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Unit11 How News Becomes Opinion, and Opinion Off-Limits

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Unit 11 How News Becomes Opinion, and Opinion Off-Limits Salman Rushdie Structure of the Text Part I (Paras. 1-5) In this section, the author cleverly uses a current news story to introduce his purpose in writing this essay, namely to express the view that the ultimate goal of both factual and fictional writing is truth, which must be told in spite of all the difficulties involved. Part II (Paras. 6-9) In this section the author points out, using examples, that in the past, novels, like newspapers, also provided people with useful information. Part III (Paras.10-12) But now, although novels and newspapers still provide useful information, people read newspapers mainly for their opinions, and novels aim at providing versions of the world. Part IV (Paras. 13-17) This section states that today‘s newspapers like novelists, love to create ―characters‖ in their people columns and personality profiles. This has a very powerful effect and public figures are often resentful about the way they are presented. Part V (Paras. 18-19) In this section, the author expresses the view that although some kind of protection of privacy is desirable, freedom of speech should always rank first. Part VI (Paras. 20-24) In this section, the author expresses the view that today the principle of freedom of speech is being steadily eroded. Political, religious, racial, sexual, and social minority groups are demanding more protection from the censor. And the common weapon they use is the concept of ―respect‖, which they have manipulated to mean ―to agree‖. But the author believes that in free societies, the right to disagree, to disrespect, to be skeptical and to argue is absolutely indispensable. Detailed Analysis of the Text 1. How news becomes opinion and opinion off-limits (title) The title indicates that the author intends to talk about how newspapers changed so that they came to offer opinions rather than information and opinions, when expressed freely, will naturally be considered intolerable by some people. off-limits: adj. If something is off-limits, it means that people are not allowed to talk about it. I was wondering what, if any, common ground might be occup by novelists and journalists when my eye fell upon the following brief text in a British national daily (Para.1) Paraphrase: I was trying to decide whether novelists and journalists had anything in common. Then suddenly I saw the following short announcement in a British newspaper. 2. 1

3. 4. 5. 6. common ground: basis for agreement shared by all eye: sight; attention Note: Here the word ‗eye‘ is in the singular form. Note also the ―what, if any‖ pattern. The writer here is expressing the idea that he is not sure there is any. e. g. I did not know what, if any, objection they might have to this plan. Scientists have been trying to find what, if any, life forms exist in outer space. “In yesterday’s Independent, we stated that Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is farming ostriches. He is not.” (Para.2) This is an announcement made in the British daily newspaper. The Independent, retracting a report it had carr a day earlier about Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. One can only guess at the brouhaha concealed beneath these admirably laconic sentences: the human distress, the protests. (Para.3) human distress: The ―pain and suffering‖ is that of Andrew Lloyd Webber, who has been wrongly accused of being involved in an ostrich farming scandal. the protests:There were strong complaints from Webber and others in sympathy with him because of the damage the report did to his reputation. one can only guess:The statement is extremely short. It does not say how much harm the report has done to Webber, and the newspaper does not apologize for its false report. Therefore we can only guess. admirably laconic:Rushdie‘s view is that the whole episode is very silly; therefore he uses irony throughout in describing it. And ―admirably laconic‖ should be taken as praise. Note: There is an interesting story about how ―laconic‘ came to have its present meaning. Long ago the people of Greece were not united. They lived in separate cities and states, each with its own leader. King Philip of Macedon wanted to bring them together under his rule. So he raised a great army and conquered them one by one, except Sparta, which resisted fiercely. The Spartans lived in an area called Laconia. They were noted for using few words in speech and writing as well as for their simple habits and bravery. When Philip finally brought his army to Laconia, he sent a message to the Spartans. ―If you do not submit at once,‖ he threatened, ―I will invade your country. And If I invade your country, I will pillage and burn everything you hold dear. If I march into Laconia, I will level your city to the ground.‖ In a few days, Philip received an answer. There was only one word in the letter. That word was ―IF.‖ As you know, Britain has been going through a period of what one might call heightened livestock insecurity of late. (Para. 3) of late: lately; recently heightened livestock insecurity: This formal expression is a humorous reference to the spread of ―mad cow”(疯牛病) and ―hoof and mouth”disease (口蹄疫). As well as the mentally challenged cattle herds, there has been the alarming case of the great ostrich-farming bubble, or swindle. (Para. 3) mentally challenged: mentally disabled or sick referring to the ―mad‖ cows. Note: The writer is using this term for humorous effect. ―Challenged‖ is an adjective here, 2

meaning disabled or sick. Similarly, a person of very short stature might be referred to as ―vertically challenged‖. Note: The writer is also being ironical when he calls the case of the ostrich-farming bubble ―great‖ because it caused such mass hysteria. overheated times: highly agitated times; times of great public alarm and anxiety; times of general panic allegation: an assertion made without proof to take (sth.) lightly: to regard with indifference to slight: to treat with disrespect; to insult 7. Plainly, it was quite wrong of the Independent to suggest that Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber was breeding ostriches. He is, of course, a celebrated exporter of musical turkeys (Para. 4) The author is using the word ―turkey‖ to humorously compare it with ―ostrich‖. ―Turkey‖ here means a failure. The author is disparaging the well-known musical composer and producer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber when he says that the latter is exporting musical ―turkeys‖, not farming ostriches. Although Webber is very successful and much admired by his fans, his detractors, of whom Rushdie is evidently one, view him as a plagiarist and find his ―music‖ an affront to classical composers. 8. But if we agree for a moment to permit the supposedly covert and allegedly fraudulent farming of ostriches to stand as a metaphor for all the world’s supposedly covert and allegedly fraudulent activities, then must we not…? Is this not…? And might there not be…? (Para. 4) In the previous paragraph, the author seems to be expressing his sympathy for Webber who has been wrongly accused of ostrich farming. But that is not what the author is really driving at. What he really wants to say is: So long as we agree that the ostrich swindle stands as an example of all dishonest activities in the world, then we must agree that the paper has only done what it should do in the national interest, although in this case the evidence may have been inadequate. Note:The whole paragraph can be seen as one complex sentence, with the ―If ‘ clause used as the adverbial clause of condition and the three following rhetorical questions serving as the main clause. 9. But if we agree for a moment to permit the supposedly covert and allegedly fraudulent farming of ostriches to stand as a metaphor for all the world’s supposedly covert and allegedly fraudulent activities… then (Para. 4) But if we agree to take the dishonest ostrich farming as an example of all secret illegal activities in the world, then… Note: The use of ―allegedly‘ and ―supposedly‖ implies that ―even though these activities are merely alleged or supposed to be secret and illegal‖, newspapers in a free society still have the right as well as the duty to report them to the public. 10. … then must we not also agree that it is vital that these ostrich farmers be identif, named and brought to account for their activities? (Para. 4) The idea is: since national interests are at stake, these criminals must be found, their identities disclosed, and they must be made to answer for their crimes. (This is true even though, in doing so, mistakes might be made.) 3

11. 12. 13. 14. 15. bring to account: to make (sb.) answer for his conduct Is this not the very heart of the project of a free press? (Para. 4) Paraphrase: Isn‘t this what a free press is all about? heart: real meaning; essence; vital part Translation: 这难道不是新闻自由的宗旨所在吗? Note: This is a popular idea in Western journalism: that a free press serves as a watchdog to ensure democratic governance and the wellbeing of the people. And might there not be occasions on which every editor would be prepared to go with such a story—leaked, perhaps, by an ostrich deep throat—on the basis of less-than-solid evidence, in the national interest? (Para. 4) Paraphrase: There might surely be occasions when editors would feel that they must accept this kind of report in the national interest even though the evidence is not strong and the source of the report is anonymous. Translation: 难道不会遇到这种情况,每个编辑都会从国家利益考虑,决定采用这种内容的报道,尽 管证据还远远不够扎实、充分,而透露消息的来源也许是哪只神秘的鸵鸟?(作者是在 开玩笑) to go with: to choose to use to leak: to intentionally disclose (secret information) deep throat: anonymous informant 深喉或不露的神秘客 This refers to W. Mark Felt, a former FBI agent, who leaked information to help two Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, uncover what was happening in the cover-up of the 1972 Watergate break-in, which ultimately drove U.S. President Richard Nixon from office. Felt was known as ―Deep Throat‖ and did not reveal his identity until he was ninety-one years old, long after the event. Since then, the term ―deep throat‖ has come to mean a secret and anonymous provider of restricted information. (Note the difference between ―informer‖ and ―informant‖. The former usually has a derogatory meaning.) I am arriving by degree at my point, which is that the great issue facing writers both of journalism and of novels is that of determining, and then publishing, the truth. (Para. 5) So now we know that the author is not trying to show sympathy for Webber or criticize the Independent. He is leading us to the great issue shared by both novelists and journalists, namely the determining and publishing of the truth. Note the two ―thats‖ in this sentence. The first ―that‖ introduces the noun clause used predicatively, and the second ―that‖ is a pronoun, standing for ―issue‖. For the ultimate goal of both factual and fictional writing is the truth, however paradoxical that may sound. (Para. 5) The final goal (purpose) of news reporting and novel writing is the truth. This may sound paradoxical (contradictory) because ―fictional writing‘ is supposed to be the opposite of ‗factual writing‖. Note the use of the rhetorical device alliteration in ―factual‖ and ―fictional‖. And truth is slippery, hard to establish. (Para. 5) People often say that truth is pure and simple. The author says that this is not so. It is usually 4

16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. neither. It is often slippery, complicated, tricky, not easy to establish---to identify, prove, or pin down. And if truth can set you free, it can also land you in hot water. (Para. 5) Besides, not everyone loves truth, because while it can set you free, it can also get you into serious trouble. There are numerous examples in everyday life to prove how true this statement is. Fine as the word sounds, truth is all too often unpalatable, awkward, unorthodox. (Para. 5) Paraphrase: Though truth sounds good, it is often unpleasant and unacceptable, embarrassing and troublesome, radical, peculiar, and unfamiliar. That is why we often say that the truth hurts. That is also why people lie and explains why truth will not prevail without courage and wisdom. Unpalatable: The word derives from palate, the inside upper part of your mouth, and by extension, the ability to taste the flavors of food and drinks. The armies of received ideas are marshaled against it. (Para. 5) Paraphrase: It will encounter the resistance and opposition of the strong force of traditional ideas. marshal : v. to arrange or prepare in a clear, effective, or organized way The legions of all those who stand to profit by useful untruths will march against it. (Para. 5) Paraphrase: Large numbers of people, who benefit from false ideas or lies, will fight against the truth. stand to profit: to be in a condition to reap an advantage, financial or otherwise Note: These are two parallel sentences: The armies of … are marshaled against it The legions of … will march against it Note also that these military terms of ―armies, legions, marshal, and march‖ are all used here metaphorically (―legion‖ is a large group of soldiers, a unit of an ancient Roman army) “marshal‖ and ―march‖ are also used as alliteration. Yet it must, if at all possible, be told. (Para. 5) Note that the author is here to defend the goal of both journalists and novelists like himself. They will encounter many difficulties and unhappy experiences, but they must not give up, because truth must be told. If at all possible: ―at all‖ is often used in negative statements or ―if‖ clauses to make the meaning more forceful. It implies here that it is often not possible. Translation of the whole paragraph: 然而真理难以把握,难以确定,也可能出错误,就 像劳埃德•韦柏那样。

真理能使你获得解放,但它也能使你陷入困境。

这个词听起 来好听,但往往也会令人不快、给人带来麻烦、而且往往离经叛道有悖于正统观念。

大批正统观念会被调集起来组成大军去反对它;人数众多的谎言得益者会向其发起 攻击。

但是只要有一丝一毫的可能,真理就必须讲出来。

But, it may be objected, can there really be any connection between the truth of the news and that of the world of the imagination? In the world of facts, a man is either an ostrich farmer or he is not. In fiction’s universe, he may be fifteen contradictory things 5

at once. (Para. 6) But people may disagree that the truth of the news and that of novels is the same thing. Note the parallel structures used in these sentences. in the world of facts, a man is … in fiction‘s universe, he may be … Note also that the author uses ―world‖ and ―universe‖ in the two sentences in order to avoid repetition. at once: simultaneously 22. The word “novel” derives from the Latin word for new; in French, nouvelles are both stories and news reports. (Para. 8) The author is saying here that the word ―novel‖ and the word ―news‖ are related from the etymological point of view. novel: adj. new and unusual; esp. , being the first of its kind, e.g. a ~ idea, a ~ approach, a ~ device 23. A hundred years ago, people read novels, among other things, for information. (Para. 8) In those days, novels were like newspapers. They often provided useful information to readers. The author gives some well-known examples: Nicholas Nickleby: A novel by Charles Dickens. Nicholas‘s father d, leaving him, his sister Kate, and their mother penniless. They had to struggle for a living under the oppressive guardianship of Nicholas‘ uncle Ralph Nickleby, a financier, who was mean and cruel. Nicholas was sent to teach at Dotheboys Hall, a school for the children of the poor. In describing Nicholas‘ experience there, Dickens exposed the wretchedness of British schools for the poor where poor children were half-starved and cruelly treated. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) was first published in 1852. In the novel, Mrs. Stowe exposed the cruelty and inhumanity of the slave system in Southern plantations. The novel had so much social impact that President Lincoln referred to Mrs Stowe as ―The little woman who started a great big war.‖ Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1836-1910) was first published in 1884. It won great acclaim upon publication and was widely read all over the world. Anglo-American poet T. S. Eliot considered the character Huckleberry Finn immortal, comparable to Hamlet or Faust. American writer, Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway, said American literature originated from a book called ―Huckleberry Finn‖ by Mark Twain. In describing Finn and his friend Tom, a black slave, fleeing down the Mississippi River, Twain depicted many types of people and the rural and town situation of the American South before the civil war. Moby Dick by Herman Melville (1819-1891) is a novel about a man called Captain Ahab who risks his life and the lives of his ship‘s crew by hunting a mythically awe-inspiring white whale called Moby-Dick. The book is known for providing a wealth of accurate information on whaling. The novel was written on the basis of Melville‘s whaling experience. He saw whaling ships of that time as an epitome of the entire United States, with top officers invariably descendants of early Puritan whites and the crew homeless men of all races and religions. Such a ship was also a floating factory, organized along industrial lines. The whales, however, were strange 6

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