Zoom Out, Literally?
November 14, 2007 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Is there a name for the literary device used in this song?

I was listening to a song (Eighteen People Living in Harmony, by Dredg). The lyrics begin as follows:

The opera is over
Singers have all gone home
Seats are empty
The kitchen is closed

The sidewalks are sprayed down
The blinds are pulled down
The foundation's unstable
The wrecking ball is back

You can see how each lyric changes perspective of time, almost as if one was "zooming out" of the situation as it had been described in the lyrics that preceded the current line.

I thought it rather clever, and was wondering if there a name for this device? Are there other examples you can think of that do something similar?
posted by chocolate_butch to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have no idea if there is a name for the literary device you are describing. However, from an analytical point of view, it doesn't seem as if time is "zooming out" in these lyrics; moreso, it seems to be describing, in a very linear order, the end of something. The opera ended, thus the singers left, therefore the audience went home, so why have the kitchen open any longer...later that night, the sidewalks are being cleaned, the blinds are pulled down (because, well, the opera is over)...and seemingly, much later into the future, the building is destroyed because, well, the opera was over.

Maybe I am reading it all topsy turvy, or perhaps I have described exactly what you meant. This is a fairly useless response really. But, well, the opera is over.
posted by AlliKat75 at 10:38 AM on November 14, 2007

Best answer: I don't know about the "zooming out", portion, but the song's extended use of metaphor is a conceit.
posted by Lieber Frau at 11:42 AM on November 14, 2007

I would call it enumeration.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 12:00 PM on November 14, 2007

Best answer: It sounds most like a framing device or narrative hook.

Writing also borrows a lot of terminology from film. If it were film it might be described as an establishing shot that has a discovery shot (the wrecking ball) at the end of it. Establishing shots are often 'long shots' which show an overall scene before focusing in on a smaller part of it. The opposite of that would be a pull-back shot or dolly-out.
posted by cocoagirl at 12:09 PM on November 14, 2007

Yeah I'm not sure it's specifically a 'zooming out' technique employed here, but there's definitely parallelism and other techniques related to repetition.
posted by Firas at 1:34 PM on November 14, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, maybe it was just my frame of mind when listening that hooked me (thus the best answer above) When I heard it in my mind I saw the curtain closing as the singers take a bow, then ... oh wait, the custodian is turning out the lights, then ... oh wait, these are deserted streets in the wee hours of the morning as the morning crew is spraying the sidewalks like in the French Quarter, then...oh wait this is a dilapidated part of town long abandoned, then ... oh wait, this building is boarded up, cordoned off and about to come down and men in hardhats are looking on. Sure the opera is over, but it was over a looong time ago. My point of view had "zoomed" away from that initial moment of being in the house looking at a freshly closing curtain to a wide view of a demolition scene.

It was those "oh wait" moments I was looking to define. I kept having to reframe the scene in my eye with each new lyric.
posted by chocolate_butch at 3:57 PM on November 14, 2007

I have been thinking about this for a while—sorry my answer comes a bit late to the party, or to the opera. The best term I've been able to think of for the "zooming" you describe is "telescoping," a term applied to pieces of literature which collapse large expanses of time and/or space into a noticeably compressed description. (Imagine a collapsing telescope.)

While I was looking up "telescoping" I also came across another term that may be relevant to your lyrics: "telescoped metaphor." I'm not as familiar with this term, though, and different authorities seem to use it in slightly different ways.
posted by Orinda at 6:12 PM on November 14, 2007

Well. If the opera's ending is supposed to be represent the city's life slowly ending, it's a microcosm.
posted by Firas at 9:38 PM on November 14, 2007

(A classic example of a microcosm in literature is A Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich, where the prisoner's daily life is supposed to represent the whole of the USSR's condition.)
posted by Firas at 9:45 PM on November 14, 2007

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