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Abstraction

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Abstraction


Abstract, abstraction and so on are words thrown around all the time in poetry, and often without much solid – or at least congruent – meaning.

An abstraction is literally a ‘taking-away’ from something, a vaguer look at a solid concept. For example, we could say that ‘animal’ is an abstraction from ‘cow’, or that ‘person’ is an abstraction from ‘telephone repairman’.

An abstraction may also be an abstract noun, though, such as ‘love’, ‘peace’, ‘death’, ‘fortune’, etc.

Or it may be an abstract verb, such as ‘eat’ or ‘move’ or ‘take’. More concrete verbs might be ‘chew’, ‘walk’ and ‘grab’, or might entail phrases such as ‘eat with cutlery’, ‘move on foot’ or ‘take in his hand’.

The logic is that the word is a non-specific generalisation based on an observed event or series of events. All you need to know is that an abstract word is like using a generic template. Saying ‘it was love’ calls upon well worked, common (trite) concepts of what ‘love’ means. It contains nothing of what made that love special or individual or meaningful.

An easy way to recognise abstraction is by trying to imagine what scene it is depicting. ‘It was love’ may call up images of holding hands and moonlit walks, but it actually says none of that, and at best any derived images will be inconsistent, vague and cliché.
Article on abstractions/abstracts.
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EditWriMo's avatar
What a great--and concise--explanation of abstraction. Would you mind it if this were linked to at some point in the future? :)
Indigo-Streetlight's avatar
Hmm, when you say that "animal" is an abstraction of "cow" I think of the relationship being more as one of a genus/species. Animal is a more generic noun than cow, but if I pointed to a cow and said "That's a large animal there."

A cow is a type of animal, but I'd argue that the specific may not be necessary if there is sufficent context to suggest the cow's existence.

Also a generic noun can be thought of as a broad umbrella or broad brush stroke, not necessarily as taking away but either as more encompassing or as a simplification. Concept nouns such as love have their uses too, if you've ever tried writing a love poem that contained a 1966 Pontaic Firebird hugging a Mickey Mantle baseball card sometimes it's difficult to capture all ideas in concrete nouns and actions. You can even have

generic concrete nouns
and specific abstract nouns

Ogden Nash wrote (on Eve):

Her mind, though recently created
Was femininely complicated.


Femininely complicated would be an example of a specific abstraction. Could you imagine trying to come up with a concrete image for it? I'm thinking it would require at least a pink hedge maze constantly folding back in on itself.
DAGAIZM's avatar
I agree, I thought it was jewels of the tex, and I find it decorative rather than distracting.
It's very difficult for me to think about changing what I mean, it's like trimming the beauty and loosing the depth...anyway that's first for me to think about writing in separate way...
I don't know much about it.