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· Pointed Takes on Style Delineated ·

· I \ Eye \ Aye ·

 · My God!  It's Halloween! ·

Last night I made a quick run to the store to get Halloween treats.

Alas, a resulting sugar high prompts today's announcements:

I did my Halloween trick three days ago.

Eye Candy (Eye Candy One and All!) at Right.

Aye, I'm not a toad or daisy yet in Marianne's Garden.

Now I can happily await All Saints' Day.

Cheers (and Boo) from your Nordic Logger.

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· Metaphors \ Methods \ Models — Dirty-Hand Style ·

If you've been paying attention, you'll have noticed that three times in these posts I've alluded to the subject of dirty hands. I thought to reflect today on the subject, and the seeming inconsistencies in my three takes.

You may recall in Wetting a Line \ Whetting the Points that I first approved of Thoreau's view that getting one's "hands" dirty knocks the "palaver" out of one's writing. I still believe that, yet in Jacques Barzun "Takes On" Wayward Educationists, I confessed, I'm afraid — somewhat contradictorily — my regret in not literally "washing my hands" of educationists' styles. Now if you're like my philosophy students, you're likely asking with Martin Heidegger some question like this: "Hey, what gives?" since I ignored in Gardening and Writing the Point-Defiance Way how Marianne Binetti's style is, necessarily, if also insufficiently so, dirty-handed too. I mean: "How are you ever going to garden otherwise?"

So as not to be evasive, I'm going to go straight to right stuff on this question and cite Thomas DeQuincy, the great English writer and — in his treatise Style, published in Blackwood's Magazine in 1840-41 — a thoughtful student of style. DeQuincy focused on "pursuits" he thought "favorable to a culture of style" — that indeed "force[d]," he believed, "that culture . . . drawing much from our own proper selves, [but] little (if anything) from extraneous objects."

DeQuincy marks for us, it should be noted, an important philosophical difference, one drawing on a Kantian vocabulary implicitly tuned to such concepts as subjectively- and objectively-defined pursuits — that is, those drawn between ordinary common sense on the one hand, and modern science on the other: wherein a topic like "dirty hands" is considered metaphorically stylish in literature, but methodologically not in science. Although I admit it is a helpful distinction, I would add, too, it is indifferently spelled, in either case, "dirty hands" — and so may model, explicitly, like my italicized words, a slipperier, still more important truth.

My point turns on DeQuincy's common, but I think too-simplistic assumption that

[a] man who has absolute facts to communicate from some branch of study external to himself . . . is careless of style; or at least he may be so . . . for what he has to communicate neither readily admits, nor much needs, any graces in the mode of communication; the matter transcends and oppresses the manner. The matter tells without any manner at all. Thomas DeQuincy, Style, in William T. Brewster, Representative Essays in the Theory of Style, New York: Macmillan, 1905, 142.

Although initially tempting, DeQuincy's main assumption fails here since, though a scientist may of course find his point in matter, he must nonetheless communicate it still in words. Indeed, one of the most celebrated dirty-hand stories in history illustrates my point. Dr. Ignaz Phillip Semmelweis, the Hungarian discoverer of microbial pathogens, failed at first to report his discovery and so, for a time at least, lost public credit for it (although his discovery did happily save many lives, as anyone familiar with the story knows). But my real point lies deeper, for it can be argued that Dr. Semmelweis's reticence came not so much from his literary shyness as from a deep, subtle, stylishly philosophical understanding of the point of scientific discovery: namely, that it is less a matter of finding any "matter" as such than a "method" by which that matter's existence can be suggested but never proved per se (or an sich, as Kant would say).

What's called the Hempelian model of the scientific method explains as much. Attributed to philosopher Carl Hempel, it turns, simply, on the analysis of logical inference in scientific inquiry, wherein the results grasped by its research must rely on invalid formal arguments (on affirming the consequent, to be precise), yielding practical benefits but revealing theoretical traps, too. So whenever good scientists report results, they usually say: "The data suggest [but don't 'prove'] the matter in hand." So in a manner of speaking, we have, in such phrasing, scientific style modeled — though Semmelweis had it, of course, in the extreme.

In extremis, indeed, if you followed my link above, for you know he finally died of the "matter in hand." So in a manner of speaking, not only did he show that getting one's "hands" dirty knocks the "palaver" out of one's writing, but suggested, too, that not till we discover "'imaginary gardens with real toads in them'" — to borrow a different Marianne's words (Marianne Moore's in "Poetry") — can we ever hope to learn how to knock the "palaver" out of our lives. Perhaps that's the matter Thoreau also had in mind.

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· Dialectizer ·

Those of you who have seen Doonesbury's Blog-strips will recall the one on the blogger's penchant for clever, messed-up punctuation. Of course, I found it amusing, since I've tried my best to oblige even here. Messing with punctuation, I sometimes think, is the essence of style. But words are no less important.

Requires   No   Work

It so happens I've just learned how to mess with words wonderfully, and as I've been harping on that theme a while (as the artfully difficult grace of style) I thought to share — though I must confess it requires no work and may thus be doubly suspect. In any event, here's the impressively clever "Dialectizer."

Just Click-'n-Clack your way through my site as you will — but please, will someone tell Tom and Ray Magliozzi I'm sorry they're not listed yet.

Here's · You Got Style · in




   Elmer Fudd

   Swedish Chef


   Pig Latin


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· Doonesbury Does the Blog ·

I've studiously avoided so far the moniker of choice for my scribble-page here, Blog — short for Weblog, or Web Log, I don't know which.

 · Hey, I'm bloggin' blotto, too ·

Gary Trudeau has given me an excuse, anyway, to leave a particularly tough tree I've been sawing on and thank him personally. Should he ever cruise the timber out this way, I'd throw a (b)log on the fire and pass around the b(l)ottle. (I think of myself as a Logger, of course.) In any case, it feels good — therapeutic even — to see him name my work so. It's so much like his — save, of course, for slight differences in our pay, notoriety, and longevity (but I'm not complaining: I'm in a [b]logger sort of mood today, in word and deed).

If you haven't yet seen Trudeau's new work, check it out, or at least the trace of his now-vanished (b)log-set.

Naturally, G.B.T. has style.

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· Wrote.org ·

I discovered today a new weblog, from Minnesota — Wrote.org, a fascinating collection of old newspaper pieces from the Minnetonka Record and other papers. Though materially a century old, it's as fresh, stylistically, as "Yesterday's News Today" (the site's apt description).

Here's a recent entry, from March 11, 1910:


A game of chance in which the chances are about even. The man leads at first, but after leaving the altar he usually follows breathlessly in his wife's trail. The rules are very confusing. If a masked player holds you up some night at the end of a long gun, it is called robbery, and entitles you to telephone the police, but if your wife holds you up for a much larger amount the next morning at the end of a long hug, it is termed diplomacy, and counts in her favor. In this, as in other games of life, wives are usually allowed more privileges than other outlaws. — Judge

Who is this "Judge" I want to know, so crisp of judgment and witty, too? What exactly is he saying? Should I or maybe some grim PC cop detect double-entendre here: a sexy "member of the bar" held up in the morning, or just some Judge? Frankly, I don't know, and don't care — 'cause this guy's got style.

So does Minnetonka's Record. Judge your own local rag by the standard, and weep.

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· T. G. I. Friday's Mourning ·

The sentimental fastidiousness of Wednesday's Midweek Sunday Morning — where a few words framed an "Osgood" scene emotionally moving but ironically mute — puts me in mind today, as Wendell Berry might say, of something more messy, poetry.

Today's title marks it as Friday's work, the work of mourning, I like to think, not of morning, of darkness, not sunshine, trouble, not peace. Thank God I have time today to consider it here.

I have in mind a particular poem written to acknowledge the loss by miscarriage last winter of a relative's child — Wren Marie — a girl who will never spread wings westward from Minnesota to see the rugged Washington Coast nor eastward ever to visit her grandparents in Rockville, Maryland, where, recently in the news, we have all mourned deaths even more terrible still.

"Flight Song for Wren Marie" is my daughter-in-law's poem, and when I wrote her last winter to mark its pointed achievement, I knew — as you should now — that it came from a woman whose own father took flight when she was just thirteen. As Yeats knew ("a terrible beauty is born"), poetry lives at the hard edges of experience, and people do too:

Hard surfaces handily softened by such warm consideration. You tread lightly, dive deeply, soar hopefully, alert to new songs of spring this winter. I'm reminded here of Frost's "Never Again Would Birds' Song Be The Same." Like Frost's Eve, you find, even amid mortal loss, a songbird's gift of life to share.

Flight Song for Wren Marie

Winter wren, you've left my fields too early
These days only lengthen in
your absence, shadows long
across the stubble, dry grass rustling, stirred
by my blindly seeking hands
(no answers in the frozen earth)

You do not flit
from root to root along the icy stream bank
(no answers in the frozen water,
burbles hushed to silence) yet

Sweet warbler, your trills
are high on the January wind
I hear each spiraling, sweeping song burst
with unencumbered joy

Still I keen my lullaby, chase each
departing echo, while spring remains
a fickle promise.

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· Midweek Sunday Morning ·

My reading student essays this week has induced a midweek yearning for CBS Sunday Morning. I'd frankly like to write for the show, since writers there have so little to say. "A picture is worth a thousand words" is their motto.

So here's my "Midweek Sunday Morning."

The soothing, mellifluent voice of Charles Osgood:

We take you to the wind-swept beauty of Washington's North-Pacific Coast, where Nature reigns supreme today on a rugged, rocky beach.

Cut to moving two-minute "scene."

 · The Washington Coast ·

Osgood saying over and off, peacefully:

The rugged Washington Coast.

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· Gardening and Writing the Point-Defiance Way ·

A drive to a local nursery plopped a fall bargain into my backseat yesterday — a Point-Defiance Rhody now awaiting planting in the garden. Naturally, its name resonanted with me, suggesting nominally at least — though not adjectivally — possibilities for literary growth. Point Defiance! How happily appealing, like elliding, or sliding through (or squeezing by) the Rules, easily — the Northwest POINT-DEFIANCE WAY.

 · Point Defiance ·

I needed some instruction, of course, and, as fortune would have it, my wife wisely suggested as a witty and, I might add, beautiful model — both literary and natural — the Northwest gardening author Marianne Binetti. Now Marianne Binetti is Northwest all the way, living in Enumclaw just a bit east of Tacoma, Washington, not too far geographically from the real Point Defiance — the peninsula jutting northward into Puget Sound there. Last spring, she happened to visit our own more westerly Olympic Peninsula, leaving an autographed copy of her third book, Easy Answers for Great Gardens: 500 Tips, Techniques, & Outlandish Ideas, with my wife. "Go Easy," she wrote. (She has, I might add, very nice handwriting.)

I was charmed by her style. Here's good Northwest gardening advice, Binetti-style:

Adding all this organic stuff to the soil and making compost seems like a lot of work. Is it really necessary?

Nope. You could keep your lousy soil and have fewer choices of plants you can grow.

Do I have to dig all this organic matter into the soil?

No. Digging is work. The easy answer is to just lay the compost, manure, or soil amendments on top of the soil . . . and let the earthworms do the work.

Do I have to use fertilize[r]?

Nope. There are plenty of plants that do well without fertilizer.

What is the best type of fertilizer for the lazy gardener?

There's no easy answer here. It depends on the gardener and the plants. Marianne Binetti, Easy Answers for Great Gardens: 500 Tips, Techniques, & Outlandish Ideas, Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 2000, 3-11.

You get the picture. No-nonsense Marianne — smack, in-your-face, charming, and beautiful. I wish we writing teachers would get the hang of her particular genius. Perhaps then we'd have Tips-'N-Tricks texts better suited to postmodern student needs:

Adding all this punctuation stuff to writing seems like a lot of work. Is it really necessary?

Nope. You could keep your lousy sentences and have fewer choices of good ideas to share.

Do I really have to dig ideas up by myself?

Hardly. Digging is work. The easy answer is to lay in some half-digested quotes and let readers do the work.

Do I have to use citation[s]?

Are you kidding? There are plenty of them growing electrically in the digital dirt nearby.

What is the best type of idea for the lazy composer?

There's no safe easy answer here. It depends, frankly, on the writer, the reader, and the topic. Would that there were such texts; methinks publishers would earn some profits.

My literary fantasy does, I admit, have its own obvious limitations, since gardening and writing aren't exact analogues. They're not really quite fit. Whereas we might Go Easy with rhodys, we'd Go Wrong, alas, with "Composing Too Easily" — though I wish my students could today hear the straight, point-defiant, correct answer to:

Must I really avoid the first-person?

No way! We'd all quite clearly be lost without it, you and I.

In any event, thanks Marianne. And by the way, is it true that Point Defiance is a clone of Lem's Walloper? I'd really like to know.

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· Jacques Barzun "Takes On" Wayward Educationists ·

Newsweek's issue of 9/30 featured a fine "My Turn" essay called "Forget the Fads — The Old Way Works Best." A colleague dropped a copy in my mailbox yesterday, and after reading it on my way to class and then reflecting on it overnight, I thought more seriously about it: "Where," I thought, "have I seen these ideas expressed before?" Then bingo: Jacques Barzun, Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, the sanest, shrewdest collection of education essays ever.

But to Newsweek first. Author Evan Keliher, author of Guerrilla Warfare for Teachers: (A Survival Guide), takes on the likes of Walter H. Annenberg and others in it, who, with private, sometimes public funds, have endowed Projects, Programs, and Policies aplenty while forgetting, of course, the fourth, most important "P": People (classroom teachers especially).

What's the result of their work? Mostly meetings. In fact, while making my slow way to Barzun overnight, I think I was put on track by chancing to read one such teacher, Naomi Chana, in her fine weblog Baraita.

We do not have a faculty meeting this week [she writes, in Two Texts Over Easy]. This is exciting, because for the past seven weeks we've had meetings every week — a spot of curricular reform, some mission-y stuff, a few searches to get underway, all things that needed doing. I, of course, got accustomed to the weekly meetings because I'd never known anything else. But this week we are meeting-free, and — in further proof that all's well with the academic world — . . .

Do you sense the relief here? Bored? Call a meeting, all educationists say, their answer to every curricular ill. And their question? Why, as Keliher explains, it's ever the same, a variation on the one Pharoah put to his geometry teacher Euclid — "Isn't there a short-cut hereabouts?" "No," Euclid rightly replied, "there is no royal road to geometry."

Obviously I'm not on it. So on to Barzun. In one essay, "The Art of Making Teachers" prefacing "Occupational Disease: Verbal Inflation," Barzun defines the problem by taking a bee-line to the heart of Keliher's complaint and of Chana's relief: the style road. He simply fixes on the chronic disjunction between educationists' words and deeds, on all educationese — powered by big bucks and small ideas — that turns teachers like Keliher into Survivalists and those like Chana into Dutiful-but-Duly-Relieved Skippers.

By temperment they [educationists] have no interest in Learning or capacity for it; by purpose they are bent not on instruction but on social work. They care little about history or science or good English, but they grow keen about any scheme of betterment; one recent proposal is: teach the importance of washing the hands.

The result of half a century or more of this world-reforming attitude may be seen in the language in which educationists think and talk. A fair sampling appears in the discussion of art teaching . . . : It[s] characteristics are: abstraction instead of direct naming; exaggeration of goals and results; seeing the student not as an individual but as an example of some psychological generality; taking any indirect means in place of the straight one; and finally: mistaking words for facts, and intentions for hard work.

Such is the educationist mind everywhere. Jacques Barzun, Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, The University of Chicago Press, 1991, 96-97.

That's enough to make one educationist like me ashamed, for here I am today (October 11th), dutifully heading off to a meeting to hear talk about "mission-y" things (love that word) — having not yet learned to "wash my hands" of the stuff (in deed at least). But Listenin' to the Talk ain't Talkin' It, is it?

Or is it?

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· October 8th: Historic Birthday(s) ·

Those of you who like Dave Barry may recognize an allusion to American history in my title. October 8th — his son's birthday — is for Barry a convenient, all-purpose date. It substitutes in Dave Barry Slept Here for every important political, social, or technological event in American history. It's Barry's uniquely movable, but singular, "point of departure" — easy to remember and, for him, fittingly, happily, and indiscriminately employed wherever, well . . . "the date's demanded."

So why do I invoke it here? It's simply to fix another singularly important birthday in mind, that of my own "point of departure," Movable Type. It's a year old today. It was precisely a year ago today that Ben and Mena Trott released it to the public. Their modest announcement and thanks, to be found here, mark a pair possessed of and powered by Style. I bet old St. Augustine and E. B. White are nodding faithfully in agreement. And more sleepily, old Dave.

 · Happy Birthday! ·

"here Here and EveryWhere," I can hear him snore, "October 8th. Yeah, that was when Galileo, or Gutenberg, or, Huh, Who'd you say? . . ."

You're my kind of guy, Dave!

Happy Birthday all.

And Ben and Mena, my donation's coming.

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· St. Augustine Reading — Silently ·

 · Credo ut Intelligam, Intelligo ut Credam ·

My last entry on punctuation has prompted a related thought on reading. The image at right is not, however, its immediate occasion.

Indeed, Bennozo Gozolli's St. Augustine Reading the Epistle of St. Paul — the tenth of seventeen famous frescoes in Sant' Agostino Church in San Gimignano, Italy, 1465 — is not here properly its apt expression or, better, visualization. Neither, for that matter, are Gozolli's depicted characters — St. Augustine and his intellectual friend Alypius — even the immediate subjects of my thought. Rather, they are Alberto Manguel and Stylish (my wife and intellectual friend), who, some years back in an extended review of Manguel's A History of Reading, wrote this intriguing paragraph:

We also take for granted that most adults read silently. But imagine seeing for the first time someone reading silently rather than orally. That is what Saint Augustine describes in his Confessions when he sees his master, Saint Ambrose of Milan, reading silently. According to Manguel, Augustine's description is the first definite instance recorded in Western literature. Augustine, a professor of Latin rhetoric, found himself — reportedly in 384 A.D. — unable to ask Ambrose the questions about matters of faith that were troubling him, because, as Augustine explains, when Ambrose was not eating a frugal meal or entertaining one of his many admirers, he was alone in his cell, reading. Augustine describes the strange observation: "When he read, his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still." Manguel explains that not until the tenth century does silent reading become usual in the West.

My thought is simply this: just as we learned in the West gradually to mark words with visible writing spaces, so gradually we learned (as in the two scenes "depicted" and "described" above) to observe related reading silences. Both, of course, may just be twin aspects of a definition of style, appointed spaces and appointed times — marked, we might say, for reflection. I don't quite know what to make of them, save perhaps to recall E. B. White's famous dictum on writing: "Writing is an act of faith," he said, "not a trick of grammar." I think old St. Augustine would agree. So you're looking for the source, too? I sadly mislaid my old copy of Strunk & White! Just take his words on faith.

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· (Un)pointed Takes on Style (Mis)delineated ·

I spent a couple of class hours today on the topic of punctuation. If you're suppressing a yawn, I'm sorry, but I thought I might share my take on the subject anyway — "schoolstyle," as I like to say. If you are tired, by all means sleep, but please try not to snore. I don't mind subjunctively underjoined students in the classroom, just log-sawyers who doze, alas, 'too noisily.'

The lesson was historical, beginning so:


It was like the Fall of Man when some "woman" naturally got the point about spacing, I said.

That's when we got flows like this:

woman without her man is in paradise

You can image the bloody battle that followed — sharp swords of punctuation drawn — with half my class going at the other half's jugular, so to speak.

"Woman, without her man, is in paradise," some said.

"Woman! Without her, man is in paradise," replied others.

The noise was awful, and the blood worse (I hate to see young people sacrificing themselves so).

But judging from some Dear-John letters I then shared, you'd hardly know who won at last. You can see why for yourselves:

Dear John,

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we're apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?


Dear John,

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can be forever happy — will you let me be yours?


As you can see, punctuation is problematic.

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