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· Better Than It Ever Gets ·

"A name can say a lot about a place, or nothing at all."

So begins John G. Mitchell's National Geographic article, Nature's Champion (July 2004). I cite it today since, though I'm only a denizen of Olympic National Park, its "natural" subject I can almost call home.

Olympic says a lot. It says that this is as good as it gets. Here, astride the pinnacle of excellence [Mitchell writes], stands the champion. Fitting, then, that mapmakers should borrow the modifier from mythology and stamp it upon this peninsula poking fist-like into the Pacific at the westernmost edge of the 48 contiguous United States. And if the word suits the peninsula, why not recycle it to the peninsula's national park, overlorded as it is by the mountain Olympus, named for the throne room of the Grecian gods?

 · Olympic National Park ·

Though I'm wary of his penchant for hyperbolic "excess," as Jeffrey Kittay once rightly said more generally of English descriptive nature writing (especially if it seeks some larger droit de cite [right of a citizen]"),* Mitchell is at least encouraging. I mean — if you think about it — his lavish praise is fitting since Olympians are, of course, typically washed by excessive rainfall.

So today I thought to let him continue:

The park is a throne room in its own right [he claims]: More than 900,000 acres (4,000 hectares) of icy summits and alpine meadows, rushing rivers and glacial lakes, fog-shrouded sea stacks and surf-fed tide pools; a sanctuary for spawning salmon and rutting elk; a seedbed of spruce and fir and cedar soaring above a rain forest as grand as any in the world. Who knows? Among American landscapes, Olympic National Park just might be better than it ever gets.

Naturally, Mitchell's stylish hyperbole should prompt a smile, but you might enjoy on this sunny day a handy, more-officially-approved photo gallery, while I, a bit lower on nature's food-chain, enjoy an Olympia brew.

You might recall, of this Northwest beer, its fitting motto: "It's the Water."

*Kittay's remark, from his 1981 introduction to Yale French Studies — entitled "Toward A Theory of Description" (Issue 61, p.i) — I include for added amusment, interest, and study:

We still operate very much within the Aristotelian concept of action, which suggests that description be viewed [he writes] as secondary, and purely functional, or merely decorative. Consequently, description is seen as something which must be kept in its place, functioning to fill in or to set up, and having a certain marginality or accidence, making it detachable or skippable; otherwise, if it does claim a larger droit de cite [right of a citizen] (as in descriptive poetry of the eighteenth century), it is seen to be uncontrolled or excessive or boring. This volumn discusses the qualities, tendencies and resistances of description, what our attitudes are toward it, what elicits it, how it works, what it satisfies and leaves wanting, and the strange kind of relationships it establishes with such concepts as space and time and action, perception and cognition, writing and meaning.

Again, I'm but a championizing denizen of Olympic National Park, not yet a full citizen.


P.S. Do enjoy Mitchell's added peninsular Field Notes, too.

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· Retiring Periodicity ·

My school year ended yesterday. Today's · You Got Style · subject is quite apropos, periodicity. It is delaying the rhetorical point: suspending grammatical attention better to mark logical emphasis. It naturally thrives (if you think about it) on ceremony.

Yesterday, for instance, a colleague here learned he'll have his name forever gracing an existing natural landscape. Our board-approved declaration included a long, indeed a ceremoniously-long WHEREAS list, one followed necessarily by a THEREFORE emphasizing, at last, HIS NAME.

I even got in the mood, since our president is also getting a proposed campus building named for him. So today I thought to share something I wrote yesterday before graduation. Here with my point following (but with names, times, places omitted) is a routine classroom visitation report. Its subject, as you might guess, is retired.

At _______'s request I visited Mr. _______'s 101 class on May __, leaving with a positive impression of his teaching. He clearly commands the respect and attention of students. Addressing Bruce Catton's famous comparison of Civil War Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, he marched his students across a field of historical-literary ideas with impressive authority, and with the pedagogical challenges of expository writing always clearly in view.

I was especially impressed by his strategic inquiry skills. Working from simpler to more complex matters, he engaged student attention directly, following what seemed a planned route of real learning from biographical-historical to rhetorical-logical detail. Although he ignored one student's too-quick grasp of a crucial logical point — perhaps analogous to one's ignoring Grant's "genius" for topographical thinking — he yet served students well, grasping clearly how such points all eventually appear.

But Mr. _______ also himself grasps good beginnings. I was taken by his initial quiz. Gathering facts and judgments alike, it focused inquiry by training student attention, whether students quite understood things or not. As a result, all were dutifully "engaged."

Clearly, Mr. _______ merits general commendation for his work, perhaps even a medal, especially now in retirement. Obviously, ___ is well served.

My own point? Simply, if belatedly, to wish our newly-honored colleagues deservedly happy retirements.

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· Partially in Full Bloom ·

Short of rereading the book — an unlikely event at this late stage of my life — I'm rather given to outlining James Joyce's Ulysses. For it's Bloomsday today, and old Styles must mark at least Bloom's Centennial, since Ulysses merits some brief mention, especially at 100.

But what, pray tell, does that mean? Possibly that I might ignore the full text while concentrating, partially, on Chapter 14, "Oxen of the Sun." After all, what Joyce chapter better celebrates "English style."


Time:  10.00 pm.
Scene:  The National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street.
Organ:  Womb
Art:  Medicine
Colours:  White
Symbol:  Mothers
Technique:  Embryonic development
Correspondences:  Trinacria-the hospital; Lampote and Phaethusa-the nurses; Helios-Horne; Oxen-fertility; Crime-fraud. (Helios Hyperion, Jove, Ulysses. Fecundation, frauds, parthenogenesis. Sense: The eternal herds).

Homeric Parallels:  After passing between SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS Odysseus and his crew land on the island of the sun god Helios. Despite warnings from Circe and Tiresias in HADES, Ulysses' men kill and eat the divine oxen on the island of the sun. When they depart Lampote informs her father Helios, who petitions Zeus to punish the travellers. Death by thunderbolt ensues, and all of Odysseus' crew are killed, fulfilling the dark prophecies of Circe and Tiresias. Lashed to a mast and keel, Odysseus drifts back through SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS and is beached on CALYPSO's island, where years of sexual slavery await him.

Summary:  Mrs Purefoy is in labour, and Bloom is visiting her at the hospital. A party is in progress, and Dr Dixon is there (who once treated Bloom for a bee-sting) along with Stephen, Lynch, Lenehan and others, and Mulligan who comes later. A nurse begs for quiet. The group are discussing problems in the philosophy of medicine: whether, in a dire childbirth, the mother or baby should be saved, and the ethics of contraception. Bawdy comments and noise ensue (like Odysseus' men, they lack respect for the sacred inhabitants of the place). Bloom can think only of his dead son Rudy. The talk turns to Stephen's choice of literature over the Church. There is a storm, and Bloom provides a scientific explanation of thunder. Papal Bulls are the next topic, then Mulligan gets bawdy. The nurse again asks them to keep the noise down, and Bloom too disapproves of the way things are going as the party gets drunker. Mulligan tells a gothic horror story, the Purefoy baby is born, and then the group pour into the street — Stephen and Lynch head for the red light district.

Comment:  Stylistically, this is one of the densest chapters. It Begins with a primitive invocation, moves through (symbolically) nine stages of the development of the English language (which parallel the nine months of pregnancy), and ends in a chaos of Dublin slang, student witticisms, an evangelist's speech and nonsense — a sort of chronological synopsis of the English language and a sustained metaphor of the process of gestation. For Joyce here ontegeny (the development of the individual) recapitulates phylogyny (the evolutionary history of the species). Again the emphasis is on the dependency of narrative events on discursive style, and the relativity of styles in their mediation of reality. In the style of the 15th century, for example, Bloom's bee sting and treatment becomes "a spear wherewith a horrible and dreadful dragon was smitten him for which he did do make a salve of volatile salt and chrism..." The line-numbers and opening words of each stylistic imitation are given below:
1-6:  "Deshil Holles..." primitive incantations.

7-32:  "Universally that person's..." Latin prose style of the Roman historians Sallust and Tacitus.

33-59:  "It is not why therefore..." mediaeval Latin prose chronicles.

60-106:  "Before born babe bliss had..." Anglo-Saxon alliterative prose.

107-22:  "Therefore, everyman..." Middle English prose.

123-66:  "And whiles they spake..." imitates the C14th Travels of Sir John Mandeville.

167-276:  "This meanwhile this good..." C15th style of Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur.

277-333:  "About that present time..." Elizabethan prose chronicles.

334-428:  "To be short this passage..." C16th-C17th Latinate prose styles of Milton, Richard Hooker, Sir Thomas Browne.

429-73:  "But was Boasthard's..." John Bunyan.

474-528:  "So Thursday sixteenth..." C17th diarists John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys.

529-81:  "With this came up..." Daniel Defoe.

581-650:  "An Irish bull in..." Jonathan Swift.

651-737:  "Our worthy acquaintance..." C18th essayists Joseph Addison and Richard Steele.

738-98:  "Here the listener who..." Laurence Sterne.

799-844:  "Amid the general vacant..." Oliver Goldsmith.

845-79:  "To revert to Mr Bloom..." Edmund Burke.

880-904:  "Accordingly he broke his mind..." Richard Sheridan.

905-41:  "But with what fitness..." C18th style of the satirist Junius.

942-1009:  "The news was imparted..." Edward Gibbon.

1010-37:  "But Malchias' tale..."Horace Walpole (gothic horror).

1038-77:  "What is the age..." late C18th essayist Charles Lamb.

1078-1109:  "The voices blend and fuse..." C19th romantic Thomas De Quincey.

1110-73:  "Francis was reminding..." Walter Savage Landor.

1174-1222:  "However, as a matter of fact..." English essayist and historian Thomas Babington Macaulay.

1223-1309:  "It had better be stated..." Thomas Henry Huxley.

1310-43:  "Meanwhile the skill..." Charles Dickens.

1344-55:  "There are sins or..." John Henry Cardinal Newman.

1356-78:  "The stranger still regarded..." Walter Pater.

1379-90:  "Mark this father..." John Ruskin.

1391-1439:  "Burke's! Outflings my lord..." Thomas Carlyle.

1440 onwards:  "All off for a buster..." the style disintegrates into a range of dialects and doggerel.

Such disintegration at the end gives me pause, but I'm not much into reading anything into it.

After all, there's A Full Bloom of Ulyssean Things maybe to work over here.

And there's surely June 16, 2004, to enjoy.

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· All Eyes on Ronald Reagan, Ruth-Rockne-Lusetti-Hazlitt Style ·

Two days ago I read a bright piece of sports commentary. Bearing on concerns at · You Got Style ·, it came in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal (6/9/04) in a short review of Michael Mandelbaum's book, The Meaning of Sports (2004). A professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Mandelbaum, Fred Barnes writes, embellishes his subject "with so many fresh ideas, clever insights and bits of anthropology that The Meaning . . . is not only fascinating but enormously entertaining."

I was of course impressed, but yesterday with C-SPAN in the background, I happily recalled Barnes's apt take on Mandelbaum's "brightest insight":

One of Mr. Mandelbaum's brighest insights [Barnes writes] is that Babe Ruth, Knute Rockne and Hank Lusetti turned their sports into national obsessions in a similar thrilling fashion — by making the ball easier for spectators to see. In baseball, Ruth did it with the home run in the 1920s. Rockne, the Notre Dame football coach, popularized the forward pass in 1913. In basketball, Lusetti, playing for Stanford in the 1930s, invented the jump shot.

While channel-surfing today over breakfast, I, too, had an insight — recalling, "in a similar thrilling fashion," the lesser-known invention of English sports writing itself, this by William Hazlitt. You might recall Hazlitt's The Fight (1822), a short, personal essay on the Neate-Hickman fight of 1821. Though without a ball, Hazlitt keeps his eye fixed there on a much deeper subject: nationalism and, as Scott Juengel aptly argues, macho conversational pugilism.

So today's post links such inventions (national and international) in the much-honored personage of America's fortieth president, Ronald Reagan, whose just-completed ride into the sunset you may have seen on TV. I did — and cannot help but recall The Announcer's, The Gipper's, The Californian's last thrilling flight into history.

Meanwhile, back in Washington remains archrival Hickman-Gorbachev (a bit bloodied about the head still) taking hits in re-runs while attentive sports scribes worldwide praise Neate-Reagan — The Cold Warrior — in Grand Presidential Death.

Real Grand Slams, Hail Marys, Jump Shots, and Knock Outs are, I suspect, being scripted still, and I think we have seen them all today.

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· The Physician's Oath, Geneva Style ·

We were pleased to see our daughter-in-law become a medical doctor Saturday. Graduating with honors and an Alpha Omega Alpha key, Savvy is taking our last name apparently. We thought to mark her choice with pride today — since it accords in part with the 1948 World Health Organization version of the classic Physician's Oath.

 · Caduceus · All name changes are of course stylistic metonyms, but anyone familiar with such figures knows they also mark more substantive matters — like Savvy's. Indeed, Savvy's new name, like her degree, entails changed words and worlds. As she's moving now to the famed Mayo Clinic, we're told she's going to learn medicine not in the right or wrong way but in The Mayo way, so we thought she might also someday do medical things in A Stylechoice way. That would be interesting.

In any case, we heard Savvy with all her fellow graduates solemnly repeat the updated version of the Physician's Oath Saturday, and it sounded good to us:

At THE time of being admitted as a Member of the Medical Profession:

  • I SOLEMNLY pledge myself to consecrate my life to the service of humanity.
  • I WILL give to my teachers the respect and gratitude which is their due;
  • I WILL practice my profession with conscience and dignity;
  • THE HEALTH of my patient will be my first consideration;
  • I WILL respect the secrets which are confided in me;
  • I WILL maintain by all the means in my power, the honor and the noble traditions of the medical profession.
  • MY COLLEAGUES will be my sisters and brothers.
  • I WILL respect and value the lives of all persons;
  • I WILL not discriminate against any person in my medical decisions;
  • I WILL maintain the utmost respect for human life; even under threat, I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity.
  • I MAKE these promises solemnly, freely and upon my honor.

You might like to know what we inscribed on Savvy's card, itself marked with St. Benedict's own good word: "Let peace be your quest and aim":

 · Asclepius · Savvy,

As you take the Physician's Oath today, affirming your service to humankind, we trust that St. Benedict's injunction will second and extend its meaning in a larger service to God. You today have our admiration for the work involved in achieving this milestone. In calling you Doctor, though, it's rather the charitable spirit of "Savvy" we honor all the more!

                             Styles and Stylish

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· A Lonerganian Précis ·

You may be curious about our wedding weekend. Rest assured, everything went well. My wife Stylish and I can't be more pleased. Savvy Graceart joined our younger son Suave Saturday in marriage, and we two Stylechoices are agreed — they make a handsome pair.

Although we can't begin to describe a weekend stretching from Thursday's two-family meal to yesterday's gift-opening brunch, we can at least note Friday night's rehearsal toast. Being a garrulous philosopher, I am occasionally obliged to follow Thoreau's apt advice: "Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!" (which my wife naturally calls a prelude to a K.I.S.S.). So I decided to clothe our toast in a single text (Bernard J. F. Lonergan's Insight) and a pair of matched Fruit-of-the-Loom T-shirts. Here's our story:

Since Suave and Savvy will soon be honey-mooning happily in Lonergan's Canada, we thought to honor their college majors (philosophy and physics) by condensing Lonergan's complex text to a simple, plain-talking textile. I mean even for an Oxford-tutored Lonerganian and his new Catholic bride, such a heady honeymoon ironically begs physical smoothing (which is why I worked our Sunbeam steam iron before Friday's rehearsal). So I found myself referring to some key passages from Lonergan's Preface, first chapter, and Epilogue (much to the relief of our very astonished guests when they saw my 875-page tome). Lonergan's key passages follow:

  • In the ideal detective story the reader is given all the clues yet fails to spot the criminal. (Naturally our happy couple once hadn't found one another.)
  • In the midst of that vast and profound strirring of human minds, which we name the Renaissance, Descartes was convinced that too many people felt it beneath them to direct their efforts to apparently trifling problems. (We here referred to such tasks as fixing the dinner arrangements and writing needed guest invitations.)
  • It might be thought that, at the end of this long book, the long-suffering reader was entitled to a concluding summary. (You can imagine our audience's brief, agonized laughter.)
  • In the introduction I stated a programme. Thoroughly understand what it is to understand, and not only will you understand the broad lines of all there is to be understood but also you will possess a fixed base, an invarient pattern, opening upon all further developments of understanding. (We here suggested Suave and Savvy had finally found each other.)

 Bernard J. F. Lonergan, Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan: Insight: A Study in Human Understanding, Vol. 3, Eds. Frederick E. Crowe and Robert M. Doran, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992 [1957], 3, 27, 754, 769-79.

So, the two T-Shirts? Well, their fronts and backs are depicted below — with Lonergan's brief quip reading: "But insights are a dime a dozen, eh?"

 · T-Shirt Front ·

 · T-Shirt Back  ·

Nice send-off, eh?*

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