Foregrounding, Backgrounding

Wednesday 14 August 2013

A few things of interest this week to the teacher of Language and Literature:

The first item, brought to my attention by my dedicated and gifted colleague Di, concerns the film 'The Sapphires'. The film, which I haven't watched, but is based on real events, concerns a musical quartet (is the word 'band' still current?) of Australian Aboriginal women who toured Vietnam in 1968. I'll be corrected if this is not entirely accurate. There is, I read, a controversy - to adopt the phrase that is being used - about the release of the DVD in the United States. On the cover of the DVD released in Australia, the women are foregrounded and their skin colour is obvious. The group's manager - a white male - is backgrounded. However, on the American DVD cover, the women are backgounded, the male is foregrounded, and the skin colour of the women is indistinct. This link reveals what I mean.

In the past, I have used M.C. Escher's image 'Mosaic II' (see above) to illustrate to students the complexity of the relationship between foreground and background. I have suggested that students pay attention to that which is backgrounded - as it is revealing, part of the paralinguistic function of a text, and I have even claimed that what is foregrounded and what is backgrounded may be a matter of individual choice. In light of the 'Sapphires controversy' I may have to rethink my thinking.

Moving on: I love punctuation. That is, I love using punctuation marks, especially commas and semi-colons. Semi-colons are my favourite. Reading, many years ago, John Irving's short memoir, The Imaginary Girlfriend, I learned that he too was a lover of the semi-colon, and much criticised for using them as if they were, apparently, errant tadpoles. I feel, then, in my affection for semi-colons, that I am in very good company. However, yesterday, I read on (great site!) that Cormac McCarthy feels otherwise, and he cautions restraint in the application of punctuation marks. Well (pretty) horses for courses, Cormac; or something like that.


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