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· Summary Judgments: The Art of Middle Passages ·

I should be celebrating my birthday here, but I'm in something of a blue funk. My home computer just failed on me, media-wise. If you know how to get free ZoneAlarm to stop locking up my server, send me word. In the meantime, back to some more ordinary indexing of the "consciousness of mediation."

That's my weblog theme, since as Geoffrey Hartman avers on my About page, "Style is an index of how the writer deals with the consciousness of mediation. Style is not cognitive only; it is also recognitive."

In some self-serving recognition of that view, I thought today to indicate two of my favorite YGS posts, and the text of my all-time favorite YGS passage. I'll try to be concise.

My two posts are easy:

  • In honor of my Norwegian heritage, with my late mother playing a critical role, is Syttende Mai: L. A. Style, an example of what I call a "link delivery system" — mucking around in mediocre prose just to link at last to a doubly apropos celebration of "freedom."
  • And in honor of my scholarship, with a triple mixture of philosophy, politics, and poetry, is Wilsonian Democracy, Finnish-Style: To the Finland Station, an example of what I call a "link slip system" — slipping over some needed links to mark, on Kalevala Day, the yet unfinished work of "democracy."

So what's my favorite YGS passage? From Aldo Leopold: Good Oak, Good Cedar, Good History, this paragraph, marking the recurring struggle faced in one's occasionally crossing from an old place to a new:

What Leopold has happily set me to thinking about today [December 13, 2002] is a famous passage near the end of "February." Leopold reflects on the tools of good history in it — and meditates simply and deeply on a glowing oak on his andirons, one cut, bucked, and split from an eighty-ring giant scarred by lightening and transecting, twice, American history from 1945 to 1865. He considers especially the environmental-geographical, not political, history of his oak, and dwells, at last, on the aforementioned tools making good wood of it. It is to these tools — "requisite to good oak, and to good history," as he says — that he points: namely, the saw, the wedge, and the axe.

Now I'll let you judge why so few words, happily indeed, matter so much to me today.

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· Wherein I Pick Up, Conservatively, Where I Left Off ·

Well, my summer completed, I'm back online. I've had a good time, and although you'll likely hear little about it, suffice it to say I've crossed and recrossed the continental divide twice, been happily diverted by family, and returned to chores like the one I left you with in June — trying, judiciously, I hope, to assess American political speech.

Today I've just finished following Judge Roberts' confirmation hearings. Quite fascinating! You know their upshot: toe the straight line of judicial restraint, his supporters counseled, and let your feelings out, detractors begged. Lest you think the battle just a fight between conservatives and liberals, I thought to offer one good counterexample — one aptly invoking Kenneth Burke's thought within the context of the conservative Richard Weaver's rich work on rhetoric.

Weaver's essay, "The Phaedrus and the Nature of Rhetoric," provides my text. Analyzing Plato's love speeches in the dialogue — in Weaver's view, each standing in for throughtful language, rhetoric, and style — Weaver aptly judges of Lysias's praising nonlovers, Socrates' abusing impassioned lovers, and the Phaedrus at last advocating "noble" lovers. The first, vis-à-vis speech, falls for the neutral ideal of objectivity, the second for the sad extreme of impassioned subjectivity, and the third for the well-tempered reality of just eloquence. In that light, you might appreciate Weaver's conservatively pointed take on good dialogue — not only Platonic, but "senatorial."

The pure dialectician is left [Weaver begins] in the theoretical position of the nonlover, who can attain understanding but who cannot add impulse to truth. . . . Now the question arises at what point is motive to come into such language? Kenneth Burke in A Grammar of Motives has pointed to "the pattern of embarrassment behind the contemporary ideal of a language that will best promote good action by entirely eliminating the element of exhortation or command. Insofar as such a project succeeded, its terms would involve a narrowing of circumference to a point where the principle of personal action is eliminated from language, so that an act would follow from it only as a non sequitur, a kind of humanitarian afterthought."

The fault of this conception of language [Weaver adds] is that scientific intention turns out to be enclosed in artistic intention and not vice versa. Let us test this by taking as an example one of those "fact-finding committees" so favored by modern representative governments. A language in which all else is suppressed in favor of nuclear meaning would be an ideal instrumentality for the report of such a committee. But this committee, if it lived up to the ideal of its conception, would have to be followed by an "attitude-finding committee" to tell us what its explorations really mean. In real practice the fact-finding committee understands well enough that it is also an attitude-finding committee, and where it cannot show inclination through language of tendency, it usually manages to do so through selection and arrangement of the otherwise inarticulate facts. To recur here to the original situation in the dialogue, we recall that the eloquent Lysias, posing as a nonlover, has concealed designs upon Phaedrus, so that his fine speech was really a sheep's clothing. Socrates discerned in him a "peculiar craftiness." One must suspect the same today of many who ask us to place our faith in the neutrality of their discourse. We cannot deny that there are degrees of objectivity in reference of speech. But this is not the same as an assurance that a vocabulary of reduced meanings will solve problems of mankind. Many of those problems will have to be handled, as Socrates well knew, by the student of souls, who must principally make use of the language of tendency. The soul is impulse, not simply cognition: and finally one's interest in rhetoric depends on how much poignancy one senses in existence. Richard Weaver, 'The Phaedrus and the Nature of Rhetoric,' in Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg, eds., The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present, Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1990, 1063-64.

Of course, where you see words like "theoretical," "scientific," or "nuclear" above, you can substitute the word "legal." Meanwhile, I do wish Judge — soon Chief Justice — Roberts the best. I'll be part of an American "attitude-finding committee" soon — one looking, in my Washington, for some "humanitarian afterthought."

By chance, President Bush has delivered himself, tonight, of such an "afterthought"; his end-of-summer speech given in New Orleans you can find here.

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