As a language and literature major in college I spent a lot of my time analyzing the meaning of words. I pondered the impact of specific verb tenses, debated the merits of various adjectives and pulled apart the meaning behind why an author might have chosen a particular style of narrative. I wrote a good number of papers on metaphors and allusions and the art of implying without saying. Most of my assignments had to do with written texts and I was tasked with interpreting the author’s words within the sociocultural context of both the text’s setting and when the work was actually published.
One of the more unique assignments I took on in school had to do with analyzing propaganda. Suddenly there were pictures in the mix, and the pictures had just as much (if not more) meaning as the words. It was now a matter of evaluating positioning, size, color choice, etc in addition to the relationship between the words and the imagery. What amazed me about the propaganda I was looking at was that if you took away the words, the pages still had a lot of meaning. The propaganda’s designers had given such thought to how they crafted their messaging that you didn’t even need the words to get the point.
My background in pulling apart every bit of words and pictures probably made me love a recent post on HiLowbrow perhaps even more than other readers. The post discusses the impact of taking away labels, signage wording, etc and just looking at the spaces that remain. It’s a rather interesting exercise, and one that I have been applying to the world around me since reading the post. Walking down the street, I take a look at a sign and imagine the same sign without any words. How does the impact change? And would I recognize the shapes and signs from my neighborhood if all the words were removed? Would I be able to identify what type of businesses the signs were for if all the context was taken away?
For added fun on the topic of knowing your stuff when it comes to literary analysis, go ahead and get a nice laugh out of this comic about English majors. I like to think that having majored in two foreign languages means I will get even respect than the guy depicted in this comic. I always found it funny that majoring in English seemed totally normal to a lot of my peers, but majoring in a foreign language seemed impractical. I will of course argue to no end that majoring in foreign languages is very practical and very enriching, but that’s a debate for another day…