My blog has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 6 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Wikipedia and Cilantro, a Close Reading (Part I)

As recent events would have it, namely that I've had the death cough all week (thanks roommate) I've had time to sit back (in truth lie nearly comatose, lest I aggravate the death cough) and contemplate things. Of course that's basically what I do all the time anyway, (contemplate, not lie near comatose (I'm trying to cut back on commas for lent and just removed one I had placed after "Of course," which is making me feel decidedly uncomfortable -- bring on the parentheses)) but I guess when I'm sick and it's late February and it seems winter will never end, these contemplations run deeper, stretch further back. And I think it's in this context that I got to thinking of my high school English teacher from years back who, suffice it to say, was a beyond excellent one.

I learned a whole lotta shit from that one (including the idea that profanity is a form of laziness and that "that" is an overused word -- I agree on the latter but we'll have to agree to disagree on the prior -- a life without "fuck" is not worth living or put another way, I really enjoy using the word "fuck.") including an introductory survey (is that repetitive?) on lit. theory and criticism which would eventually become my collegiate English concentration, because I'm precisely that cool.

One school I remember learning about way back when was New Criticism, a branch of criticism that is absolutely no longer new. What it involves, at least in part, is a close reading of the text. In new criticism, in close reading, the text is supreme (ie it holds supremacy over say the author's biography or other "outside" things). As such we read it closely, extract as much information, as many clues as to what's going on, what's being said, what it all "means" as possible. Because we read so closely lots of stuff matters: sentence length, syntax, chapter length, diction and especially punctuation (including commas). It's a fun way to read things because you can go as deep as you want. Each and every sentence is its own vast universe.

So (just removed a comma -- don't need it if sentence introduction has fewer than three words?) for old time's sake and to connect a few lose wires in my brain, I thought it might be fun to apply a new critical approach to the Wikipedia entry for cilantro. So pop some popcorn, grab a beer, toke a fire and get comfy -- you're in for a treat; hell, you're in for a miniseries.

As a first installment I'd like to address but one piece of wiki-cilantra-minutia. Go to Wikipedia, enter cilantro and see what happens, or simply follow this convenient link where I've already taken these steps for you. Perhaps you'll notice what I have: there is no cilantro page on Wikipedia, per se; there is instead a Coriander page to which you are automatically redirected (now there's a passive sentence -- this makes it seem like the world or some ominous figure has created this coriander reality, as opposed to the more specific and isolated Wikipedia). How about that?

Sure (removed comma) in a certain sense cilantro and coriander are synonymous (which I just learned means have similar meanings, not necessarily exactly the same -- I verified this through three different dictionaries), but the seed is never really called cilantro seed whereas the leaf goes by one or the other. In this way Wikipedia's choice makes sense -- coriander covers more ground. Then again (just removed a comma) the hate of the seed (I call the seed coriander and the leaf cilantro which I believe is fairly common practice, at least in the US) is not something I experience, it's not something I really know about anyone else experiencing. While I do not love coriander seed to the degree I hate the cilantro leaf (removed comma) I do like the seed, I like it just fine.

Is it possible then that Wikiwantsta downplay the herb's nastiness by putting the whole thing under one innocuous umbrella? No I don't really think so. I'm not a crazy paranoid person (read I'm not a pathologically crazy paranoid person). If we look to the right of the page, the plant's genus is coriandrum -- it makes etymological sense to call the whole plant that, if we're going to call it one thing. For Wikipedia's purposes -- a quick, schematic and sometimes in-depth look at a thing -- if they want to combine the whole set of cilantro-y things, and it would make sense to, I guess choosing the one that contains the Latin root makes sense. But it is a certain kind of highbrow throwdown in an otherwise proletariat milieu. Yeah. Suck on that sentence new critics.

I guess in the end I don't have what one might reasonably call an opinion about the coriander redirect situation, which is fairly apropos as that's where I generally found myself in the old literary theory and criticism days: full or thoughts, most of them deconstructing each other. So let me leave my analysis in a place I don't often like to. I think its interesting that Wikipedia redirects the cilantro seeker to the coriander page. I hate that word "interesting." It's usually, I find, an abdication of meaning. It's an excuse to not opine. It's pure theatrics facing nonplus when someone says something decidedly not interesting. But in the rare instance that something is that, just interesting, why force it to be anything else?

No comments: