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· Home on the Range of Texas Gobbledygook ·

Rumor has it I'm celebrating my second anniversary. I started sawing these occasional posts from stylish logs of literacy precisely two years ago today. Though I haven't clearcut any northern forest yet, and surely haven't chain-sawed Presidential timber hereabouts, I do take pride in having opened a space in the wilderness for a cabin. It's my virtual "Home on the Range."

I begin this way because I'm into sawing Texas old-growth today, not George W. Bush's (though his Prairie Chapel Ranch does produce some), but Maury Maverick's. Maverick's the New-Deal Democrat who invented the apt political term "Gobbledygook."

  · Yes, Tom, The Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living ·

I just learned this in Michael Lind's Made in Texas: George Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics (2003). Grandson of that famous Maverick whose unbranded calves became connected with deviant politicians, then independent individuals, Maverick lambasted empty political language in 1944.

He said later that bureaucratic language reminded him of a Texas turkey, "always gobbledy gobbling and strutting with ludicrous pomposity. At the end of this gobble there was a sort of gook." His revolutionary temperament is apparent in one of his proposals: "Anyone using the words 'activate' or 'implementation' will be shot." Michael Lind, Made in Texas: George Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics, New York: Basic Books, 2003, 21.

Though I'd not endorse Maverick's move, its moral equivalent does seem appealing. I say this today in a charitable spirit of voter education. Consider, for instance, Jocolo's thoughts over at A Writing Teacher's Blog yesterday:

Bob Scholes reports on a national study of reading by the National Endowment for the Arts, Reading at Risk (pdf). The most sobering statistic he cited: In 2002, of all adult Americans, only 12.1% read any poetry of any kind that year. Now I understand why George Bush keeps getting decent poll numbers.

Despite Laura Bush's librarian-like efforts to encourage good reading, I think George Bush will never fully understand what the great Canadian Northrop Frye once more seriously had in mind for genuine literacy. Frye wrote in his book The Educated Imagination (1964) this thought, perhaps anticipating the President's famous seven-minute reading, on September 11, 2001, in Florida:

Direct and simple language always has some force behind it, and the writers of gobbledygook don't want to be forceful; they want to be soothing and reassuring. I remember a report on the classification of government documents which informed me that some documents were eventually classified for permanent deposition. . . . We can see here how the ordinary use of rhetoric, which attempts to make society presentable, is becoming hypocritical and disguising the reality it presents beyond the level of social safety. Northrup Frye, The Educated Imagination, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1964, 143-144.

Well, I must conclude with one more Canadian voice, that of the late Bernard Lonergan, from his great book Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (1957). A brilliant theologian, Lonergan is like the Rev. above, praying, bless his soul, for that Presidential turkey on the right.

But to be practical is to do the intelligent thing, and to be unpractical is to keep blundering about. It follows that insight into both insight and oversight is the very key to practicality.

Thus, insight into insight brings to light the cumulative process of progress. For concrete situations give rise to insights which issue into policies and courses of action. Action transforms the existing situation to give rise to further insights, better policies, more effective courses of action. It follows that if insight occurs, it keeps recurring; and at each recurrence knowledge develops, action increases in scope, and situations improve.

Similarly, insight into oversight reveals the cumulative process of decline. For the flight from understanding blocks the insights that concrete situations demand. There follow unintelligent policies and inept courses of action. The situation deteriorates to demand still further insights, and as they are blocked, policies become more unintelligent and action more inept. What is worse, the deteriorating situation seems to provide the uncritical, biased mind with factual evidence in which the bias is claimed to be verified. So in ever increasing measure intelligence comes to be regarded as irrelevant to practical living. Human activity settles down into a decadant routine, and initiative becomes the privilege of violence. Bernard J. F. Lonergan, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, Vol. 3, eds., Frederick E. Crowe an Robert M. Doran, Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 1992 [1957], 8.

Want four more years, anyone?

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· The Last Acquirement of the Educated Mind ·

The Aims of Education Address occurs tonight at The University of Chicago. If you're perhaps unfamiliar, it's a fall tradition, part of student orientation, given annually in Rockefeller Chapel by Chicago faculty stirring intellectual ambition in the young. Having read many of Chicago's best — their College published a handsome collection in 1997* — I envy fresh young minds there. I could profit from stirring oratory myself.

But I am rather stuck at home reading, without even the print version of the essay that, in 1916, prompted the university's academic tradition: Alfred North Whitehead's The Aims of Education (1929). It's still a thoughtful text. Its triple demarcation of learning's stages — up to sixth grade, then twelfth, then beyond (Romance, Precision, and Generalization) — alone justifies its study.

You may already be familiar with Whitehead's peroration, but what interests me is rather his seldom-included addition, wherein he introduces us, through Style, to something larger, Power.

 · Alfred North Whitehead · Finally, there should grow the most austere of all mental qualities; I mean the sense for style. It is an aesthetic sense, based on admiration for the direct attainment of a foreseen end, simply and without waste. Style in art, style in literature, style in science, style in logic, style in practical execution have fundamentally the same aesthetic qualities, namely, attainment and restraint. . . .

Here we are brought back to the position from which we started, the utility of education. Style, in its finest sense, is the last acquirement of the educated mind; it is also the most useful. It pervades the whole being. The administrator with a sense for style hates waste; the engineer with a sense for style economises his material; the artisan with a sense for style prefers good work. Style is the ultimate morality of mind.

Although I like Whitehead's concluding sentiment — well and rightly quoted in English composition handbooks — it is not, however, his last word on education's stages. Clearly, we can see as much in what he adds:

But above style, and above knowledge, there is something, a vague shape like fate above the Greek gods. That something is Power. Style is the fashioning of power, the restraining of power. But, after all, the power of attainment of the desired end is fundamental. The first thing is to get there. Do not bother about your style, but solve your problem, justify the ways of God to man, administer your province, or do whatever else is set before you.

I do like his advice, and urge folks to follow it, suggesting also that they ask along with Whitehead: "Where, then, does style help?"

In this, with style the end is attained without side issues, without raising undesirable inflammations. With style you attain your end and nothing but your end. With style the effect of your activity is calculable, and foresight is the last gift of gods to men. With style your power is increased, for your mind is not distracted with irrelevancies, and you are more likely to attain your object.

Not bad advice — not just for the young, but also for the young-at-heart.

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· Grecian-Formula Style ·

 · Old Styles is Back · So, where have you been, Styles? Well, would it in any way lessen my visage hereabouts if I answered by clarifying whether, like the young-old dude at right, your grizzled logger has been restored over the summer? Hardly! So why try? As even E. B. White says, "Don't explain too much."

But I might say I'm back in form. The summer has taken me and my wife from here to Minnesota and back with regrets only that "Time does fly when you're having fun, and having later remodeling chores at home." Now I'm mindful of still more to come, what with a new school year starting. I heard about "pedagogical models" yesterday and worked today with a past student finishing an incomplete on tort reform (I want to bill by the hour, but I'm only salaried here).


Things aren't as simple as 1, 2, 3, I should say — but what else is new? Maybe Greek style in New York? I found some recently, spiffed up electronically. It's the subject this fall of Dr. Hardy Hansen's new graduate course called Greek Prose Style (Greek 701) for a consortium of classics students from CUNY, Fordham, and NYU. It makes me want to sign up.

Well, too many words, too little time!

But Hardy Hansen maybe knows how to tell that old story in Greek Style.

Do enjoy!

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