A memorial

I have often visited the ‘Armouries’ in Leeds.  A museum of war and weapons, it stands next to the Leeds-Liverpool canal, within walking distance of the train station.  Whilst not commercially sensible, the location is suitable – a folly with an unclear message.

Much of the museum glorifies the various ‘means of destruction’ and the men who have used them.  The imposing facade contains a well-laid out collection of swords, spears, bows and arrows, guns and their supporting transport, with lucid explanatory notes and helpful interesting videos.  In addition, there are practical demonstrations of swordfights, falconry and the medieval joust, a shooting range and short theatrical presentations of an archer’s experience of Agincourt and First World War domestic life.  And of course an overpriced cafe, selling poor quality food.

One has to ask the question, ‘why the need for all these weapons?’  Whilst the arms industry is lucrative for the entrepreneur and popular with the voters, many of whom are fully employed for long periods of time, there still needs to be a market for the product.  This market-place is occupied by the ruling elites of the world, be they gangsters or governments, often both, protecting what they have or exploring new opportunities for wealth, power and influence.  It is their only method of preserving and perpetuating their ideas; ideas they fear would otherwise decay.

Whilst war, and the threat of war, are no longer the officially sanctioned currencies of persuasion used by the nations of Europe and North America, even in these so-called civilised countries it is still unofficially around, keeping the arms industry productive and profitable.

So how do civilised nations cope without violence?  The answer is easy – they don’t, they’ve simply converted physical weapons into psychological ones.  The ruling elite maintains its economic and ideological position through education and the law; the acceptable ways to be, in families, schools, companies and society at large.  And the doublespeak; these are for your own good, and yet they are really about keeping us in power.  Education, the law and large organisations are today’s weapons of authorised violence.

How come nobody has seen into all this?  Because everybody is too busy trying to make a success of their lives on the ruling elite’s terms.  Come listen to our lessons, follow our rules and you shall inherit, what?  You shall inherit the killer instinct, the power drive and the winning streak, the hollow victory and the worthless prize.  Ideas do this, not bullets, but they wound and kill nevertheless.

And the Armouries remains – a memorial of war.  A permanent record lest we forget and repeat our mistakes, surrounded by three reminders of our way of life, the canal, the railway and the city; the things they say we fought world wars for.  A folly with an unclear message.

A home to die for

A ‘one-off’ opportunity, the house to end all houses.

One previous careful owner.

Look round early or you will be killed in the rush.

Deceptively spacious.

Impeccable security arrangements.

Need land for the horses? – no problem, the stables are already built.

Massive forecourt for all those cars.

Unique view – quaint local family brewery, lazy waterways and quiet branchline.

Many unusual features, marvellous talking point for the serious hostess.

Wonderful decor – move right in, nothing to be done immediately.

You’re bound to have lots of visitors.

Brilliantly situated for the modern female who is looking for Mr. Right, that fast moving young modern executive, who needs to go places.

You’re going up in the world if you own this house.

‘The Armouries’ –  simply a home to die for.

Commentary

I struggled with this assignment, but not quite in the same way as the short and long sentences.  Having written the direct piece, I couldn’t think of the indirect one.  It suddenly came to me, but too late to do the commentary for the college session.

From the previous week, a discussion of why write in an indirect way?

–  it targets a particular audience and flatters their intellect.

–  takes time to think the piece through, so it stays in the mind longer.

Against, if the work is too difficult the reader will put it down.

It is culturally determined – a convoluted polite piece for whatever reason only works if the audience share that version of politeness.

From the last session of the term:

direct communication:  simple sentence structures, succinct and concrete themes, ordered scheme (headings and bullet points), logical narrative, technical or specific language, emergency, important information to be passed along quickly for whatever reason, direct imperative – do this do that.

indirect communication:  saying one thing and meaning another – assumes the reader in some shared private world and hence flattering, reader has to work as their is no obvious connection between words and themes.  double entendres, tentative, woffle (digression), irony , fragmented structure, missing out function words and prepositions, complex vocabulary, jargon, abstract themes, longer sentences, highflown register, leaving out all the bits you don’t need, politeness, unexpected register, thinking about the reader rather than the content.  More direct access to the writer’s mind – indirect writing a true reflection of how we really think.

Moving to my work, and analysing in terms of register, point of view, sentence length, constructing the reader and the intended degree of directness of communication.

The first piece is a magazine article or something from a broadsheet Sunday newspaper (essay, editorial, or feature article).  A building, and its use as a museum which houses artifacts, are symbols for ideas associated with violence to the individual.  It is somewhat tongue in cheek, as education and the law are valuable.

It is a direct assault on a topic close to the writer’s heart, exhorting the reader to wake up to what is going on around him or her.  It is a written equivalent to someone making a strong speech.  How does it make its effects?

Register – the language is political, economic, military and sociological.  Whilst the words are in every day use, here they are associated with the specific context of the history of war.  It is a formal written piece, meant as a criticism of physical and psychological violence.  The intended effect is the conveyance of an important message and it comes across as angry and a bit pompous.  The content is not the sort of thing seen in a mainstream newspaper, as it doesn’t align itself with any political party message.  It wouldn’t be popular with most readers because it has a go at the ‘western way of life’, and thus it might be more appropriate for an extreme ‘left’ or anarchist magazine.

Point of view – its written in the third person even though it starts with ‘I’.  The writer thus definately holds these views and comes across as angry, possibly male, literate, perhaps appealing to an intelligent reader with the same views – a marxist, a pacifist, a middle-aged drop-out.  The ‘I’ changes to ‘one’ in the middle and a series of questions are asked.  There is an imperative, ‘One has to…’ , and one of the questions is answered as ‘easy’, and another in a manner which suggests there is only one way of seeing the problem.  The reader whilst asked to think about the issues, is not expected to disagree.  Thus both the narrator and narratee come from a small section of the population.  Many readers may put this down if they don’t hold the same views.

Sentence length and complexity – it is written in complex structures, using diverse vocabulary.  The sentences are never too long, containing one idea most of the time.  There are short sentences too: for emphasis, asking questions or a pause.

Constructing the reader – the asking of questions, the vocabulary and the assumption that someone out there agrees with the ideas, constructs a reader along the lines already discussed.  The assumptions include: governments of all persuasions use any means of staying in power; they lie about it; education and the law can be misused; striving for material wealth is a superficial way of life.

Direct communication – given the techniques for direct communication quoted above, this piece contains many of the indirect examples and may suffer if it were on its own.  Directness is indicated by the imperatives, the simplicity of the themes and the singlemindedness of the writer’s intentions.  It is clear what he is saying and trying to achieve.  This is not a discursive piece, assessing the various possibilities for and against the main arguments.  Especially when compared with the second piece, it is direct, despite being made up of complex sentences, specific vocabulary and abstract themes.  Whilst it does make assumptions about the reader, it makes them directly, so the ideas are not difficult, so long as the vocabulary is understood.

The second piece is an estate agent’s advert.  It is selling a house and a way of life, only the house is actually a war museum. As a surprising and sarcastic vehicle for the message, it is powerful.  How does it work?

Register – its informal, written and uses vocabulary and ideas that are consistent with many of the adverts seen in estate agent literature.  Doublespeak is used throughout (deceptively spacious, quaint brewery, wonderful decor).

Point of view – the narrator is the writer of the first piece, but in the guise of an estate agent.  The narratee is a woman who intends to achieve a certain lifestyle, not necessarily through romantic love, perhaps taking advantage of a future partner’s potential for gaining wealth, power and status.  The piece is intended as a minority protest, but many readers could enjoy the sarcasm without having to go along with the main ideas.

Sentence length – they are short and fragmented, missing verbs.  The advert is actually a list.

Constructing the reader – there is a direct address to ‘you’, the lady with money, horses, cars, visitors who intends to marry well and rise up the social ladder.  The assumptions include: big houses, horses, cars are a measure of status; there will be competition for this sort of ‘exclusive’ house.  Yet the real reader is enjoying a laugh at the expense of this lady and her intentions, and at the expense of estate agents who sell things in a certain way.

Indirect communication – the language and sentence structure produces something that is quite oblique and needs the first piece as an explanation.  Bridging inferences include: a shared awareness of what the armouries is, the genre of estate agent advertising (hyperbole and flexible with the truth), assumptions about a section of the female population who are aggressive and seek their fortune through an arranged marriage.

In addition, phrases like a ‘house to end all houses’ (from WW1 – ‘war to end all wars’), ‘killed in the rush’, ‘a home to die for’ are all double meanings referring to the attractiveness of the property as worth dying for, when the armouries is actually a place which documents death in many different ways.

The final idea to be shared indirectly is that people will go to great lengths to get or achieve something even when there may be substantial costs.

The list, the fragmented sentences without verbs, the unexpected register and the assumptions all contribute to the piece saying one thing, whilst meaning something entirely different.  The effect is comic, but can be taken seriously by a minority who share the same opinions as the writer.

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