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· Home on the Range of Texas Gobbledygook ·

Rumor has it I'm celebrating my second anniversary. I started sawing these occasional posts from stylish logs of literacy precisely two years ago today. Though I haven't clearcut any northern forest yet, and surely haven't chain-sawed Presidential timber hereabouts, I do take pride in having opened a space in the wilderness for a cabin. It's my virtual "Home on the Range."

I begin this way because I'm into sawing Texas old-growth today, not George W. Bush's (though his Prairie Chapel Ranch does produce some), but Maury Maverick's. Maverick's the New-Deal Democrat who invented the apt political term "Gobbledygook."

  · Yes, Tom, The Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living ·

I just learned this in Michael Lind's Made in Texas: George Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics (2003). Grandson of that famous Maverick whose unbranded calves became connected with deviant politicians, then independent individuals, Maverick lambasted empty political language in 1944.

He said later that bureaucratic language reminded him of a Texas turkey, "always gobbledy gobbling and strutting with ludicrous pomposity. At the end of this gobble there was a sort of gook." His revolutionary temperament is apparent in one of his proposals: "Anyone using the words 'activate' or 'implementation' will be shot." Michael Lind, Made in Texas: George Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics, New York: Basic Books, 2003, 21.

Though I'd not endorse Maverick's move, its moral equivalent does seem appealing. I say this today in a charitable spirit of voter education. Consider, for instance, Jocolo's thoughts over at A Writing Teacher's Blog yesterday:

Bob Scholes reports on a national study of reading by the National Endowment for the Arts, Reading at Risk (pdf). The most sobering statistic he cited: In 2002, of all adult Americans, only 12.1% read any poetry of any kind that year. Now I understand why George Bush keeps getting decent poll numbers.

Despite Laura Bush's librarian-like efforts to encourage good reading, I think George Bush will never fully understand what the great Canadian Northrop Frye once more seriously had in mind for genuine literacy. Frye wrote in his book The Educated Imagination (1964) this thought, perhaps anticipating the President's famous seven-minute reading, on September 11, 2001, in Florida:

Direct and simple language always has some force behind it, and the writers of gobbledygook don't want to be forceful; they want to be soothing and reassuring. I remember a report on the classification of government documents which informed me that some documents were eventually classified for permanent deposition. . . . We can see here how the ordinary use of rhetoric, which attempts to make society presentable, is becoming hypocritical and disguising the reality it presents beyond the level of social safety. Northrup Frye, The Educated Imagination, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1964, 143-144.

Well, I must conclude with one more Canadian voice, that of the late Bernard Lonergan, from his great book Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (1957). A brilliant theologian, Lonergan is like the Rev. above, praying, bless his soul, for that Presidential turkey on the right.

But to be practical is to do the intelligent thing, and to be unpractical is to keep blundering about. It follows that insight into both insight and oversight is the very key to practicality.

Thus, insight into insight brings to light the cumulative process of progress. For concrete situations give rise to insights which issue into policies and courses of action. Action transforms the existing situation to give rise to further insights, better policies, more effective courses of action. It follows that if insight occurs, it keeps recurring; and at each recurrence knowledge develops, action increases in scope, and situations improve.

Similarly, insight into oversight reveals the cumulative process of decline. For the flight from understanding blocks the insights that concrete situations demand. There follow unintelligent policies and inept courses of action. The situation deteriorates to demand still further insights, and as they are blocked, policies become more unintelligent and action more inept. What is worse, the deteriorating situation seems to provide the uncritical, biased mind with factual evidence in which the bias is claimed to be verified. So in ever increasing measure intelligence comes to be regarded as irrelevant to practical living. Human activity settles down into a decadant routine, and initiative becomes the privilege of violence. Bernard J. F. Lonergan, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, Vol. 3, eds., Frederick E. Crowe an Robert M. Doran, Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 1992 [1957], 8.

Want four more years, anyone?

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Sign me up for "no more years," Styles.

I appreciate being sandwiched between Frye and Lonergan. Nice company.

Let's hope the "style points" in tomorrow night's debates go to the taller guy.

Posted by
John on September 29, 2004 05:09 PM

John, it's rather Frye who's sandwiched between you and Lonergan, which gives me poetic leave to sharpen my point.

Since Frye was an ordained minister in the United Church of Canada, I think he might also be imagained as praying now for all gobbledygookers innocent of The Great Code.

You're right: poetry does help.

Posted by Styles on September 30, 2004 10:32 AM

Ah! A Texas chain-saw massacre!

Posted by Aunt Huldah on October 2, 2004 11:10 PM


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