)

The sandbox is open if anyone cares to play. Come now. Do your worst.


At 7:56 AM, June 03, 2006, Blogger Hilaire said...

Ooh, I've been waiting for that tome on Shropshire dentistry! Since I'm terrible at titles - always avoid them until the last minute - I'm not going to play, I'm afraid. Dark Lord's attitude toward titles is a sobering reminder that I should get my act together in this regard!

At 12:04 AM, June 04, 2006, Blogger Sfrajett said...

I know I'm supposed to be inventive at this point, but I can't help remembering a real title to a real book that still makes me shiver: "Talk on the Wilde Side: Towards a Genealogy of a Discourse on Male Sexualities." Brrrrr. And while you're having fun with bad titles,don't forget to add the horrible parentheses to this. Now THAT was a truly bad era. One went something like "Sexual/Textual Escap(ad)es" and then, of course, there was a colon with stuff after it. WTF?

At 7:52 PM, June 04, 2006, Blogger App Crit said...

Wow! Those are some foul titles, Sfrajett! Those word-internal parentheses do inspire some socially awkward intestinal discomfort.

I guess it's just becasue of these search committees that I'm now (re)focused on such things. These days, I pay more attention to names I know rather than simply devouring bibliography, and I see up-and-comers at conferences or writing book reviews.

But there are still so many bad titles. Bad, godawful ones. So bad, actually, that I don't care to read beyond them.

I am, however, with Hilaire. Anything on the dentistry in Shropshire (as synecdoche?) would be incisive.

Cin cin

At 2:52 PM, June 10, 2006, Blogger Zachary Drake said...

Great scoring system. I think it's pretty funny how ways of speaking infect a field. I think one could probably do a similar scoring system for the titles of corporate projects e.g. "Implementing a bottom-up performance revolution: 5 steps to pro-actively foster ownership of the quality development process". I just made that up but I doubt it would be hard to find similar examples.

My pet theory is that this kind of jargon develops so that members of a field can reinforce their own identity and delude themselves that no one else can do what they do. If everyone used plain English, it would be obvious that most of what we do is either rather pedestrian or rather incoherent.

At 3:09 PM, June 10, 2006, Anonymous The Mad Latinist said...

I'm rather surprised that a certain substantive adjective didn't get more play in this entry ;)

At 1:21 PM, June 12, 2006, Blogger App Crit said...

Zac: the purpose of discourse is exclusive. If we spoke in plain English, people would know that we're not really saying anything at all. Just imagine...

jdm314: I can't imaging what you're referring to. Is there something other you wish to add?

Cheers, gents

At 4:12 PM, November 08, 2006, Blogger Tenured Radical said...

Since I'm a historian I don't gt much of this -- although there are some interdisciplinary journals I have virtually stopped reading because at my age I can hardly see, much less untangel multi-clause sentences with obscure words in them, even if I know the words. I mean, if I wanted to read that, I would learn German, right?

Seriously -- the real fault is this panic to "look smart" rather than actual take risks and thinka (gasp) original thought. And whose fault is that? Not the author. Tenure, tenure, tenure, the root of all evils.

PS. I htink we have a similar sense of humor. Link me!


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home