You Got Style
· Pointed Takes on Style Delineated ·
February 26, 2004
· Marked with the Cross of Literary Criticism ·
Take today's lesson. A student reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, A Tale for Children," had a basic problem — one we discussed in conference. Though marking Marquez's point by reading his tale as saying something about abusive, careless treatment of the old, she delineated his point by speaking not directly about Marquez but about our nursing homes and hospices. So I had to mark the simple difference between literature and life, between Marquez's writing indirectly about life, but she, alas, not quite directly about "A Very Old Man."
Then hitting her head with her hand, she brightened: "I get it. Like all those children's stories I write, his story has a moral, but I have to go in reverse, from the moral backwards to the story, not the other way around. Still, it's the same point."
On the day after Ash Wednesday, I'd hope you would get my point:
We have to ask, critically, who's getting marked by whom. Criticism's cross, I mean to say, is maybe even our own to bear.Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
February 16, 2004
· Presidents' Day Thoughts on Christopher Lasch's Plain Style ·
Plain Style, edited with a helpful introduction by Stewart Weaver, catches well the late historian's political savvy. Christopher Lasch, author of books like Haven in a Heartless World (1977) The Culture of Narcissism (1979), and The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy (1995), addresses the fuzzy imprecision of public discourse today, going to the heart of rhetorical-political concerns George Orwell raises in his great "Politics and the English Language."
According to Weaver, Plain Style "is something of an essay in cultural criticism, a political treatise even, by one for whom directness, clarity, and honesty of expression were, no less than for George Orwell, essential to the living spirit of democracy." Weaver's allusion is no mistake, for Lasch holds to Orwell's belief that, as Orwell's own "Politics" makes clear, "the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts" — that "an effect can become a cause . . . A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks."
To second Orwell's claim, I thought to share Lasch's sharp styling of the thought in one spirited paragraph from his third chapter, "Characteristics of Bad Writing" — a paragraph entitled "Abstract Language":
Lasch's own happy take on Orwell tells. Beyond one tipsy academic, though, it's worse to see America's sober-sided politicians from the President down reeling so clearly now under the inebriating influence of such abstractions as "The Axis of Evil" and "Strategic Outsourcing." You'd maybe think that they would foreswear such stuff, rhetorically as well as politically.
A justly temperate nation might, I would suggest, ask them to try.Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
February 8, 2004
· My Unfashionably "Carlylean" Take on Sartorial Elegance ·
Today's post isn't much likely, I'm afraid, to mend that omission. If you saw me here — now an aging graduate of Red Green's School of Fashion Design, West Campus — you'd laugh at my sad threads. Imagine a pair of woolen Acorns warming my feet, a Bangladeshi-stitched Forest Trails shirt over my shoulders, a Canadian-knit KellySport fleece vest under that, and a ratty REI turtleneck under my old, "locally fashionable" Pendleton plaid. I mean, apart from chilly fishermen on peninsular rivers hereabouts, I warm to the idea of sartorial splendor about as well as steelhead do to frozen bait. You can see why I was rejected at Red's U.S. campus near Brainerd (a bit north of Garrison Keillor's wonderfully idyllic Lake Wobegone), Minnesota.
Well, I got to thinking today about my unfashionable handicaps, especially inasmuch as Friedrich Nietzsche once observed — on the philosophical subject of clothing — how even Adam and Eve's threads can bear metaphorically upon language. Now that got my attention.
Now Nietzsche is too much given here to brevity to weave what, Platonically speaking, seems the pattern likely to make his very threads fashionable. So I got to hunting about in my library for a non-Nietzschean model, when suddenly I spied Thomas Carlyle. Of course, I know he's not in style today, and I know his book Sartor Resartus is to California's Rodeo Drive what Red's design school is to New York's Fashion Institute — "The Tailor, Retailored" — yet Professor Teufelsdröckh's text might serve as one likely original of Nietzsche's thought (composed, ironically enough, in the quaint old German university town of Weissnichtwo).
I should note before literally heading out the door now to a steelhead dinner at my son's, how in Thomas Carlyle's own editorial analysis of Teufelsdröckh's style, Carlyle rightly marks — "as in my own case," too — yet another difference. Please, at quote's end, do at least fill in the blank with one of your own choosing.
"Und so weiter," Nietzsche would add.Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
February 1, 2004
· My Half-Nietzschean Take on Brevity ·
Since writing my last post I've been thinking about Nietzsche's claim, especially since the ending of "We Hold these Truths" on the First-Person Plural took some time to write. For most of the week I tried, mercurially but methodically, as I sometimes tell students, to move my slippery adverbs and shifty pronouns into substantively significant, and still stylish, juxtapostion. Finally, I heeded President Lincoln's advice: "It is fitting and proper that we should do this," as you may have seen in my result.
But Saturday night I essayed another take on Lincoln's theme by trying out a friend's latest teaching trick: "Turn off the monitor," he tells his students. Indeed pointing to their keyboards alone, he suggests writing for a change blind — "in the dark!" "Well," I thought, "why not? Mine is but a Nietzschean variation on the keyboardist's sentence, 'Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country!' So go for it!"
Here's what I wrote in just four minutes:
"I'm on quite a roll," I thought. "In just minutes (just as my colleague suggested), 'I've found my voice' — 'fluid,' 'rounded,' 'full,' 'profound,' 'indeed maybe decisively brilliant.'"
"And darkly, fulsomely bathetic, too!" I had to confess.
But I remembered, then, Nietzsche's aptly personal, perfectly-styled ambition to craft his own famously difficult, light, straightforward prose:
And I remembered, too, my own recent post's quite analogous conclusion:
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Marked with the Cross of Literary Criticism
Presidents' Day Thoughts on Christopher Lasch's Plain Style
My Unfashionably "Carlylean" Take on Sartorial Elegance
My Half-Nietzschean Take on Brevity
Figures & Tropes
Grammar & Syntax