· Wherein I Briefly Invoke Kenneth Burke's Take on Political Style ·
I've taken a quite personal interest in the Iraqi War. My son recently received an email from an old college friend — a Chicago honors graduate who, after working some time in New Orleans and gardening for Harvard, decided to join the Special Forces. He is now facing some new duties in Baghdad.
I can assure you that Chris is an intelligent, courageous, honorable young man, serving us all well. Doubly ready not only by education but by training, he may possess, indeed, academically and militarily, even more than our President, so I'm looking forward to what our Commander in Chief will have to say on TV tonight.
President Bush is now facing some tough political realities himself, some represented historically in a chart I've included here — all widely cited from the Wall Street Journal just before our 2003 invasion:
From the WSJ, March 19, 2003
Lessons for U.S.
Napoleon Bonaparte's conquest of Egypt, 1798-1801
Egyptians have been "tyrannized ... I have come to restore your rights ... we are friends of the true Mussulmans
Personal carving out of glorious new empire that would cut France's main enemy Britain off from India
France driven out by revolts and British attacks. But in turbulent aftermath Egypt gets a modernizing dynasty
Muslim mobs are easily stirred up against foreign occupiers; France gained nothing, and soon had to confront the next Egyptian regime
British conquest of Iraq, 1914-18
Our armies come as liberators from strange tyrants ... it is
the hope and desire of the British people that the Arab race may rise once
more to greatness
Initially vague World War I plan morphs into neo-colonial
domination to secure oil
Britain keeps military bases in Iraq for first half of 20th century
and oil flows. But thousands die in repeated revolts as Britain sets the
political stage for the past half-century of strife in Middle East
Even with international legitimacy, controlling Iraq
required the use of brutal force and acceptance of previous ruling elite
British, French and Israeli Attack on Suez Canal, 1956
Reverse Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal
To oust Egypt's charismatic leader and Arab nationalist hero,
Gamal Abd al-Nasser
Israel achieved war aim of international sea access to port of Eilat. But Nasser bounced back to challenge Western goals. Britain saw its domination of the Middle East eclipsed by the United States, and Prime Minister Anthony Eden lost office
Without international legitimacy, the best-laid war plans crumble
Israeli Invasion of Lebanon 1982
To crush Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian guerrillas and to force Lebanon to sign peace treaty with Israel.
First, to end rocket attacks on northern Israel. Then: "resistance ... is tantamount to suicide" -- Israeli leaflet dropped from the air on Beirut
Arafat and his men survive Beirut siege. Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon is disgraced. Iran- and Syria-linked suicide bombs and kidnappings hit U.S., French and Israeli targets, and Israeli occupiers were forced out by radical new Hezbollah militia. Rocket attacks on northern Israel continue
Even poorly armed guerrillas can hold back superior armies in big cities; domestic support evaporates when leaders exceed stated war aims and casualties mount; hostile nearby states can spell disaster for foreign occupiers
This is by way of preparation today for my main theme. Turning on Kenneth Burke's The Philosophy of Literary Form (1941), it adduces but one chapter, "Types of Meaning: Semantic and Poetic Meaning," distinguishing between what we'd perhaps call "denotation" and "connotation." At its heart is a clear grasp of what, citing Arnold Toynbee, Burke calls "withdrawal," a "transition from a system of social values grown unfit for the situation they would encompass, to a new order of values felt, correctly or not, to be a more scrupulous fit for the situation."
Toynbee [Burke writes] has laid stress upon the period of "withdrawal" undergone by founders of religious structures. It is a period of hesitancy, brooding, or even rot, prior to the formation of the new certainties they will subsequently evangelize and organize.
Although I can't begin to mark the fullness of Burke's point — turning on yet another distinction between our going "through" and "around" such structures — I can quote, at least, from one stylishly Burkean passage:
If a dismal political season is in store for us, shall we not greatly need a campaign base for personal integrity, a kind of beneath-which-not? And I wonder whether we might find this beneath-which-not in a more strenuous cult of style. This effort has been made many times in the past — and as regularly has been despised at other times, when there was no longer any need for it. Style for its own sake? Decidedly, not at all. Style solely as the beneath-which-not, as the admonitory and hortatory act, as the example that would prod continually for its completion in all aspects of life, and so in Eliot's phrase, "keep something alive," tiding us over a lean season. . . .
Do not get me wrong. I am pleading for no "retreat" to anything. . . . Let our enlistments remain as they are. I am asking simply that the temper of our enlistment undergo a change of emphasis. That the norm of our tone cease to be the insulting tone that "talks down" to people. Nor would it be a presumptuous tone, that laid claim to uplift them. But rather a tone that would plead with us all, with the writer-to as well as the written-to.
I'll be eager to see which tone Mr. Bush — or his several political speech writers — will take with us tonight.
Besides Chris, I have some millions of other Americans also in mind.
Mr. Bush now having delivered himself of his speech, I'll let you assess his own political style.
It was with profound sadness that I learned today of the death by cancer yesterday of John Lovas. John's comments to my postings, beginning with Mark, Mark, that Exclamation and ending with Veni Vidi, Vici, led to our visiting, in 2003, at the Modern Language Assoication meeting in San Diego, and to our collaboration, last March, at a meeting in San Francisco of the College Conference on Composition and Communication. John's lively intelligence, his dedicated professionalism, and his humane sense of justice, as those who knew him can attest, were inspiring.
To mark his passing, I thought to share today — from what he thought his own "inspiration" — Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem "The Windhover." In marking, with three rousing exclamations, what all those who have read A Writing Teacher's Blog saw in John, Hopkins shows us — students, colleagues, and fellow bloggers alike — what it really means to "take wing."
The Windhover To Christ Our Lord
I CAUGHT this morning morning's minion, king- dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing, As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear, Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.
· Teacher, Scholar, Father — Sir James's Modest Accomplishments ·
I've come this Father's Day to the end of another academic year. Submitting grades after attending a relative's graduation party Saturday and watching graduates receive their degrees Friday night, I had earlier been grading essays, giving finals, and tidying my office. But more memorable still has been some reading in Simon Winchester's The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary (2003), especially about James Murray, the famous teacher-scholar-father alluded to above.
Murray was, you should know, at fourteen a Scottish school dropout who, by life's end, at last received the coveted Oxford D. Litt. (honorus causa) he so surely deserved. Since my relative is now starting a new well-paying job, consider England's most famous lexicographer's job application — at age twenty-nine — to the British Museum library. His letter is not bad for an autodidact's:
I have to state that Philology, both Comparative and special, has been my favourite pursuit during the whole of my life, and that I possess a general acquaintance with the languages and literature of the Aryan and Syro-Arabic classes — not indeed to say that I am familiar with all or nearly all of these, but that I posses that general lexical & structural knowledge which makes the intimate knowledge only a matter of a little application. With several I have a more intimate acquantance as with the Romance tongues, Italian, French, Catalan, Spanish, Latin & in a less degree Portuguese, Vaudois, Provençal & various dialects. In the Teutonic branch, I am tolerably familiar with Dutch (having at my place of business correspondence to read in Dutch, German, French & occasionally other languages), Flemish, German and Danish. In Anglo-Saxon and Moeso-Gothic my studies have been much closer, I having prepared some works for publication upon these languages. I know a little of the Celtic, and am at present engaged with the Sclavonic, having obtained a useful knowledge of Russian. In the Persian, Achaemenian Cuneiform, & Sanscrit branches, I know for the purposes of Comparative Philology. I have sufficient knowledge of Hebrew & Syriac to read at sight the Old Testament and Peshito; to a less degree I know Aramaic, Arabic, Coptic and Phenecian to the point where it was left by Gesenius.
As Winchester adds dryly, "Murray's application was not successful," but as he also avers, by life's end Murray's children's quite stellar careers had compensated him well for his bumpy start. Here is his third son Wilfrid's rightly matter-of-fact account:
Harold, the oldest son, Exhibitioner and First Class Graduate of Balliol, was author of the Oxford History of Chess (1913) and, at the time of his retirement, a Divisional Inspector under the Board of Education. Sir Oswyn, GBC, the fourth son, Scholar, triple First and Honorary Fellow of Exeter and Vinerian Law Scholar, was Secretary to the Board of Admiralty from 1917 until his death in 1936; Jowettt, the youngest, was a Scholar and Triple First of Magdalen and became a Professor in the Anglo-Chinese College at Tientsin; the second, Ethelbert, was at his death in 1916 Electrical Engineer for North London in Willesden; the fifth, Aelfric (Wadham College), took orders and became Vicar of Bishop Burton; the writer, also a Balliol Exhibitioner, was for 21 years Registrar of the University of Cape Town. Of the five daughters Hilda, the eldest, was First Class Honours student at Oxford, Lecturer in English at Cambridge and Vice-Mistress of Girton College and has publish several works; the second, Ethelwyn (Mrs. C. W. Cousins) was married to the Secretary for Labour of the Union of South Africa; the youngest, Gwyneth, (Mrs. H. Logan), a Girton First Class graduate, was married to a Canadian Rhodes Scholar who became Principal of the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School in British Columbia; the remaining two, Elsie (Mrs. A. Barling) and Rosfrith, were both valued assistants for long periods on the Dictionary staff.
Apparently they don't make Victorian fathers like they used to, but lest you think Murray took any undue credit, consider Murray's take on his great philological work — in a quaint, modest style we're too apt to sneer at nowadays:
I think it was God's will. In times of faith, I am sure of it. I look back & see that every step of my life has been as it were imposed upon me — not a thing of choice; and that the whole training of my life with its multifarious & irregular incursions into nearly every science and many arts, seems to have had the express purpose of fitting me to do this Dictionary . . . So I work on with a firm belief (at most times) that I am doing what God has fitted me for, & so made my duty; & hope that He will strengthen me to see the end of it . . . But I am only an instrument, only the means that He has provided & there is no credit due to me, except that of trying to do my duty; Deo soli gloria.
Naturally, Murray's saving grace could be strictly parenthetical, but it's quite apt — for all times, I think — to induce some needed "fear and trembling."
Of course, I say this for all those still working on degrees.
· Substantively Speaking, All That's Unfit to Print ·
My sister Stylesweet is that rare Texan nowadays, a liberal Democrat. She shared a note circulating in her town recently, one recalling a theme I earlier marked in Home on the Range of Texas Gobbledygook. Adding a few passages fit to its substance — or lack thereof — I thought to share it today.
Her friend Bob G. wrote last Friday in Bandera about recent Memorial Day ceremonies there under this title:
"GET OVER IT? NOT JUST YET!"
As the Memorial Day parade rolled by the Bandera Courthouse, the Democrats' entry came into view, prompting the yell: "Get over it. Get over it."
Citing his continuing pique at such Republican gloating, Bob G. dealt in particular with President Bush's Iraq war policy, especially in light of what's been known since May 1 as the Downing Street memo:
Why wasn't the explosive secret British intelligence report leaked a month ago, front-page news [Bob G. asks]? It confirms that Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz used weapons of mass deception to justify invading Iraq.
If you've not read this leaked report, here is its key paragraph, one citing a British officer's take on some talks in Washington reported on July 23, 2002.
C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.
Mark Danner, reporting in The New York Review of Books this week (in The Secret Way to War), happily recalls the real, but sadly quite unfront-page warranting assumption still fixing the policy — by chance recorded last October in Ron Suskind's well-titled article, Without a Doubt:
In the end, the Downing Street memo [Danner claims], and Americans' lack of interest in what it shows, has to do with a certain attitude about facts, or rather about where the line should be drawn between facts and political opinion. It calls to mind an interesting observation that an unnamed "senior advisor" to President Bush made to a New York Times Magazine reporter [Ron Suskind] last fall:
The aide said that guys like me [i.e., reporters and commentators] were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
Just in case you haven't grasped the full import of why it's still difficult, as Bob G. rightly claims, to "Get Over It," you might consider yet another Danner quotation, this by Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels:
There was no point in seeking to convert the intellectuals. For intellectuals would never be converted and would anyway always yield to the stronger, and this will always be "the man in the street." Arguments must therefore be crude, clear and forcible, and appeal to emotions and instincts, not the intellect. Truth was unimportant and entirely subordinate to tactics and psychology.
Naturally, I trust you'll now see why I still think truth, enlightenment, and judiciousness matter — even, in Texas, maybe, to "The Man in the Street."