Lionel’s Crea(tics) Language

Dear Edward Norton,

I heard that you were planning to make a film adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s novel, Motherless Brooklyn, but for some reason it has been delayed or cancelled for the moment. Luckily, I am here to help you get things back on track! JEFF’S NOTE: I LIKE YOUR TONE HERE. As I was reading the novel for more than a month now, I found an element of the book that will tie the whole thing together as coherent movie. I’ve been watching movies for years, and may I say that I know what it takes to make an interesting movie. In the following letter, I will lay out my vision for the film, which primarily focuses on one particular aspect of the novel as you’ve asked for.

As you know the whole story revolves around Lionel Essrog, a not-so-regular guy with the Tourette’s syndrome. The language that is presented through Lionel’s verbal tics is a quite interesting part of the novel. His tics are very poetic and sometimes hilarious and strange, too, since they are composed of combinations of words like word plays. I think language is the most interesting part of the novel and that is what gives its authenticity. How many movies have you seen with a guy who just keeps ticcing constantly? None. That is why I think that Lionel’s tics are the most compelling part of the novel. His uncontrollable outbursts are not only strange and weird, but they make the novel so unique in its own kind. The odd language that is revealed through Lionel will make the movie even more original as well.

Lionel’s language is very refined and he uses many literary devices like powerful metaphors, personifications, world-plays, etc. His verbal tics are unexpected and that’s what makes them special. It looks like he doesn’t even try, but Lethem’s creativity spikes out during those times. JEFF’S NOTE: LOTS OF GREAT IDEAS HERE. BUT, EACH OF THESE SENTENCES PUTS FORWARD A NEW IDEA, AND EACH ONE COULD BE EXPLORED IN GREAT DETAIL. Why is Lionel a special character? Because he has verbal tics, this aspect of him makes him unique. Without the tics there would simply not be anything outstanding in the novel, it would just be like regular detective story. We both know that really stands out in the book are his tics. That is why it is essential to include them in the movie. Lionel’s creative aspect can be easily seen through his verbal tics because of the language that he uses. JEFF’S NOTE: IT’S A ROUGH DRAFT, SO THIS DOESN’T MATTER SO MUCH YET, BUT YOU’RE REPEATING YOURSELF. They reveal the kind of creative character he actually is. For example, at the beginning of the novel, when Minna said to him, “You get Gilbert, get back in the car, get ready to follow. You got it?”, in his mind, he thought, “Get, get, get, GOT!”, and then he thought of, “Duck, duck, duck, GOOSE!” (Lethem, 8). Here, we can see that language is an important of Lionel’s verbal tics as well as of the novel in general. His tics allow him to make quick links between words that are similar in sound, almost like a poet would. He thinks of things that a regular person would probably not. Throughout the novel, his Tourette’s have shown to be inventive. At the end of the novel, when Julia told Lionel, “Well, I bet you’re different for her, too. I’m sure you’ll be very happy together.” In her mouth the words happy together came out twisted and harsh [for Lionel] Crappy however. Slappy forget her” (298). Once again, Lionel associates words that rhyme, which proves that language is a dominant aspect of the novel because of his tics. JEFF’S NOTE: GOOD. ALL GOOD. BUT, WHAT IS YOUR POINT HERE EXACTLY?

In Motherless Brooklyn, Lionel’s tics also serve to add some humor to the story. In fact, I would say that the tone of this novel is humorous even though the events that are happening in it are rather serious. This makes the story seem less “dark” than it actually is. Lionel’s tics also make him seem as a comedic character even though his condition is considered to be serious. For that reason, I think the attention shifts towards him and his Tourette’s. His verbal tics are distracting and vulgar at times. For instance, he constantly repeats words like “Eat me” and “Dickweed”. Lionel’s verbal tics are funny because the type of language he uses is unusual. There are many hilarious parts in the novel. When Lionel asks Loomis for Ullman’s address, he said, “Tell me Ullman’s address,” [and then his brain went] Man-Salad-Dress” (149). Just picturing that made me laugh when I was reading the novel. In many parts of the novel, he surprises us with his spontaneity in choice of words. For instance, through half way of the novel, Lionel says, “’Goodcop, buttercop’, … ticcing on through [his] tears” (155). This is funny because you would usually say “Goodcop, Badcop”, not “Buttercup”. His tics sometimes sound like a poem almost that turn out to be pretty silly. “Accusatomy! Excusebaloney! Funny monopoly!”, [he] squeezed [his] eyes shut to interrupt the seizure of language” (175). Lionel’s tics are usually composed of rhymes like “Dullbody, Allmoney, Allmony ” (293). These kinds of verbal tics happen very often throughout the novel and bring humour to the story since they are really weird and unexpected. Language is used to make the story interesting and humorous.

In addition, Lionel’s narration is also an important part of the novel. His use of language is very imaginative and thoughtful. In the first half of the book, Lionel defines Tourette’s, “Tourette’s teaches you what people will ignore and forget, teaches you to see the reality-knitting mechanism people employ to tuck away the intolerable, the incongruous, and disruptive their way” (43). Lionel’s narration of his own definition of the Tourette’s is simply amazing, he does it in such artistic way that really makes you think back and reflect on it. JEFF’S NOTE: CAN YOU SAY SOMETHING ABOUT THIS SPECIFIC QUOTE, THE WORDS, IMAGES HE USES, BESIDES THAT IT’S “AMAZING?” He has a gift in language, and his perception of things is truly inspiring. In addition, Lionel describes his “…constellation of behaviours [as being] ‘unique as a snowflake’, oh, joy, and evolving, like some microscoped crystal in slow motion, to reveal new facets, and to spread from its place at my private core to cover my surface, [his] public front” (82). Here,  Lionel uses a literary device called a comparison. He compares himself to a snowflake, which I find is very artistic. JEFF’S NOTE: GOOD. WHY IS THE COMPARISON TO A SNOWFLAKE INTERESTING? Also, the way Lionel narrates places is so descriptive and detailed. “Minna’s Court Street was the old Brooklyn, a placid ageless surface alive underneath with talk, with deals and casual insults, a neighborhood political machine with pizzeria and butcher-shop bosses and unwritten rules everywhere” (55). Once again, Lionel uses a literary device, but this time personification to describe Brooklyn as a “placid ageless surface alive underneath the talk”. In this case, language is used to create imagery and give a more creative side to the novel. JEFF’S NOTE: YOU HAVE TO DO MORE THAN SIMPLY REPEAT THAT LIONEL’S LANGUAGE IS “CREATIVE.” At the end of the novel, Lionel finishes with: “The world (my brain) is too full of dull men, dead men, Ullmen. Some ghosts never even get into your house they are so busy howling at the windows” (311). Once more, Lionel tries to somehow use language to give us a figurative image of what he’s trying to say. Lionel’s narration would be great to include in the movie as the language used is really powerful and captivating.

In short, language is such an important part of the novel because Lionel’s tics are all about it. Lionel’s creative use of language that is demonstrated through his tics, which is what makes this novel so captivating. I personally think that this aspect of Motherless Brooklyn would be worthy to be the main focus of the screenplay because of its uniqueness. I hope that the film production will get back on track and that Motherless Brooklyn will get a second chance!

Best regards,

Claudia Keurdjekian

Works Cited

Lethem, Jonathan. Motherless Brooklyn. Vintage Books, 1999.
















One thought on “Lionel’s Crea(tics) Language

  1. I wrote some notes on your actual text.

    This is a good start. I think looking at Lionel’s tics and the language he uses can be very productive. Your opening is great. You hit the right tone. The writing throughout is mostly strong. A good start.

    Now, your task is to try to say some more substantial things. You tend to repeat quite a bit in this draft that Lionel’s language is “poetic” and “creative.” That’s okay, but that’s not really saying much. You need to look more closely at both the context of the quotes, and the content of them. Think of how the language adds depth to both Lionel’s character and the story. For now, your entire argument could add up to: the language is fun and creative. Take this as an example:

    “In addition, Lionel describes his “…constellation of behaviours [as being] ‘unique as a snowflake’, oh, joy, and evolving, like some microscoped crystal in slow motion, to reveal new facets, and to spread from its place at my private core to cover my surface, [his] public front” (82). Here, Lionel uses a literary device called a comparison. He compares himself to a snowflake, which I find is very artistic.”

    Calling the comparison “artistic” is not really saying anything. It’s a work of art, of course it’s artistic. How could the microscopic crystal be a metaphor for Lionel? How is “revealing new facets” similar to his investigation? What about the contrast between public and private in this citation? There’s so much going on in this citation, but you don’t address it at all. Yet. I would have the same comment for all your citations. This was a good first step to get your ideas down. Now, look much, much closer at the citations you use, and actually comment on how their content gives us a more well-rounded picture of Lionel and his plight.

    In addition to this, you’ll also have to think of what your main idea is. Again, saying this aspect of the novel is interesting is not enough. After you look more closely at your citations, you’ll discover what one unifying thread runs through your ideas. Think of this question, and try to answer it as specifically as possible: what do the language and the tics add to the story?

    Good work so far.


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