Tutor profile: Jenni B.
What power comes from writing about taboo subjects?
In my opinion, writing has power, and this power doesn't just come from writing nice sentences with striking images. It instead comes from empathy. There are very few art forms that have the potential to allow audiences to step inside the shoes of another person in the same way writing does. When we read books, we live the life of its characters, as we turn each page. As a result, it's easy for us to relate to them, which allows us to see that the world is much more complex than it initially appears, and that we all have different perspectives. Nonetheless, there are certain situations that are easier for audiences to empathise with than others. In situations where characters are vulnerable, or are victimised in some way, we want to root for them, and see them overcome their challenges. They are the underdog, and we want them to succeed. However, another, more difficult, form of empathy comes when we write about taboo subjects. When we write from the point of view of characters who have made mistakes, it can be a challenge to feel sympathy towards them. Maybe they're a bully, or are manipulative. Maybe they're messy, and are self-destructive. Or maybe they struggle to take care of themselves, or are irrationally jealous of the success of other people. These characters may frustrate us. We may even find them unlikable. But writing about them, and empathising with them is necessary, because we all make mistakes, and denying giving a voice to those of us who make them is an injustice, that only serves to compartmentalise us into two categories: right or wrong, good or bad, victim or perpetrator. The great writer, Joyce Carol Oates once said that writing about taboo subjects is powerful, as it gives a voice to those of us who feel muted, and anyone who has made a mistake has felt muted in some way. We don't want to talk about them due to fear of judgement. But if we can write about it, we can unlock a secret underworld between us, and those who have made the same mistake, but was too afraid to say anything. As a result, if we can own our vices and pretences and transgressions in this way, and put them on the page for the world to see, we will find we were never as alone as we presumed.
Subject: Study Skills
How can you find out your study style?
It's easy to assume that academia is just about memorising facts and being good at equations, but this approach is unhelpful and reductive. There are countless types of intelligence, and if we adapt our style of learning to our study techniques, it can make learning much more interesting. But how can you find out which style is right for you? I often find that, for me at least, I learn best by following my interests. I'm musical and because of this I spend quite a long time analysing song lyrics in my free time. However, when I was at university, this really helped me to analyse poetry, as I was able to appreciate imagery and the subtext behind the language on a much deeper level. I also found that being musical was helpful in terms of helping me memorise facts: I would write parodies of my favourite songs, and replace them with the topics I was learning about, so I was able to remember them. This approach may or may not be helpful for you. We all learn in different ways, and you might learn better by watching films and visualising information. You might learn by actually doing things, such as cooking or exercising. Or you might just be happy learning by reading and writing. However way you learn is fine, but you should always make a conscious effort to try and find what style is right for you, which you can do by experimenting and trying out different things. You never know, something might click.
Should we underestimate playful language?
In our society, we have a tendency to dismiss playful language. We are snobbish about slang and poncy about puns because we feel that it is less important than more formal styles of language. Due to this, it's easy to dismiss more informal forms of discourse, and write them off as being superficial, but this couldn't be further from the truth. Take reduplication for instance. This can be intensive, in order to really emphasise something, such as describing something as 'wrong wrong wrong,' rather than just 'wrong.' However, it can also be depreciative if we say, 'work schmerk,' if we really don't want to get our work done. Both of these examples are colloquial forms of language, which we probably wouldn't want to include in an academic essay. This being said, if we are to analyse them, we would realise that they change meaning in quite a complex way. Describing something as being 'wrong, wrong, wrong,' instead of just 'wrong,' could be construed as being trivial, but it is precisely this triviality that changes its meaning; its playful nature makes it seem as though the speaker is trying to downplay how wrong they think it is, by turning it into a joke. Similarly, 'work schmerk,' also lessons how the speaker actually feels; although they are complaining about their work, they may not want to say directly that they hate it, as not to offend their boss. This shows that although playful language like reduplication is often used in informal situations, it can still impact language and meaning in just as complex a way as standard language does. We shouldn’t just write it off as being unimportant; it still changes meaning in a very subtle, context-driven way.
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