Archive for the ‘Close Reading’ Category

On the list of sentences I never expected to see written by someone not-me “The way Gmail organizes mail into conversations is like cilantro.” might be on the top. But as it happens, that very sentence is the lede of what I’m sure will be a popular Gmail Blog post. Thanks Chris for pointing it out.

gmail blog screen shot

At first I was a bit disappointed not to be included in this post that so interestingly likens popular opinion on conversation view to popular opinion on cilantro (more on this comparison below). And what with the Google Gmail blog’s Wiltse Carpenter presumably using Google to search for anti-cilantro sites, and Google’s mysterious algorithm ably finding this niche blog #3 in search results for “i hate cilantro,” understandably behind two I Hate Cilantro.com pages, I’d have a sure spot, right? But then I read the short post again:

And those of you who hate it hate it enough to launch sites like nocilantro.com and ihatecilantro.com (“an anti cilantro community”), where you can hate it together.

And I guess it’s truer to say that I hate cilantro enough to launch a blog (which I moved from Google’s Blogger service to WordPress, coincidence?) where I muse on cilantro hate and a wide range of topics I can relate to cilantro hate (it was really only a matter of time before conversation view was one these topics) than it is to say I hate cilantro enough to launch a site where I can hate it together [with other haters]. I’m more hating it alone, loudly, with a handful of commenters. So fine, moving on…

I did want to think a bit more about the simile set forth though. Conversation view and cilantro are alike because you love or hate them both. Let’s ignore for a moment that there are some crazy fencers out there who deem cilantro “fine” and have an indifference to various Google products and features that frankly I pity (it’s an exciting if nerdy world)–Wiltse next moves on from the simile in its most absolute form and goes on to confess that while he’s (he?) a cilantro lover he loves conversation view even more than he loves cilantro. And this got me thinking.

If you love conversation view more than you love cilantro do you really love it? If you hate cilantro more than you love conversation view, do you really love conversation view? Put another way, which is stronger, my love for Google or my hate for cilantro? That depends:

Will I ever stop loving Google or ever stop hating cilantro? It seems more likely I’d stop loving Google, since things have happened to make me love it less even as I perhaps also love it more for other reasons. Consider the time wasted on learning and never using Wave. (Anyone?) And how not evil are you REALLY Google? Well I still love you, but I don’t know if our love is forever. Will I stop hating cilantro? There was the time I couldn’t really taste it, but there’s never been a time I’ve had a raw bite of cilantro and thought it was anything less that truly awful. I’ve been at this hate for years, I’ve hated cilantro for longer than I’ve had a Gmail account and I think, you know what, I think I’m likely to go on hating cilantro forever, but if that changes, you’ll definitely hear about it here first.

But permanence isn’t the only measure of seriousness. It’s also a question of intensity. And while I’ve been moved enough by the convenience and efficiency Google products provide me (including Gmail and its awesome conversation view) to share this love vocally from time-to-time, indeed one might even overhear someone say “Oh yeah you know Erin, she loves Google and hates cilantro,” it just doesn’t feel as INTENSE. I lack the words but I FEEL more intensely about cilantro than Google, than conversation view. And while conversation might have a new on-off switch, cilantro never will.

Wiltse writes: “So just like you can order your baja fish tacos without cilantro, you can now get Gmail served up sans conversation view.” Yeah that’s all well and good I can get a taco without cilantro (harder than you’d think, restaurants aren’t all as catering as the Google tech team) but what about the next taco, or the surprise attack? If I could get my life served up without cilantro, that would be awesome, and more comprable.

So it seems clear: Wiltse loves conversation view more than he loves cilantro, and I hate cilantro more than I love conversation view and so it’s probably fitting that Wiltse Carpenter is the Technical Lead for Google while I’m here blogging about hating cilantro, when the spirit moves me.

And who the hell hates conversation view?

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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?

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At the risk of offending, oh, say, 97% of my THOUSANDs of loyal readers, I’ll go ahead and say it: there seems to be a strong link between the love of cilantro and the display of moron-like characteristics, where moron will here be defined, as any self-respecting user of the English language would define it, as the American Heritage Dictionary does, as

“NOUN:1. A stupid person; a dolt. 2. Psychology A person of mild mental retardation having a mental age of from 7 to 12 years and generally having communication and social skills enabling some degree of academic or vocational education. The term belongs to a classification system no longer in use and is now considered offensive. ETYMOLOGY: From Greek mron, neuter of mros, stupid, foolish.”

I prefer the second definition, but far be it from me to use archaic or, even worse, offensive denotations; the first has a nice, curt, to-the-point, so easy even a moron could understand it meaning, and given my audience, well… Yes, I quite like “a dolt.”

Right, so, to the point, what makes these herb-lovers morons? Exhibit A (there will only be one exhibit in today’s post — I’ll build this case over time), is taken from an I Hate Cilantro.com Discussion Board and goes like this:

“Okay, I heard about this website from a friend and doubted it’s existince, but upon visiting the page I not only found out it’s real, I realized you “Anti-cilantro” people are insane.

First, off cilantro was not spawed from satan’s stomach, and angel’s did not trick us into liking it. Come on would angels trick us, that sounds like something the devil would do right so the human race gets brain washed into following the devil.

Second, it’s not something to get majorly offended by, like not being friends with someone because the served you cilantro, or being really picky at resturants because god you might eat some in pasta sauce.

Lastly, why pick on cilantro? Why not hate on foods like cod liver oil or limburger cheese? Foods that are actually offensive to the senses. Cilantro is not gross enough to merit an entire website and Haikus about it. It’s like orange juice I don’t LOVE, but don’t hate it. I wouldn’t go across the world to bet some, but if I had some I would use it.

Ok. Let’s leave spelling and grammatical errors alone. I’ll leave that to whomever is running the “I hate the rampant depletion of grammatical, spelling and self-copy editing standards in cyber English publication” blog. The larger issue here is that this cilantro lover is arguing the wrong point with the wrong logic.

1. While I don’t see any convincing evidence from Cilantro Lover, heretofore Moron, that cilantro wasn’t spawned from Satan’s stomach, its origin is hardly the point. I also don’t see a lot of cilantro haters citing Satan’s patriarchy as the cause for their hate, indeed we tend to be a fairly agnostic bunch, although it wouldn’t be a terrible hypothesis, I suppose.

2. I. I’ll thank you not to tell me what to get offended by. II. Any friend that would deliberately serve me something I hate, all things being equal, might deserve a reevaluation. That said, I don’t think too many friendships are lost on this issue. Cilantro haters, at least, are reasonable people. III. Please see “Basil is NOT Cilantro” Post. Cilantro is not found in pasta sauce. You obviously don’t understand this problem properly; you need to work on your empathy skills.

3. Why pick on cilantro? Why not hate other foods? I don’t know where to begin. Would anyone choose to hate cilantro. It’s not fun, it’s not an easy lot in life. It’s a burden. It’s an annoyance. It’s a cross to bare. But, we’re a strong people and we survive. We blame no one but cilantro itself. And why not hate others foods? One’s enough for me thanks. You don’t like orange juice, well, that’s just messed up. ihateorangejuice.com doesn’t even exist, man — for a reason — it rules. But, you don’t have to like orange juice. I just find flaw in the the logic that because you don’t like orange juice I should like cilantro. But, Moron, you just wouldn’t understand.

Finally, when you say “cilantro isn’t gross enough” you’re missing the idea of subjective palates. It’s not gross at all to you, but it is very much gross at all to me, and thousands like me. Mine is not an evangelical mission, as I have made clear in the past, but an effort to explain, to enlighten, to edify. And you represent a growing group of cilantro lovers or, a largely marginalized group of cilantro indifferenters, who seeks not to understand cilantro hate but to condemn and chastise it. You’re fighting a losing and worthless battle. Hating Cilantro is a solitary battle, united as we may be, each hater has to ultimately confront his/her hate on his/her own. You don’t know what you have, Moron. You just don’t see.

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