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December 27, 2004
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· The Underground Grammarian — Richard Mitchell ·
This old photo suggests what I have in mind.
It's of Richard Mitchell, taken July 6, 1982. Mitchell was then known for a quaint journal of modest circulation called The Underground Grammarian. Published from his basement in Pitman, New Jersey — where you see him attending to his printing press — it was always brilliant, both stylistically and substantively. I still recall Mitchell's remarking to me: "You know the right definition of a free press? It's the right of everyone to have a printing press in the basement." Since I had had some printing experience, we hit it off well.
So I thought to include part of the interview I taped that July afternoon, its now-quite-resonant conclusion. (My transcript I found in my own cluttered basement, next to my small press — an old Multilith 80.) Of the things we talked about, Ludwig Wittgenstein's most famous saying quite naturally arose:
Our interview aptly ended when, in discussing a passage from the bible, Mitchell mentioned the difficulty of teaching students to know metaphor rightly. Here is our exchange:
Two years ago today, you should know, Richard Mitchell died. His being still speaks, stylishly if silently, at The Underground Grammarian.Permalink
I love that you knew and interviewed Mitchell, Styles. I have a copy of his book given me by a colleague. Mitchell revered language and seemed to enjoy his own crochets.
I did not realize that he actually enacted my long-time retirement fantasy: to develop a small print shop in the garage, and then write broadsides railing at the city council and other local authorities, which I would distribute on University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto. I still like this idea, but now with blogs, I'm not sure I need the print shop.
Rather, my fantasizing has turned toward getting my own server and starting a few different blogs for my different crochets. I suppose I could still make little cards with the URL on them and hand them out on the street.
Thanks for that remembrance of Richard Mitchell.
Thanks, too, for joining Wittgenstein's quote with Ecclesiastes. That's some small consolation as even we academics — we mercenary Wise Men, we professional Magi of Western civilization — mourn dumbstruck through this season of Epiphany the terrible disaster in the Far East. You, Styles, along with John (above) and the late Richard Mitchell do well to follow the early advice of Voltaire and the more resent echo of Garrison Keillor: Each of us must cultivate our gardens. To press, then, and onward!
Agreed, but charitably, too, sharing a produce imprinted now perhaps best in green.
Hey, it's good to see you linking to my Underground Grammarian site. I would love a copy of that tape (or a transcription to post on the website).
It was sad to correspond with him in his final days. There were times he was bordering on despair, but he was cheered knowing that his work would never be forgotten as long as there is an Internet.
I have a blog called WitNit. Stop by sometime. Perhaps I will post how UG came about, and what Mitchell said when he first found out about it.
BTW, do I have your permission to put that Mitchell photo on the Underground Grammarian website?
My thanks, Mark, for your comments and for your kindly preserving Richard Mitchell's work. I'd be happy to see my photo used and share my transcript and tape. Email me your address.
As a big Richard Mitchell fan, I'd sure appreciate a copy of your interview transcript as well (I didn't see it posted yet at sourcetext).
Thanks, Van Harvey
My thanks for your comment. Mark's not yet responded, and since it requires digitalization and editing, my transcript should best appear at sourcetext. Do stay tuned.
By the way, being a Mitchell fan is a sign of good judgment.
I've started posting the transcript of the interview. I think it will have eight parts. Go here.
"Was man nicht sprechen kann, darum muss man schweigen."
That sounds like pseudo-German.
LW's quote should read:
"Worüber man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen."
My thanks. I'm instructed and my post corrected!
I am also a big fan of Richard Mitchell, having discovered his work about a year ago. I wrote to Mrs. Mitchell last year, but never got a reply. Just wondered about something. Nowhere in any of his writings did Mitchell deal with Allan Bloom and the whole "Closing of the American Mind" issue. This is hard to believe since Mitchell dealt with education and Bloom and his book caused such a stir. He did deal with E.D. Hirsch and the "Cultural Literacy" question. Does anyone know why? I'm assuming that he deliberately avoided mentioning Bloom for some reason.
Sorry for just getting around to this. I've been too long incommunicado, attending here to my teaching duties.
I've no definitive, authoritative answer, though I do have a reasoned hunch.
Bloom seems given more, as a philosopher, to predicate logic than Hirsch — who seems more given in English to predication. Bloom's aims may have been less grammatically offensive than those of a competing "authority" in cultural literacy.
Though perhaps too fanciful — an "adjectival" take on his seeming attachment to Bloom — this view may explain Mitchell's "nominal" attack on Hirsch.
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