Home   About   Links   Archives   Tech   
 · You Got Style ·
   You Got Style
· Pointed Takes on Style Delineated ·

· Aesthetically-Styled Christmas Prose — Re: Introductions ·

My wife and daughter-in-law are in the kitchen making lefse, winter solstice prompting their Nordic behavior. If you're clueless, lefse is the happy obverse of lutefisk — potato bread to die for if our fish by fame alone hasn't already turned your stomach. Next week I think we'll dispense with lutefisk, but bring on lefse.

I thought to begin this way since holiday prose is my theme today. You may recall I've dealt with it before in X-Mas-Letter Blues, Two Christmas Letters, in Minor and Major Washington Style, and Epistolary Happy Holidays. Stylish and I recently finished our letter — and Soulful and Smart theirs — studies in contrast that, for fun, I thought to share.

You know my "Keep-It-Simple-Stupid" style — but Soulful's fuller, richer style suggests I might fatten mine.

I mean here's the too lean note I thought to start on:

Season's Greetings from Ourfinetown. With our trips and activities so fun this year, we thought they deserved some modest trumpeting.

 · The Stylechoice Trumpet · What can I say, that it sustained, even in summer, my "summary" refrain?

In late July and August we helped Smart and Soulful with a new roof, Suave working a week in July. With borrowed scaffolding and harnesses, pneumatic nailers and hydraulic equipment, problems seemed even "professionally" solved. At least we had no serious injuries, and if beer was our only pay, family bonding was our bonus.

By way of contrast, now compare Soulful's far more musical

Season's Greetings Form Letter — Installment No. 5


Hello and Happy Holidays from our House(s) to Yours

You may have noted the plural in the above salutation. Yes, it's true — we are still fixing up the fixer-upper, slogging back and forth between two addresses, drill set and paint brush in hand. But we're close. Although close only counts in some cliché that we no longer remember. Not that we remember much of anything due to the off-gassing of various paints, adhesives, and caulks. Off-gassing was our theme for 2006. Soulful employed the term frequently as she embraced her inner granola and researched "green" building products; Smart gave new meaning to the word while "commenting" on said research. Or maybe it's the beans and rice that have fortified our efforts, preserving precious resources that have been used to fund the work. Please join us in singing: Twelve packs of insulation, eleven sheets of drywall, ten gallons of interior latex, nine palets of shingles, eight bottles of Advil, seven counseling sessions, six coils of Romex, five trips to Lowtrope Lumber (in one day), four packs of bamboo flooring, three Velux skylights, two pairs of earplugs, and a gray cat to perch on the window sill.

Makes Styles want to take a big whiff, or bite, of lefse!

Oh, if you've wondered why I've posted so little lately, here's my too-simple answer: analagous office moves, bad rain storms, house repairs, bike farkles, belated Christmas chores, and my Soulfully-Smart, Savvily-Suave, and, I hope, Stylishly-Stylechoice writing.

So to everyone today, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)


· An Ironic Turning Place ·

I drove up to Redmond last week to attend a Microsoft event. A book discussion, it came near to the day, ironically enough, that Wayne Booth, author of The Rhetoric of Fiction and A Rhetoric of Irony, passed away — the Chicago critic whose work lays solid claim to grasping ironically "unreliable narrators."

Our Wednesday discussion dealt with one such, David Wilson, the curator of The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles. The book we discussed, Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology (1995), examines the MJT and puts me in mind of the odd serendipity of my topical connection there: the strange, perhaps ironic fact that Wilson's museum occupies an old L. A. barber shop I haunted as a kid in the 1940s.

But it is the larger topic — almost as Booth discusses it — of irony itself that matters here; for in Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder, Lawrence Weschler extends Booth's fine take on irony by noting a Rilke quote drawn from the Letters to a Young Poet — one happily fit in his text to the thought that "The first layers are just a filter"*:

Irony: Do not let yourself be governed by it [Rilke writes], especially not in uncreative moments. In creative moments try to make use of it as one more means of grasping life. Cleanly used, it too is clean, and one need not be ashamed of it; and if you feel you are getting too familiar with it, if you fear this growing intimacy with it, then turn to great and serious objects, before which it becomes small and helpless. See the depth of things: thither irony never descends — and when you come thus close to the edge of greatness, test out at the same time whether this ironic attitude springs from a necessity of your nature. For under the influence of serious things it will fall from you (if it is something fortuitous), or else it will (if it really innately belongs to you) strengthen into a stern instrument and take its place in the series of tools with which you will have to shape your art. As quoted in Lawrence Weschler, Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology, New York: Pantheon, 1995, 113-114.

Though I can't begin to mark the richness of Wilson's place — much less that of Weschler's fine book — I can at least mark a modest effort, made some twenty years ago now, to examine another American artist, Henry James, in his short story "The Real Thing." It too dwells in the ironic slip between reality and appearance, and I thought to include it.

I've some added notes, but it's offered here as drafted — not under the influence of Wayne Booth but that of Paul de Man — as an early, academic effort toward deconstructive anti-deconstructive theory. Should that sound like a bunch of "unreliable narration," I'll let you, of course, be the judge.

As Figaro (a.k.a. Jay Heinrich) just reminded me from my latest post, Figurative Rhetoric: A Ringing Endorsement, the name of my short essay is It Figures. Enjoy.

*In context, Wilson has told Weschler (on p. 62) "I don't understand the difference [between aesthetically and ethically just men]" :

"You know, certain aspects of this museum you can peel away very easily, but the reality behind, once you peel away those relatively easy layers, is more amazing still than anything those initial layers purport to be. The first layers are just a filter . . . "

Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)


· 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.

Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)


· On Student Stylechoice: Naiveté and Irony and GWB ·

I've been out and about attending to elective stylechoice recently. Riding a bus last Sunday in New Jersey, I had thrust into my hands a New York Times Magazine article on the much-contested faith-based presidency of George W. Bush. I couldn't help but note the article today, Ron Suskind's aptly-titled "Without a Doubt" (10/17/04), since Suskind marks a split I'd seen the previous week in reading scores of student essays on President Bush's beliefs. They divided along religious lines essentially, turning on whether students took a naive or ironic, a stylishly straight or slanted view of the Bush presidency.

Though I can't begin to epitomize the wide variety of opinions read, I can mark their extremes at least. Without further comment, here are two stylishly varied takes on George Bush. You should know they're the impromptu essays of non-voting teenagers asked to reflect on "great decisions" reached in human history.

Stylechoice #1

A great decision was made when Mr. George W. Bush was elected President of the United States. President Bush is a dedicated man, not only to God and his country but also to his family. He rises early every morning to spend time in prayer and to study the Bible. Once he has completed his daily devotionals he awakens his wife with a hot cup of coffee. He then goes on to greet the day and to do his best at running the country.

President Bush is a compassionate man. He cares about the people of this country. His desire is that no citizen would live in fear. He may not be the smartest or the toughest but his desire to do the right thing outweighs the rest. He is a man of integrity and he relies on his faith in God and his country to help him get through the daunting task of running the most powerful country in the world.

Stylechoice #2

Truly, a great decision was made when George W. Bush was nominated by the Republicans to run for the presidency. A masterful Republican think-tank must have come up with that one. He is the people's man in the truest sense of the word. No president since Jackson has exuded such unbridled populist charisma, and no opponent could ever hope to overcome his impenetrable foolishness.

George W. Bush is the perfect president. With no political history of any kind to hang around his neck like an albatross of experience, he is free to think boldly about the course our country must run. And with an austere, almost prophetic quality to his thinking, he can walk across any mud his opponents may throw at him. He ascends above the coarseness of partisan politics and transcends political discourse altogether.

Even if events should seemingly turn against his logic or show that he appeared to have no logic at all, he can bare his soul to the electorate and show us he means well. Let him take on the heavy burden of thinking about politics. He has a plan, and it may or may not come from God himself. So rejoice, people of America! Throw off the shackles of self-doubt and introspection and rejoice in the knowledge that a great choice was made when George W. Bush was allowed to descend onto the political scene. Rejoice, my brothers. Rejoice.

You should know Styles' own choice falls somewhere in between.

Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)


· Math and Lit By Artful Dodging ·

It's clear Scott Buchanan's Poetry and Mathematics (1929) isn't turning up today. I've been looking for it here. "What are the odds of its lying low in my shop, office, bedroom, or study?" I have thought. Maybe I'll have to kiss it goodbye, then buy another. "What are my odds?"

I'm in such a quandry because, as Mr. Buchanan claims, the rational world of math and the analogical world of lit are together cut from the same pattern, with technology and text — ratio and analogy — being "necessary reciprocals." Although I'm in fact a bit skeptical, I understand his point — one even made implicitly by his rivals.

Take James E. Miller, Jr., for example:

[P]recision and exactness [Miller writes], if it ever exists at all, is more likely to turn up in mathematical equations or chemical formulas [note here his two number disagreements]. This is not to say that there can never be some kind of clarification of meaning by a shifting and changing of language. But it is to say that any suggestion that there can be an absolute precision or a final exactness in language is doomed to lead to frustration and disappointment. The equation or formula, reduced to an arrangement of precise symbols, has the character of the simple, prolonged sound of a pitch pipe, striking all ears with equivalent wavelengths of sound. A sentence in words, even of the simplest nature, has the character of a series of chords, offering a medley of sounds, vibrations, nuances and subtle combinations, unpredictable resonances — all sending out varying wavelengths of sound, striking different eardrums differently, and arousing different responses, some minor, others major. As other sentences are added, and paragraph piles on paragraph, the complexity multiplies geometrically, and countless reverberations sound and resound. Meaning in language conceived in this way is not, then, a matter of precision and exactness but a matter of resonance and reverberation, around, below, above, as well as in the words and linguistic structures. James E. Miller, Jr., Word, Self, Reality: The Rhetoric of Imagination, New York: Dodd, Mead, 1972, 77.

Now Miller has it right, of course — and we shouldn't really encircle his odd numbers — but it is ironic that in defending linguistic imprecision he leans so on the language of music and mathematics. It's as though of necessity his textual substance here begs for support technological style. What he really needs, maybe, is the more artful linguistic aid of my helpful friend Odd, The Norwegian Mathematician.

Do enjoy!

Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)


· On Figuring Tropical Turns ·

Today I mowed my lawn for the first time this spring. The day was apt since, though not the vernal equinox exactly, it was yet near enough to count for it. February 29th has thrown me off some, making my own turns on my lawn here, if not literally representative of a first rite of spring, then figuratively of a deferred attempt to get at one. So it goes with my verbal stylings generally.

I say this since my own traipsings — back and forth on my lawn prompted by our rising sun — do seem themselves like the sun's turnings back and forth between the fabled Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Reflecting mediately on the matter, but not quite exactly, inclines me like the old sun today — really from a precession of our orbiting earth — to take account of where I am.

And where is that, pray tell? Well, mostly traipsing back and forth and forth and back in recurring patterns known, quite rightly in our langauge, by one of three common phrases from Greek, Latin, and English,

  • Tropics of Discourse
  • Figures of Speech
  • Turns of Phrase

The only trouble I'm having — besides the literal fact that my machine gave up the ghost today — is what to do with the residual matter of compos(t)ing my grass clippings.

Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)


· My Unfashionably "Carlylean" Take on Sartorial Elegance ·

I have yet to nod even slightly in the direction of fashionable style — I mean, of course, sartorial elegance, literally (as well as metaphorically) understood.

Today's post isn't much likely, I'm afraid, to mend that omission. If you saw me here — now an aging graduate of Red Green's School of Fashion Design, West Campus — you'd laugh at my sad threads. Imagine a pair of woolen Acorns warming my feet, a Bangladeshi-stitched Forest Trails shirt over my shoulders, a Canadian-knit KellySport fleece vest under that, and a ratty REI turtleneck under my old, "locally fashionable" Pendleton plaid. I mean, apart from chilly fishermen on peninsular rivers hereabouts, I warm to the idea of sartorial splendor about as well as steelhead do to frozen bait. You can see why I was rejected at Red's U.S. campus near Brainerd (a bit north of Garrison Keillor's wonderfully idyllic Lake Wobegone), Minnesota.

Well, I got to thinking today about my unfashionable handicaps, especially inasmuch as Friedrich Nietzsche once observed — on the philosophical subject of clothing — how even Adam and Eve's threads can bear metaphorically upon language. Now that got my attention.

 · Friedrich Nietzsche · Every concept arises from the equation of unequal things [Nietzsche writes]. Just as it is certain that one leaf is never totally the same as another, so it is certain that the concept "leaf" is formed by arbitrarily discarding these individual differences and by forgetting the distinguishing aspects. This awakens the idea that, in addition to the leaves, there exists in nature the "leaf": the original model according to which all the leaves were perhaps woven, sketched, measured, colored, curled, and painted — but by incompetent hands, so that no specimen has turned out to be a correct, trustworthy, and faithful likeness of the original model [my italics]. Freidrich Nietzsche, 'On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense,' 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, 891.

Now Nietzsche is too much given here to brevity to weave what, Platonically speaking, seems the pattern likely to make his very threads fashionable. So I got to hunting about in my library for a non-Nietzschean model, when suddenly I spied Thomas Carlyle. Of course, I know he's not in style today, and I know his book Sartor Resartus is to California's Rodeo Drive what Red's design school is to New York's Fashion Institute — "The Tailor, Retailored" — yet Professor Teufelsdröckh's text might serve as one likely original of Nietzsche's thought (composed, ironically enough, in the quaint old German university town of Weissnichtwo).

'Language is called the Garment of Thought [Carlyle's Diogenes Teufelsdröckh writes]: however, it should rather be, Language is the Flesh-Garment, the Body, of thought. I said that Imagination wove this Flesh-Garment; and does not she? Metaphors are her stuff: examine Language; what, if you except some few primitive elements (of natural sound), what is it all but Metaphors, recognized as such, or no longer recognised; still fluid and florid, or now solid-grown and colorless? If those same primitive elements are the osseous fixtures in the Flesh-Garment, Language, — then are Metaphors its muscles and tissues and living integuments. An unmetaphorical style you shall in vain seek for: is not your very Attention a Stretching-to? The difference lies here: some styles are lean, adust, wiry, the muscle itself seems osseous; some are even quite pallid, hunger-bitten and dead-looking; while others again glow in the flush of health and vigorous self-growth, sometimes (as in my own case) not without an apoplectic tendency.'

I should note before literally heading out the door now to a steelhead dinner at my son's, how in Thomas Carlyle's own editorial analysis of Teufelsdröckh's style, Carlyle rightly marks — "as in my own case," too — yet another difference. Please, at quote's end, do at least fill in the blank with one of your own choosing.

 · Thomas Carlyle · In respect of style our Author [Carlyle writes of Teufelsdröckh's writing style] manifests the same genial capability, marred too often by the same rudeness, inequality, and apparent want of intercourse with the higher classes. Occasionally, as above hinted, we find consummate vigour, a true inspiration; his burning thoughts step forth in fit burning words, like so many full-formed Minervas, issuing amid flame and splendour from Jove's head; a rich, idiomatic diction, picturesque allusions, fiery poetic emphasis, or quaint tricksy turns; all in graces and terrors of a wild Imagination, wedded to the clearest Intellect, alternate in beautiful vicissitude. Were it not that sheer sleeping and soporific passages, circumlocutions, repetitions, touches even of pure doting jargon, so often intervene! On the whole [______] is not a cultivated writer. Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus and Heroes and Hero Worship, Everyman's Library, No. 278, London: Dent, 1908 [1965], 22; above, 54.

"Und so weiter," Nietzsche would add.

Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)


· This — By Accident — July 4th ·

I noticed on the board outside my office Tuesday the phrase "Define Reality" and below it, in cryptic, sophomoric challenge, the word "This." Sometimes going with the task of teaching philosophy, such remarks mysteriously appear here, and I welcome them. They give me in summer needed relief from hard chores like shed cleaning.

Thoreau again comes to my rescue. Do you know it was on July 4th that, as he writes in Walden (1854), he took up his famous pond-side abode "by accident"? I've always loved Thoreau's phrase, "by accident." Thoreau knew well enough he was ironically declaring, both literally and literarily, his own independence, but, sadly, what readers sometimes miss in Where I Lived, and What I Lived For is his reason for saying so. For we should recall that he had refused purchase of the old Hollowell place, and so remarks, then, later in his chapter, more generally of this fact:

The present [Walden] was my next experiment of this kind, which, I purpose to describe more at length: for convenience, putting the experience of two years into one. As I have said, I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up.

Thoreau's actual experience of "not buying the farm" in life he converts, in Walden, of course, figuratively into the larger experiment of "not buying the farm": that is, not yet dying. Happily, with substantive wisdom, he dwells soberly on this truth:

Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through church and state, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place which we can call reality, and say This is, and no mistake; and then begin, having a point d'appui, below freshet and frost and fire, a place where you might found a wall or a state, or set a lamppost safely, or perhaps a gauge, not a Nilometer, but a Realometer, that future ages might know how deep a freshet of shams and appearances had gathered from time to time. If you stand right fronting and face to face to a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a cimeter, and feel its sweet edge dividing you through the heart and marrow, and so you will happily conclude your mortal career. Be it life or death, we crave only reality. If we are really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throats and feel cold in the extremities, if we are alive, let us go about our business.

This I know: "mine" tomorrow is getting down and dirty with that shed again. "By accident," of course, I celebrated July 4th by emphasizing "this" fact today.

Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


· Here, Here: Where Have You Been There? ·

Last week, from Tuesday to Sunday, I met with a group of academics from around the country interested in literary style. Their interests, if you know such academics, were pretty dull. There's not much to say (literally), of course, of folks given to reading papers in hotel ballrooms, discussing them aloud, and passing judgments upon them in terms sometimes so substantively reductive as to suggest imaginative incapacity. Such folks are, at least, mostly harmless. After all, can academics earnestly looking for "clear, concrete, comprehensive, coherent, and concise" writing be all that bad?

The group I was with — numbering around seventy — has even developed a happily elaborate and often insightful code enumerating their concerns. They've figured out how to figurate style — just a couple of points shy of a "proper" ideal maybe — so as to make time for still more substantive matters like eating and drinking. Indeed, the group last week styled things so well as to make time for a night on the town Thursday (we were near New York) and at a local mall Saturday (I fancied even Stanley Fish would have been lured by the $359,000 Bentley convertible I saw).

Anyway, all of this falls quite naturally under the rubric of "The Leisure of the Theory Class" — though I suspect Thorstein Veblen would say (observing me returned from "Back East"): "Vatch out! Dat's a T'ree, Styles."

Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


· My Excuse ·

Sometimes my cousin Grace, who figures discreetly around here (she found the Harvard joke for The First Grace of Style), sends me brief, cryptically blank, occasionally really hilarious emails. Recently, she sent, for example, "Excuses" and "Excuses . . . (second try)," suggesting ever so graciously, of course, that I've been neglecting my posts. Well, yes, of course, but the phrase on my About page is "occasional takes," not daily, and as for excuses, Grace, your blank notes and collegial jokes are on the one hand, and the other — as you should know — stylish enough to publish. But if you won't, here's my excuse.

I'm suffering from a quarterly-acute case of anecdotal polysyndetonitis. It goes like this:

Styles to Therapist: And I was grading and conferencing and grading again and committeeing and assigning essays and grading and conferencing and grading again and not-committeeing and then . . . fortunately . . .

Therapist: Look, Styles: please, slow down: It's clear that you've had little time for dalliance lately. So I'm prescribing a week's break.

That's the case. So wouldn't it be nice, Grace, if folks could see the strikeouts and home runs you send me, Mariner-style, in the off-season. If not last week's whiff marking my week here, then today's A-Rod home run. It deserves, I think, a laugh all the way to Texas. So how about commenting? But now I'm testing and grading and conferencing and

Styles to Stressed-Out Student: And you want WHAT?  Help with "College Pressures, Really Fast Relief, and the Art of Writing"?

Clearly, Grace, you're at bat.

Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


· A Punny Thing Happened on the Way to . . . ·

Electro-Magnetism. Yes, you heard me right, electro-magnetism — the mysterious but mathematically-formulated, exactingly-controlled energy powering our literary relations here at · You Got Style · I think about it often in November, especially when the winds I last wrote about threaten to break the lines linking my machine to yours. Tricky business that, as old Ken Lay would say, and my late dad, who once proudly wore a 50-year IBEW pin as a lineman for the Pacific Electric Railway — where he said, quite properly, "Red Cars" (L. A. style). He also knew how to say, "Hot stuff."  · Pacific Electric Logo ·

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.

In the ancient and religious foundation of Peterhouse there is observed this rule, that whoso makes a pun shall be counted the author of it, but that whoso pretends to find it out shall be counted the publisher of it, and that both shall be fined. Now, as in a pun two truths lie hid under one expression, so in an analogy one truth is discovered under two expressions. Every question concerning analogies is therefore the reciprocal of a question concerning puns, and the solutions can be transposed by reciprocation. But since we are still in doubt as to the legitimacy of reasoning by analogy, and as reasoning even by paradox has been pronounced less heinous than reasoning by puns, we must adopt the direct method with respect to analogy, and then, if necessary, deduce by reciprocation the theory of puns.  James Clerk Maxwell, 'Are There Real Analogies in Nature,' in Lewis Campbell and William Garnet, Life of James Clerk Maxwell, London: Macmillan, 1882, 235-44.

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

Taco-Bell Liver & Cheese

Three handsome L. A. dogs are walking down Whittier Boulevard when they chance to see a beautifully enchanting Poodle. The three dogs fall all over themselves in an effort to be the first to reach the lovely creature, but all end up arriving in front of her at the same time. The three are speechless before her beauty, slobbering all over themselves — hoping for just one enticing, encouraging glance. Aware of her charms and of her obvious effect on the three would-be suitors, she decides to be kind, telling them:

"The first one who can use the words 'liver' and 'cheese' together in an imaginative, intelligent sentence can go out with me."

The sturdy, muscular black Lab speaks up quickly and says,

"I love liver and cheese."

"Oh, how childish," says the Poodle. "That shows no imagination or intelligence whatsoever."

She turns then to the tall, shiny Golden Retriever and asks,

"How well can you do?"

"Um. I HATE liver and cheese," says the Retriever.

"My, my," replies the Poodle. "I guess it's hopeless. You're just as dumb as the Lab."

She then turns to the last of the three dogs and says,

"How about you, little guy?"

The last of the three — tiny in stature but big in fame and finesse — is the Taco Bell Chihuahua. He gives her a sly smile and a quick wink and, casually waving to a passing Red Car, says to the Retriever and the Lab:

"Liver alone, cheese mine."

"Hot stuff," my dad would say. "Tell me, how much do we owe?"

Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)


 · XML RSS · Copyright © 2007  YouGotStyle.org
 · MT- Powered ·     

Unless otherwise stated, all original materials of whatever kind included in these pages, including weblog archives, are licensed under a Creative Commons License.
 
April 2013
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30        
  Last Posts
  Category Archives
  Monthly Archives