Update: Total Eclipse
September 20, 2009

Who says close reading is only for English professors? How improbable is it that I would write an update to my slog about “Total Eclipse of the Heart”? Apparently, not very improbable at all. Criticism, it seems, can be interesting and useful and not boring. My friend VW stopped reading Greek long enough to send me “Total Eclipse Of the Heart” made into a flow chart.

(Apologies to the person who made it: I am too stupid when it comes to following posts, and the operation of the internet generally, to figure out who the author is, but I’m sending out all due props. If you are out there, let me know, and I’ll tell everyone I can).

Confession: my first inclination was to imagine that the flow chart was another effort at putting down Bonnie and asserting a smug superiority to her dull artistry. The chart has a line marking “belt” and “croon” to differentiate Bonnie’s singing modes, and a note at the bottom declares “For the better understanding of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Upon first reading, I thought “better understanding” sounded more like “more effective dismissing” than figuring out what you like about the song. Turning the song into a flow chart seemed to imply (I thought at first) a distance from it, as if the song were not an instance of interesting social relations but merely manufacturing, a song resource to add to human resources and other forms of capital. At least one response seems headed in that direction: kashino writes “Actually, it’s more like finite-state automaton than flow chart,” and that “actually” gives away the fictional distance that Adorno emphasizes is the necessary, deluding first step of so much cultural criticism. I now generally associate that sort of thing with David Denby, but having just reread Mark Crispin Miller’s reading of the tv show Family Feud, I got one of those jolting reminders that denunciations of industrialized content in the name of the Frankfurt School has a rich history. Or maybe it just means that there is something about the odd paranoid turn of criticism in the 1980s that needs to be sorted out.

But it was a genuine thrill to see many people thought my initial reading was completely wrong. They found that the literal rendition functioned, actually, literally, “for the better understanding of Total Eclipse of the Heart.” And on second reading, I agree with the crowd. Following the song as a flow chart seems to have made a lot of people like the song more. There are a staggering 743 notes to just this one posting of the flow chart, and most merely indicate they liked it. But the few that made comments were pretty interesting. Amrei Dizon writes “As I am busy working out our company’s process work flow for design and video production operations, I came across this. Isn’t it just clever? I find myself singing and ouch — my left brain’s struggling! :D.” jesusa says “i suck for totally singing aloud while following this flow chart,” by which I take “i suck” to mean “i totally don’t suck.” xtension points out that the flow chart “makes the song a lot more clear,” while mattkabrown says pointedly “Freakin’s awesome. And a great song to boot.”

Given how formulaic Shakespeare plays are (1.1: the problem: 1.2: restatement of the problem in a different register; 2.1, repeat, and so on), perhaps someone with more spatial imagination than I have could make a flow chart of As You Like It? A flow chart of any Donne poem would also make a lovely Christmas gift.

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