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· The Underground Grammarian — Richard Mitchell ·

I've been working on what's called my site's digital backend. If you're unfamiliar with the term, I've been attending to quotidian things, installing Movable Type 3.14, quite an improvement over MT 2.61. It offers comment moderation, dynamic/static web-page building, and other good features I am not quite ready to use. It's also provided me some deeper thoughts, thoughts of a much wider, larger character. I thought to step forward today and share them — call them frontend thoughts, not just about You Got Style but about Mov(e)able Type itself.

This old photo suggests what I have in mind.

 · The Underground Grammarian — Richard Mitchell ·

It's of Richard Mitchell, taken July 6, 1982. Mitchell was then known for a quaint journal of modest circulation called The Underground Grammarian. Published from his basement in Pitman, New Jersey — where you see him attending to his printing press — it was always brilliant, both stylistically and substantively. I still recall Mitchell's remarking to me: "You know the right definition of a free press? It's the right of everyone to have a printing press in the basement." Since I had had some printing experience, we hit it off well.

So I thought to include part of the interview I taped that July afternoon, its now-quite-resonant conclusion. (My transcript I found in my own cluttered basement, next to my small press — an old Multilith 80.) Of the things we talked about, Ludwig Wittgenstein's most famous saying quite naturally arose:

Worüber man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen.

What one can't speak of at all, one must pass over in silence.

Our interview aptly ended when, in discussing a passage from the bible, Mitchell mentioned the difficulty of teaching students to know metaphor rightly. Here is our exchange:

Mitchell: I asked [them] a very simple question, "What, exactly, is the House of Mirth?" ["The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth" (Ecclesiastes 7:4).] Complete silence in the class. "Is it a house?" Baffled silence continues. Finally someone said, "Well, probably not." Probably not: get that — probably not! Well, this engendered quite a long discussion and finally someone suggested, "It's not really a house at all. It's just a way of talking about something else, and the heart isn't a heart at all." And it took a whole class to get at the metaphor, a very simple metaphor. . . .

Styles: Perhaps they'd have had even more difficulty understanding what Heidegger means by language being our House of Being.

Mitchell: Oh, yes, . . . because the word "being," you see, is entirely a metaphor, and it has no meaning whatsoever for them. They understand about living. They know they're alive, they're pretty sure of that, but if one would ask them to distinguish between their living and their being, I don't know where they would go.

Styles: Would they go to language?

Mitchell: Well, no, they wouldn't; they would go to silence. Isn't that interesting. I never thought of it that way, but that's where my class went in the face of the House of Mirth . . . silence.

Two years ago today, you should know, Richard Mitchell died. His being still speaks, stylishly if silently, at The Underground Grammarian.

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· Two Christmas Letters, in Minor and Major Washington Style ·

We've been busy here with an annual holiday chore, Christmas letter writing. Maybe you have too.

We've been fitting the happenings of a whole year into a short text. It's hard work, especially when in a page your best tricks turn mostly on what's left out, not on what's put in. Since we have said little about our recent offline life, we've thought to share our Christmas letter, one edited each year with that cast of characters you've maybe come to know.

We Stylechoices are of course mostly insubstantial, with some minor Washington-State visibility, celebrity, and reality. So, please, do enjoy our

Season's Greetings

Dear Family and Friends,

Our enclosed photo [our virtual online scanner is unfortunately acting up today] records our most important event of 2004.

On May 29, Suave married Savvy Graceart at our local Lutheran church. After a lovely reception at the nearby Masonic lodge, they honeymooned briefly in the out-of-doors before Savvy graduated, the very next weekend, as an honors University of Washington M.D. After the ceremony, Savvy's parents, Holy and Grail, hosted another reception at their home. So celebrations here have been great.

They began with Suave and Savvy's engagement announcement Valentine's Day weekend. Soon we were busy with showers, shopping, and the usual preparations, all culminating in a Memorial Day weekend none of us will ever forget. Our card surely conveys something of our joy.

Now the newlyweds are working at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota — Savvy as an orthopedic surgery resident and Suave, with much shorter hours, as a foundation grant specialist. He's also taken to improving their house. He's been remodeling since their move last June. Stylish and I visited in July, and Smart and Soulful in November. All approve.

Smart and Soulful are both busy about town. Soulful's fine art show sold out completely in April, clear recognition seconded by an Artist Trust fellowship supporting her continuing development as an emerging local artist. Smart remains, of course, in his same position, with future building projects now under funding consideration. We hope his ambitious plans for improving outdoor exhibit spaces materialize.

We are both teaching and, occasionally, getting out and about — Styles twice to New Jersey for test grading and the two of us, on a grand road trip, happily delivering Suave's Mazda Miata top-down to Minnesota. Afterwards, though, we had to spend the rest of our summer on the floor installing tile in our kitchen and laundry. We are both of us pleased. Do come and see things for yourselves.

Our best to you this Christmas and for the whole new year.

Should you want some major Washington visibility, celebrity, and reality, we can also oblige. For we've just received from Laura Bush what she's recently sent from Crawford, Texas, via London. Since naming her in Home on the Range of Texas Gobbledygook, I've indeed been marked for my stylish democratic patriotism and Christian charity, at least online. So enjoy, more stylishly, from the Southern White House, Howdy Friends! What a year!

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· Handy-Dandy Rule 22½: Loose but not Lax ·

I've never been a teacher given much to rules, though should you think I'm loose, my students might counter that I'm at least not lax — though they do sometimes find me late.

I've taught philosophy in a science building at some distance from where my comp students have often sat waiting this term. So my arrivals have sometimes prompted smiles, smiles occasioning a few of us to grasp an important principle of indulgence: how one sometimes meets his limits on the long climb from science to art.

I begin this way because I have one happy rule to share today, what I call Handy-Dandy Rule 22½:

Be matter-of-fact and plain as a rule and clever only when you're feeling wicked, else you'll get in trouble.

I've of course tried to follow it myself because it aptly underlies so much of what I try to teach. Still, I've thought to offer another's more stylish discussion of it today, that of the fine English writer, F. L. Lucas:

In short, you may ironically overstate, or ironically understate; but I suggest that you should always flee from blind exaggeration as from a fiend.

Now among the various passions that tempt a writer to distort, one seems to me especially dangerous. And that is a passion for his own cleverness. Well for those who can be both wise, and good, and clever; but this third quality, thought the least valuable of the three, has a horrid habit of playing cuckoo in the nest to the two others.

Although seldom from my example have students ever begun to learn it, I'm pleased to say that, in student portfolios I'm grading now, I'm beginning to see the rule's steady application — which Lucas marks, indeed, much better than I:

But, be poetry as it may, my conclusion is this [he writes] — that a prose-writer should not overstate, except when he carries overstatement to such outrageous lengths that he is obviously jesting. . . . For the rest, a prose-writer should state exactly what he feels; or else — and this is often more effective — deliberately understate. But how difficult to persuade young writers of this! So often their impulse is to assume that talking big is the same as talking vigourously. As well suppose that the best way to sing well is to sing loud. I have been told that when the late Sir Edward March, composing his memoir of Rupert Brooke, wrote "Rupert left Rugby in a blaze of glory," the poet's mother, a lady of firm character, changed "a blaze of glory" to "July." I cannot guarantee that this is true; but it is worth remembering. F. L. Lucas, Style, New York: Collier Books, 1962, 155; 154.

And of course, so it is.

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· Pulp and Paper, Logging the Blog ·

It's now official. "Based on your online lookups," says Merriam-Webster Online, "the #1 Word of the Year for 2004 was

Blog noun [short for Weblog] (1999) : a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer[."]

My bracketing [properly pointed] suggests I'm still having trouble with this word. Although soon to be in print in Webster's next edition, it makes stylish loggers like me even mourn the trees, since they've done no wrong. Although I have twice deigned to use the term — once in Doonesbury Does the Blog and again in Tradition and the Individual Talent: Aristotle Does the Blog — I feel ashamed using it if only on electronic authority.

Anyway, my thanks for Webster's word that I might soon have a new, papery, offline lookup to make.

I'll leave that lookup to you, too.

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