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· Mudflats, Cruise Ships, and Casinos: Where the Wild Thing$ Are ·

Each spring, hundreds of thousands of migrating shorebirds visit mudflats here on their way to Alaska. It's quite a sight. I've witnessed it for twenty-five years and been joined since our refuge was approved in 1988 by birders galore. These birders are stylishly outfitted with books and binoculars, scopes and tripods, cameras and, increasingly, cash. We naturally appreciate them all.

Our Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates that annual wildlife viewing generates $918 million, beating fishing by $64 million and hunting by $568 million. Although cash flows are often as skittish as passing birds, we Washingtonians like what we can get by way of pecuniary predation. We are like local mudflat raptors hereabouts — eyes fixed keenly on the muddy prize.

My raptor-expert friend Dan got a flock of 25 birders Saturday, for instance, to attend his PowerPoint lecture on Peregine Falcons. At $10 a head, Dan's monies have added to monies raised by others to help the state's principal Shorebird Festival. Even some eco-skeptics are impressed.

Since 1994, with a team of volunteers, Dan has banded 73 Peregrines. From a total of 427 field investigations, his discoveries have been truly helpful — particularly in fixing knowledge of migrants and residents. His statistics indicate emergent patterns: in summer migrant Peregrines apparently follow their prey northward. So, I might add, do passing Norwegian cruise ships. · Casino Girl ·

But what, then, of our residents? Dan reports that 4/D (a Peregrine accounting for a full third of annual resightings) is seen mostly hanging out near our newest Indian Casino. It seems she's found something truly lucrative.

We naturally call her "Casino Girl."

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· Simeon Strunsky "Edits" Lincoln ·

Among American speeches none is more famous than the Gettysburg Address. At 271 words, it remains the standard of economical presidential speech-making. Less often recited now than in years past, it is a model, of course, for school study and inquiry. But as Simeon Strunsky has remarked, editing presents problems — mostly by way of killing the spirit.

To be a model, a classic, means to be "edited," Strunsky claims, "with twenty pages of introduction and" — you'll like this part — "I don't know how many foot-notes." As I've already counted two footnotes here, the chance to lighten that task is especially appealing. So with Willard Espy's help, from An Almanac of Words at Play, I offer you Strunsky's helpful "foot-noting" of Lincoln. "He speculates," Espy writes, "that somewhere in the high schools or the colleges this is what the young soul finds in the Gettysburg Address":

Four score and seven years1 ago our fathers2 brought forth on this continent3 a new nation,4 conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition5 that all men are created equal.6 Now we are engaged in a great civil war,7 testing whether that nation,8 or any nation so conceived and so dedicated,9 can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield10 of that war.

1i. e., eighty-seven years ago. The Gettysburg Address was delivered Nov. 19, 1863. Lincoln is here referring to the Declaration of Independence.

2Figuratively speaking. To take "fathers" in a literal sense would, of course, involve a physiological absurdity.

3The western continent, embracing North and South America.

4"A new nation." This is tautological, since a nation just brought forth would necessarily be new.

5"Proposition," in the sense in which Euclid employs the term and not as one might say now, "a cloak and suit proposition."

6See the Declaration of Independence in Albert Bushnell Hart's "American History Told by Contemporaries" (4 vols., Boston, 1898-1901).

7The war between the States, 1861-65.

8i. e., the United States.

9See Elliot's Debates in the several State Conventions on the adoption of the Federal Constitution, etc. (5 vols., Washington, 1840-45).

10Gettysburg; a borough and the county seat of Adams Co., Pennsylvania, near the Maryland border, 35 miles southwest of Harrisburg. Pop. in 1910, 4,030. Simeon Strunsky, as quoted in Willard Espy, An Almanac of Words at Play, New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1975, 41.

Perhaps you may recall that Strunsky's most famous remark is: "Famous remarks are very seldom quoted correctly." Maybe that's why in one of his essays, "Nocturne," one soul reflects — stylistically and substantively — on the old difference between literature and life, between "newspapers" and "Night Court." Could Strunsky really be saying, "Bring Back Recitation"?1

1It's an equally open question, of course, whether Jacques Derrida — the oh-so-quotable Deconstructor — should be called in to testify.

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· Head, Hands, and Heart: Lincoln the Writer ·

One-hundred-and-thirty-eight years ago Abraham Lincoln died. Shot April 14, dead April 15, Lincoln is in one way still with us. For Good Friday, of course, is the day he was assassinated, and tonight, as Christians world-wide anticipate the coming of Easter, we can do him the justice of examining, if not his 1865 assassination directly, then indirectly his uncanny way of anticipating it. One essay, "Lincoln the Writer," in Jacques Barzun on Writing, Editing, and Publishing: Essays Explicative and Hortatory, offers one way of doing so, for it raises the related question of Lincoln's style.

In his own day, Lincoln's prose [Barzun writes] was found flat, dull, lacking in taste. It differed radically in form and tone from the accepted models — Webster's or Channing's for speeches, Bryant's or Greeley's for journalism. Once or twice, Lincoln did imitate their genteel circumlocutions or resonant abstractions. But these were exercises he never repeated. His style, well in hand by his thirtieth year and richly developed by his fiftieth, has the eloquence which comes of the contrast between transparency of medium and density of thought. Consider this episode from a lyceum lecture written when Lincoln was twenty-nine:

Turn, then, to that horror-striking scene at St. Louis. A single victim was only sacrificed there. His story is very short; and is, perhaps, the most highly tragic of anything of its length that has ever been witnessed in real life. A mulatto man by the name of McIntosh was seized in the street, dragged to the suburbs of the city, chained to a tree, and actually burned to death; and all within a single hour from the time he had been a freeman, attending to his own business, and at peace with the world.


 · Lincoln's Life Mask and Hands, Bronze Cast, 1886, Glessner House Museum, Chicago, Illinois ·

Notice the contrasting rhythms of the two sentences: "A single victim was only sacrificed there. His story is very short." The sentences are very short, too, but let anyone try imitatiing their continuous flow or subdued emotion on the characteristic Lincolnian theme of the swift passage from the business of life to death. Jacques Barzun, Jacques Barzun on Writing, Editing, and Publishing: Essays Explicative and Hortatory, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1971, 66-67.

I am not trying to make Lincoln Christ-like here, but only noting, in marking the memory of his stylistic achievement, the coincidence of his assassination. I first thought of this while singing the old refrain last night — "Let my people go" — to "Go Down, Moses." Indeed, I think that as Lincoln was penning McIntosh's case, he was grasping therein the cases of others he would later emancipate. It was a matter not only of style but of substance: a point grasped, in 1863 — clearly, forcefully, and eloquently — even in the midst of Civil War. It was, historically, an application of head, hands, and heart to his best work.

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· An English Style, Familiar But Not Coarse ·

You may recognize Samuel Johnson's famous phrase on the prose style of Joseph Addison. From the final paragraphs of his Life of Addison, it marks the spirit of Addisonian prose — a style of the "middle" sort, Johnson claims, one might say one of the middle class, too:

 · Joseph Addison ·

His prose is the model of the middle style; on grave subjects not formal, on light occasions not groveling; pure without scrupulosity, and exact without apparent elaboration; always equable, and always easy, without glowing words or pointed sentences. Addison never deviates from his track to snatch a grace; he seeks no ambitious ornaments, and tries no hazardous innovations. His page is always luminous, but never blazes in unexpected splendour. . . .  Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of Addison.

Though Johnson's is hardly Addison's style, it marks the clear shape of the man's happy achievement. Together with Richard Steele, Addison of course virtually invented the daily journal essay. His Tatler and Spectator essays from 1709 to 1712 led readers through London coffee houses with "Starbuckian Wit" — to city wags, wits, and Whigs of interest. I've particular fondness for one Tatler piece, #158. Bookish Tom Folio therein abuses "those who talk of the fineness of style, and the justness of thought, or describe the brightness of any particular passages; nay, though they write themselves in the genius and spirit of the author they admire, Tom looks upon them as men of superficial learning, and flashy parts." There's nothing like getting to the nub of things fast.

To read Addison's Tatler-Spectator essays, you can find complete sets at The Spectator Project. Tatler requires the DjVu download, but you will be up and running soon. Check out #155 (v. 3, p. 221) for an early version of InstaPundit. Addison's Upholsterer always prompts a laugh.

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· Here, Here: Where Have You Been? ·

I met again with a group of academics from around the country last week. Putatively interested in the love of wisdom, we gathered in a hotel outside of New York. We considered what were generally some inadequate tests of thought falling short of a serious ideal but few enough fortunately to allow our taking in New York's cultural scene. For me that meant Art, Opera, Theater, and Ballet. Even philosophers decend into the city's cave to pass judgment on its shadows on the wall.

Beyond subterranean rides on the subway, my added adventures included Mark Adamo's Little Women at the New York City Opera, Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out at the Walter Kerr Theater, and Boris Eifman's Who's Who ballet at the City Center Theater. I also ventured north to the Natural History and Metropolitan Museums and south to NYU and Grenwich Village, seeking in NYU's Stern School my friend Katya for some needed Russian translation at the ballet. Her cell phone was unfortunately disconnected. Let it be said that my one week away was exhausting, coming hard on the heels of quarter finals and preceding three new classes this spring. But my sense of style has at least been liberated.

Big-city "liberation" is, after all, the past week's other, more substantive news.

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