Analyzing a medium

Often in academic writing, the sources we use are written down. While this poses unique difficulties in terms of analysis and tone, the “meta” act of writing about writing itself allows the writer to use the same rhetorical devices that composed the evidence as tools for analysis. However, when the primary sources of an academic study are not written—in the case of art, architecture, music, and more—what strategies are possible to create a language that is not only descriptive (painting a word image of a source outside of the reader’s knowledge), but also argumentative? The pieces in this section are but two examples of academic writing that manage to find an appropriate language for analyzing a specific medium.

In her essay on Moretto da Brescia’s painting Entombment, Sandy Carpenter transitions seamlessly between descriptive orienting and insightful analysis. Using as evidence the scenery, figures, and lighting, she argues for the nuanced depiction of instantaneous and eternal anguish in the representation of Christ and the Virgin Mary.

The excerpt from Ming Wilson’s “What is Truth?: The Relationship between J.S. Bach and Arvo Pärt Considered from their Respective Versions of the Johannes-Passion” exemplifies a successful attempt to find an appropriate language to analyze a medium that might at first seem resistant to description—music. In the text below, Wilson justifies his unusual method while describing and problematizing the melodic lines of two very different pieces of music. Thus, he uses that analysis to argue about the pieces’ respective influences.

Lastly, editor Natalie Berkman’s “Works in Progress: writing about a nontraditional topic for a traditional audience” concerns her own challenges writing about 20th century French math for readers in the humanities.

The author


Natalie Berkman GS is a PhD candidate in the Department of French and Italian in the final stages of her dissertation, which examines the mathematical methods of an experimental group of French writers founded in 1960. While originally from Buffalo, NY, she has enjoyed many homes — from her undergraduate years in Baltimore, MD to her experience abroad in France, Italy, and Germany, and especially her time in Princeton. In addition to her work with Tortoise, Natalie is also a Writing Center Fellow, a Graduate Fellow of the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS), and a Resident Graduate Student in Wilson College.

Myrial Holbrook ’19, in addition to serving as an editor for Tortoise, is also a Fellow in the Writing Center, Managing Editor of Innovation, a staff writer and assistant editor for The Nassau Literary Review, a Princeton Business Volunteer, a Sustainable Engineering and Development Scholar, and a Community House Big Sib. She hails from Columbus, Ohio and is majoring in Comparative Literature (a convenient catch-all for her dabblings in English, Spanish, Chinese, history, journalism, and creative writing) and contemplating certificates in Cognitive Science and Environmental Studies. She wrote this is a sophomore.