Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Dangling Conversation

I assume many of you are familiar with Simon & Garfunkel’s songs The Sound of Silence and Mrs. Robinson. I love these songs, too, but they do not even scratch the surface of the heavenly pool of pieces produced by this powerful duo. I often just read Simon & Garfunkel songs without any music because their lyrics can stand as poetry on their own. Combined with complex acoustic guitar fingerings and mind-blowing harmonies, Simon & Garfunkel’s beautiful words create thought-provoking, inspiring, and enlightening songs.

simon and garfunkel

One of my favorite pieces by Simon & Garfunkel is The Dangling Conversation. I could not bring myself to pick just one section to share with you, so here is the full song:

It’s a still life water color,
Of a now late afternoon,
As the sun shines through the curtained lace
And shadows wash the room.
And we sit and drink our coffee
Couched in our indifference,
Like shells upon the shore
You can hear the ocean roar
In the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs,
The borders of our lives.

And you read your Emily Dickinson,
And I my Robert Frost,
And we note our place with bookmarkers
That measure what we’ve lost.
Like a poem poorly written
We are verses out of rhythm,
Couplets out of rhyme,
In syncopated time
Lost in the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs,
Are the borders of our lives.

Yes, we speak of things that matter,
With words that must be said,
“Can analysis be worthwhile?”
“Is the theater really dead?”
And how the room is softly faded
And I only kiss your shadow,
I cannot feel your hand,
You’re a stranger now unto me
Lost in the dangling conversation.
And the superficial sighs,
In the borders of our lives.

The music in The Dangling Conversation is rather simple and quiet, but the lyrics expose Simon & Garfunkel’s creative genius. I believe this song tells the story of two people falling out of love. There is an important conversation to have that neither person is willing to bring up, and so it becomes “the dangling conversation” that rips them apart.

The idea presented in the very first line: “It’s a still life water color,” intrigued me. Water color is a form of painting where precision does not matter. In fact, the whole point of water color is to have soft edges, mixed colors, and a more impressionistic appearance. Still life is the exact opposite. The point of still life painting is to portray stationary items (usually something mundane like a bowl of fruit or candles on a table) as accurately as possible. I think Simon & Garfunkel use the juxtaposition of “a still life water color” to express the tragic paradox in the lovers’ relationship. Where they should have clarity, they have obfuscation. The “dangling conversation” causes their still life relationship to become blurred like a water color.

The lines “and the superficial sighs/ the borders of our lives” repeats throughout the song. Through these words, the listener can easily see two lovers sitting in the same room…no speaking, only the occasional unnoticed sigh. These sighs are superficial because they convey no meaning to the other person. Whereas a lover in a thriving relationship would hear his or her partner sigh and ask what was wrong, these lovers simply ignore the sighs and accept them as the “border.” Neither lover asks what is wrong because they both know. They refuse to talk about the “dangling conversation,” and so accept the occasional sigh as the limit.

simon and garfunkel 2

Unit 4 Ideas

When I think of the word controversy, I think of issues such as health care, abortion, gay rights, etc. However, there are a lot of other controversies that hit much closer to home, as well. Throughout the last couple weeks, my group tossed a lot of ideas around as to what controversy we can focus on with which we can survey students at Penn State. What do Penn State students have particular insight on? What might they care about?

One idea for our Unit 4 controversy is how many THON groups host parties with alcohol. Although there is nothing extraordinarily shocking about college kids drinking beer, drinking takes on a different light when it is done under an organization like THON. The Penn State Dance Marathon is a massive fundraiser to raise money to fight pediatric cancer. The slogan one can see everywhere around campus is “FTK:” For The Kids. Some people argue that people should not party with their THON groups because it is not “FTK-appropriate.”

Another controversy we discussed is the legalization of marijuana. It is not legal in some states to grow and/or use marijuana. With the passing of those laws came the increase in many people’s interest in the topic. Many people argue that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, so since alcohol is legal for people over 21 years, marijuana should be, too. Others argue that marijuana is much more powerful than alcohol because it takes until someone abuses alcohol to feel its effects.

Personally, I think either of these controversies would arouse a lot of response from the people we interview. Both topics hit home with specific (and very prevalent) groups at Penn State. My concern about both controversies (but especially THON) is that people will not want to give information about it. We would keep everyone anonymous, but I feel that people will hesitate to tell of their personal experience with THON parties because they do not want to get anyone in trouble and/or they do not want to indicate that they had any part of it. And for the marijuana legalization controversy, people will probably hesitate to answer because as of right now, marijuana is still illegal in Pennsylvania. Anyone who argues that the government should legalize it might hesitate to have their name (or anonymous ideas) associated with the topic.

A Very Serious Analysis of “What Time Is It? (Summertime)”

On December 2006, Disney released the first film of the trilogy High School Musical. America fell in love with Troy and Gabriella’s forbidden romance, Sharpay and Ryan’s ambitious odyssey to the top, and the thrilling tale of Wildcat betrayal and redemption. Not even a year later, Disney released the second installation of America’s favorite romance story. High School Musical 2 captured our hearts all over again. In a stroke of brilliance, the writers applied an identical plot line to a slightly different setting with slightly different songs to create a concordant masterpiece.

To provide an example of this musical’s creative ingenuity, let’s take a close look at the opening number to High School Musical 2: “What Time Is It? (Summertime).”

What time is it?
It’s our vacation
What time is it?
Party time
That’s right, say it loud

What time is it?
The time of our lives
What time is it?
School’s out, scream and shout!

Repetition is a method in poetry and song-writing used to emphasize the importance of a certain concept. Throughout the piece, the Wildcats repeat the question “What time is it?,” emphasizing their uncertainty. Without time, there is no basic mechanism to keep people on track and keep our society running like clockwork. Through their repetition of “What time is it?” these misguided teens are expressing their overwhelming disorientation and misguided “anticipation.”

The group is “off the clock” and they turn to controversial means to handle their underlying purposelessness:

We’ve got no rules
No summer school
I’m free to shop till I drop

It’s an education vacation

[Sharpay and Ryan]
And the party never has to stop

Let’s live it up
Party down
That’s what the summer’s all about

Unfortunately, the Wildcats are responding to their crisis with excessive partying and neglect of their responsibilities. Sharpay caves to her shopping addiction, Ryan takes an “education vacation,” and the whole team simply wants to “live it up” and “party down.” If these teens are not careful, they could permanently injure themselves or their futures. “What Time Is It? (Summertime)” starts High School Musical 2 on a heart-wrenching, suspenseful note as the struggle of our favorite Wildcat characters fills our ears and our hearts. Watch the rest of this clever sequel to discover the stunning and unpredictable resolution!
Lyrics from:
All about High School+Musical+2:

TED Talks

Over the last several years, TED Talks have taken the country by storm. This form of “edutainment” is transforming the face of rhetoric and the dissemination of information. TED Talks are an important rhetorical development for a few reasons. 

TED Talks differ from regular speeches in their audience-centered focus. The goal of a speech is to spread knowledge about a topic. Although this is the end goal of a TED Talk as well, TED Talks first seek to engage the audience as one of the goals. With this goal in mind, speakers are far more concerned about captivating the audience’s interest than they would be in a speech. One example of how TED Talks seek to engage the audience is by expurgating the stage and speaker of obstacles. The speaker moves around the stage rather than leaning on a podium, which opens up the speaker to the room. The speaker does not hold notes and makes eye contact with the audience instead.

Why is all this important? It makes information readily available to anyone and everyone. Contrary to speeches where the usual audience consists of scholars or people interested in that particular subject, TED Talks seek to engage the masses. Beyond the style of rhetoric, TED Talks are also usually posted on, making them available to anyone on the planet.