February 16, 2004



Anonynous Professor in America Somewhere:

"Why Linton Kwesi Johnson Had Rightful Concerns"

Below is the introduction to a paper I received this week from a student in my Freshman writing class. Remember that this student is enrolled at one of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation.

"The type of rap music, chronologically or otherwise, most drastically determines the respective roles lyrics, and the music over which they are placed, will ultimately fulfill. This, for many, however, is a quintessential and omnipresent conflict within music. Linton Kwesi Johnson claimed that "there is always a danger of music dominating the words." When assessing this notion, one must consider the genre of rap, or music in general, that is in question. Chronological era, artistic intent, economic intent (earning power of the song itself), and the physical location of the recording all independently contribute to the capacities words and music satisfy. It is irresponsible to state that all lyrics and all beats can coexist successfully--they cannot. Lyrics and beats are two separate entities that must be reconciled harmoniously. Nevertheless, modern, less politicized, hip-hop rappers haven't the burden of conveying the often-complicated social messages of their predecessors, allowing the modern musical accompaniment to engage in more inconsistent beats and operations in general."

The best thing I can say about this is that it is spell-checked. This piece reminds me of the babelfish online translators: put something into English, translate in into Japanese, then Swedish, then back into English.

How can account for this atrocity? Is this a stupid boy? Is this a boy with better things to do than write a clear, organized paper for his sociology professor? Is this a willful boy, intent on self-sabotage? Or someone who has never been taught how to write, and by extension, how to think?

Perhaps the written word is so foreign to our tongue that to use it is to get lost in translation? Is this our high school English teacher's fault? Did she teach us that we should write in Joyce's voice (or, more likely, in Salinger's or Angelou's)? Do we know our best voice, and if we do, do we associate that with literary effectiveness?

Maybe "chronologically," "quintessential," and "omnipresent' are intellectual passkeys. The writer thought, "She'll read these big words and think I'm smart, and I'll get a good grade." As if intelligence and learning amounted to word-clothing: a prosthetic for the mind.

When I was in college, one of the fraternities encouraged brothers to include a particular word in every essay. I forget what word it was, but the memory makes me think this paper might be a prank. Like a university IA agent checking in to make sure I'm staying on my game.

Come to think of it, perhaps the big words, outrageous claims, and generalized feeling of style over substance is a function of our American relationship to size. Did our English teacher tell us that "bigger is better"? Many of my students associate grandiose claims with rhetorical effectiveness. As in, "ALL people do or say or think the following"...

I am sick of telling you that I do not want the large combo, even if it is only 50 cents more. I am sick of grading.

Posted by Sasha at February 16, 2004 08:22 PM | TrackBack