You Got Style
· Pointed Takes on Style Delineated ·
October 6, 2004
· Veepstake Styles: Family Resemblances from the Rigging Shack ·
Consider Gwen Ifel's asking Cheney how the men differed. Jabbering on about similarities, Cheney said, "My grandfather never finished high school," while John Edwards added, "And I'm the son of a millworker." Well, as Buffon says, if style is the man himself, why this macho ID shifting?
The reason is simple: the substantively educated (politicians, especially) know they haven't much low-life style. Take me: though I'm "Styles the Logger," I admit (on my About page here) that I'm not "The Real Thing." So, what is? I'd suggest Finley Hays.
Here's his "Foreward" to Finley's Rigging Shack (1996) — a set of short columns from Loggers World from 1966 to 1979 — catching better than I can the "low-life point" of last night's debate. Running commentary is but "high-life delineation."
"The fact of the matter is," chimes in old Darth Vader.
"We have a plan," notes young Luke Skywalker.
"I'll drink to that," winks old Yoda.
"And which one," smiles Styles Stylechoice, "has the last word here?"*
*You might note the low imprint — Maverick Publications — of Finley Hays's book.Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
May 5, 2004
· Standing Firm on Ceremony ·
A conservative decision but one fit well to the liberal tradition, too. Indeed, as we're having a Lutheran wedding presided over by a Dr. (a cell biologist happily into her second Rev. career), and by a lay Catholic deacon blessing the day a bit more sacramentally, we reasoned, quite naturally: "Yes, the ceremony demands the right balancing of two traditions, yet maybe without full deference to either." So who should pop up here to confirm our choice but the sagey Russell Kirk, whose The Conservative Mind (1953) includes this paradoxical word happily fit to our circumstances:
So how did Kirk shape our invitations? Simply by reminding us to apply custom or principle "expediently" to particular circumstances. For as we employed trial and error on our own, we considered them quite serially: two real folks asking real guests on a real day to a real place in real time for some real food — beer, wine, salad, bread, lasagna, spumoni (plus toasts, talk, jokes, and gifts) — and then we thought, "Hey, we have some real Stylechoices here (left-to-right, say), a fine couple (Suave and Savvy), and some good writing to do! Let's go for it!"
But then our headaches began. Should we be Mr. and Mrs. Styles Stylechoice, or just Styles and Stylish Stylechoice, and with, or without, the two lovely Gracearts (Holy and Grail), whose soon-to-be Dr. Savvy daughter — her seldom-used first name is Nordicsmart — is, well . . . "betrothed" hardly seemed the word for her, much less "fiancée." Stylistically, we were simply overwhelmed!
Then matters temporal intervened ("'Half after' or 'half past' what?" I asked. "Let dinner do the talkin'," my wife suggested, rightly objecting to "o'clock."), plus attendant spatial matters: "Do we want a map, Styles?" Stylish asked me. "Ask Suave, maybe Savvy," I smartly replied.
Well, we finally settled on an invitation — not "right" or "left" — but "down the middle":
We trust even if you're uninvited you might also enjoy our food for thought.Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
September 30, 2003
· Birthday-Baseball Triple Play ·
So how did it go? Just great! The M's beat Oakland 9 - 3, Jamie Moyer collected his 21st win, and Edgar Martinez — "Poppy," as we call him — may have batted in his last game. "It doesn't get any better than that," as I told my son, but since I have seen Roger Clemens pitch his 300th, and read John Updike's Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, I have known, of course, that occasionally it does.
Updike's great passage recounts Ted Williams' last time at bat. "Understand," Updike recalled of that magical September 28, 1960, "that we were a crowd of rational people. We knew that a home run cannot be produced at will," but this "was one of the times, which you now and then find in sports, when a density of expectation hangs in the air and plucks an event out of the future."
Updike's two paragraphs describing Williams' achievement are gems:
I told my daughter-in-law Sunday, "If Edgar hits a homer" — it was the bottom half of the 8th — "he's almost sure to retire. If he doesn't, certainly we'll know soon." And so we're waiting.
Forgive me, but stylistically and substantively, this is one 60-year-old "Poppy" speaking.Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
May 17, 2003
· Syttende Mai: L. A. Style ·
They do, you know, even in L. A. The Half-Norwegian (On the Mother's Side) American Bar Association held their bash yesterday; I wish I had been there. A full-Norwegian myself — but a non-lawyer Angelino — I honor them, although I wasn't smart enough in fleeing L. A. (moving to the Pacific Northwest) to discover that Northwest cold does take its toll on Norskies fondly recalling soft Mediterranean warmth. But for such loss, "abundant recompense," as Wordsworth writes.
Like my childhood reading. In a book still widely read now called Snow Treasure, I learned at my Mom's insistence about kids sledding by jack-booted Nazi invaders — with Norway's gold bullion cleverly hidden under sled blankets. Impressive 1950s reading. Though I'm sorry Mom hid much from me whenever she talked Norwegian, the book's illustrations "jump-started" my learning. Though I still don't know the language, I am sharpening the style.
Speaking of style, my in-law Uncle Arnülf had it. Long Harbor Master of Haugesund, he once thanked the captain and crew of an American war ship, in perfectly eloquent English, for Norway's liberation. His style was sharpened by hauling Caribbean bauxite to American East Coast ports. The torpedo that hit his ship was, among the hundreds that sank others, only a dud. (By the way, his wife — back in Norway — could not reach him and his emigrant siblings for five years.)
Do you know that Norway sent more folks per-capita to America than any other European country — itself half-Norwegian — but one, Ireland?
Which raises the difficult issue of the Vikings. Well, all I can say is, we seem to be forgiven today. At least that's how I read, as I think you should, this very stylish speech by Superior Court Judge Lawrence W. Crispo, an Italian-American member of the L. A. bar raising a double aquavit to Norway's Two Independence Days.Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
May 1, 2003
· May Day! May Day! ·
In a recent review of the new Diane Ravitch book, Merle Rubin asks:
Although I don't want to stretch Rubin's point from the April 28th L. A. Times, Rubin's ending does mark Ravitch's importance:
Might Ravitch, though, approve of my citing one of those "elderly people in wheel-chairs" — one able to speak to "the civilization in which we live"? Nancy Mairs, say?
Now the harder question: Would Nancy Mairs approve of my saying now: "Yeah! And who doesn't 'swagger'? Why, those desert-fried, cookie-baking educationists I once trashed for layin' down sad 'barbaric yawps' on the roof-tops of the literate world with (what's it called?) God-awful athletic fanaticism! You know, heathenish, forked-tongued mountaineer wannabes, full of verbal aspiration, owl-eyed and bird-brained — all fixed to witch's tits, degenerate dinosaurs mostly, with 'brave' fronts and 'shy' behinds."
As the old Norwegian Logger says, it's May Day.Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
April 18, 2003
· Head, Hands, and Heart: Lincoln the Writer ·
I am not trying to make Lincoln Christ-like here, but only noting, in marking the memory of his stylistic achievement, the coincidence of his assassination. I first thought of this while singing the old refrain last night — "Let my people go" — to "Go Down, Moses." Indeed, I think that as Lincoln was penning McIntosh's case, he was grasping therein the cases of others he would later emancipate. It was a matter not only of style but of substance: a point grasped, in 1863 — clearly, forcefully, and eloquently — even in the midst of Civil War. It was, historically, an application of head, hands, and heart to his best work.Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
February 9, 2003
· Space and Transcendence in Bach's Fantasia in G ·
Actually, since I can only represent the "sounds" indirectly, I'm forced here to be metaphorical, especially so since the musial thought I've in mind is actually my son's, and the "note" he would mark is a profounder one of J.S. Bach's. What I particularly have in mind is a brief essay written in appreciation of Bach's Fantasia in G (perhaps Bach's greatest organ work). What captured Suave's imagination, however, is only found in the score, not in the sound of Bach's work, and so I'm permitted a wider meditation on themes and variations fit to the still larger space of Bach's own musical imagination. For the theme is space itself — and how music marks its very transcendence. You'll see that very idea expressed in Bach's music.
Although I cannot fully represent the scope of Suave's essay — which turns successively from music to photography to literature to life and to music again — its concluding paragraph catches perfectly the essence of the point (the stylistic "note") both he — and I think Bach and Baker, too — would suggestively sound. Indeed, you might even hear it in Bach's music.
You should know that as I've been writing this, I've been listening to my son's own fine music. He's practicing for a Valentine Day's piano concert. One work, triply distant from the Fantasia in G, is Bach's great Partita No. 2 for violin, BWV 1004 — called "Chaconne" — arranged for left hand by Johannes Brahams. But on whatever instrument — and by whatever hand — it goes ("Andante," say), marked also in Suave's essay, "only by the grace of God."Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
December 2, 2002
· The Long and Short of Nicholson Baker's U & I ·
Baker possessed the gift, I recognized, to assess Updike's career whole, not only in his narrative work, but in the little jobs of his everyday life. But then I noticed (more disturbingly) Baker's confessed negligence as a reader — his precise, but curiously careless admission that among Updike's thrity-plus books, he had read then "most or all" of just eight, "more than half" of six, "less than half" of four, "fewer than twenty pages" of five, and "fewer than five" of five — and, presumably, none of the rest.
That set me to thinking: might not Updike himself — in one of those occasional forms Baker's says he's mastered — might not this same U have himself replied in kind to this I's self-confessed literary negligence? At first, of course, I checked the net, quickly finding a short interview (scroll down half way) expressing Updike's admitted "liking" there for Baker — as "a younger writer with a real gift and vocation," perhaps a little "pedantic" but with a curious, "Bakeresque precision." But Updike's (parenthesized) laughter reminded me of Baker's own advocacy of library-, not just net-sleuthing — so I immediately went off to my own local library (a Carnegie public library) to find, indeed, a handy, hardback copy of Updike's Odd Jobs: Essays and Criticism (1991). Checking to see if Baker's obsessive "Hobby Horse" as well as his stylistic meandering was Shandean — after Laurence Sterne's great novel — I directly found there Sterne's name in the index and, after three dry runs — on page 848 — also this undated but intriguing quotation from The New York Times Book Review — "as to 'important' books one has never been able to finish reading" (my emphasis):
I can't help but see in the "blissful" way his "buzzsaw" reads through "the case" — in fact "straddling" Nabokov's "Ada" on the one hand and Boswell's "Life of Johnson" on the other — the long and short of Updike's "terrifying mastery!" (all the way to page 428). Subtract 179 from 428, and you'll see who still thinks he plays Amundsen's #1 to Scott's #0 in this short, "odd job" of polar trekking here.
Naturally, should someone doubt my take, just call U or I for the definitively right "factual" answer, though I may still be right stylistically.Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
November 16, 2002
· A Punny Thing Happened on the Way to . . . ·
I got to thinking about all this while I was writing Under the Weather Tuesday. You'll recall I was doing a deliberate double-take on weather/whether and a subtler, single-take on rafters. Although I felt like apologizing — even writing first, "Forgive my puns. I couldn't resist." — I decided to drop my sad pleading and, with the authority of James Clerk Maxwell behind me, stand up plainly and honestly for some electro-magnetic juice delivered straight. Maxwell, you say — literally or figuratively? Literally, though it's still, as you'll see, very tricky business.
What I have in mind is the witty first paragraph to his essay "Are There Real Analogies in Nature?" Included in Campbell and Garnet's 1882 biography of Maxwell, it remains a good literary-philosophical supplement to his more famous A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism. Although Maxwell's scientific equations aren't my subject, his speculations in that essay seem in some ways their equal, especially in the wisely affirmative answer he gives to his essay's leading question (not surprisingly given Maxwell's Scottish-Presbyterian style, the answer has a nice moral tinge — slightly shaded by Kantian reflections on the larger methodological-scientific questions that prompt it). In any event, since my present interests are stylistic, I'll just cite Maxwell's witty (I think you'll agree) first paragraph. The subject is the reciprocal relation of puns to analogies.
Although I don't want to reciprocate the transposition here — by going astray into deconstructive excursions into catachresian takes on Paul de Man, say — it seems worth noting that, stylistically speaking, Maxwell's text seems to be onto something. In any case, as mine has expressly that aim, I thought to conclude with a good short story, one brought to my attention earlier this week in a widely-shared punny email. Slightly edited for dramatic emphasis, I give you
"Hot stuff," my dad would say. "Tell me, how much do we owe?"Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
October 28, 2002
· Metaphors \ Methods \ Models — Dirty-Hand Style ·
You may recall in Wetting a Line \ Whetting the Points that I first approved of Thoreau's view that getting one's "hands" dirty knocks the "palaver" out of one's writing. I still believe that, yet in Jacques Barzun "Takes On" Wayward Educationists, I confessed, I'm afraid — somewhat contradictorily — my regret in not literally "washing my hands" of educationists' styles. Now if you're like my philosophy students, you're likely asking with Martin Heidegger some question like this: "Hey, what gives?" since I ignored in Gardening and Writing the Point-Defiance Way how Marianne Binetti's style is, necessarily, if also insufficiently so, dirty-handed too. I mean: "How are you ever going to garden otherwise?"
So as not to be evasive, I'm going to go straight to right stuff on this question and cite Thomas DeQuincy, the great English writer and — in his treatise Style, published in Blackwood's Magazine in 1840-41 — a thoughtful student of style. DeQuincy focused on "pursuits" he thought "favorable to a culture of style" — that indeed "force[d]," he believed, "that culture . . . drawing much from our own proper selves, [but] little (if anything) from extraneous objects."
DeQuincy marks for us, it should be noted, an important philosophical difference, one drawing on a Kantian vocabulary implicitly tuned to such concepts as subjectively- and objectively-defined pursuits — that is, those drawn between ordinary common sense on the one hand, and modern science on the other: wherein a topic like "dirty hands" is considered metaphorically stylish in literature, but methodologically not in science. Although I admit it is a helpful distinction, I would add, too, it is indifferently spelled, in either case, "dirty hands" — and so may model, explicitly, like my italicized words, a slipperier, still more important truth.
My point turns on DeQuincy's common, but I think too-simplistic assumption that
Although initially tempting, DeQuincy's main assumption fails here since, though a scientist may of course find his point in matter, he must nonetheless communicate it still in words. Indeed, one of the most celebrated dirty-hand stories in history illustrates my point. Dr. Ignaz Phillip Semmelweis, the Hungarian discoverer of microbial pathogens, failed at first to report his discovery and so, for a time at least, lost public credit for it (although his discovery did happily save many lives, as anyone familiar with the story knows). But my real point lies deeper, for it can be argued that Dr. Semmelweis's reticence came not so much from his literary shyness as from a deep, subtle, stylishly philosophical understanding of the point of scientific discovery: namely, that it is less a matter of finding any "matter" as such than a "method" by which that matter's existence can be suggested but never proved per se (or an sich, as Kant would say).
What's called the Hempelian model of the scientific method explains as much. Attributed to philosopher Carl Hempel, it turns, simply, on the analysis of logical inference in scientific inquiry, wherein the results grasped by its research must rely on invalid formal arguments (on affirming the consequent, to be precise), yielding practical benefits but revealing theoretical traps, too. So whenever good scientists report results, they usually say: "The data suggest [but don't 'prove'] the matter in hand." So in a manner of speaking, we have, in such phrasing, scientific style modeled — though Semmelweis had it, of course, in the extreme.
In extremis, indeed, if you followed my link above, for you know he finally died of the "matter in hand." So in a manner of speaking, not only did he show that getting one's "hands" dirty knocks the "palaver" out of one's writing, but suggested, too, that not till we discover "'imaginary gardens with real toads in them'" — to borrow a different Marianne's words (Marianne Moore's in "Poetry") — can we ever hope to learn how to knock the "palaver" out of our lives. Perhaps that's the matter Thoreau also had in mind.Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
October 26, 2002
· Dialectizer ·
Requires No Work
It so happens I've just learned how to mess with words wonderfully, and as I've been harping on that theme a while (as the artfully difficult grace of style) I thought to share — though I must confess it requires no work and may thus be doubly suspect. In any event, here's the impressively clever "Dialectizer."
Just Click-'n-Clack your way through my site as you will — but please, will someone tell Tom and Ray Magliozzi I'm sorry they're not listed yet.
Here's · You Got Style · in
Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
September 30, 2002
· Points on Style's Triangle ·
Murray's classic The Problem of Style (lectures delivered at Brasenose College, Oxford, in the summer of 1921) is handy here, and I note therein this interesting passage:
Murray naturally goes on to explain the sentences, delineating what is often depicted as the ethos, pathos, and logos of style's rhetorical triangle. Style is, as Buffon writes — adding some needed French orthography — l'homme mêmé: "the man himself." Again, it's a "teachable" technique — "only properly applied to the exposition," as Murray thinks, "of intellectual ideas" (though that's debatable). And last, it's a more "absolute" notion, referring to a quality which "transcends all personal idiosyncracy, yet needs — or seems to need — " Murray claims, "personal idiosyncrasy in order to be manifested. Style," he writes, "in this absolute sense, is a complete fusion of the personal and the universal."
That's heady stuff, but it delineates the point well enough — at least for today. Maybe triangulates it.Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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Veepstake Styles: Family Resemblances from the Rigging Shack
Standing Firm on Ceremony
Birthday-Baseball Triple Play
Syttende Mai: L. A. Style
May Day! May Day!
Head, Hands, and Heart: Lincoln the Writer
Space and Transcendence in Bach's Fantasia in G
The Long and Short of Nicholson Baker's U & I
A Punny Thing Happened on the Way to . . .
Metaphors \ Methods \ Models — Dirty-Hand Style
Points on Style's Triangle
Figures & Tropes
Grammar & Syntax