· Veterans' Day Election Reflections — John Henry Cardinal Newman Style ·
I've been thinking generally about our recent election. You know the results: on Tuesday Democrats regained control of Congress; on Wednesday President Bush appointed past CIA Director Robert Gates to succeed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; and now we all await word on how we might well begin a successful withdrawal from Iraq. Surely it's a remarkable change, turning on results of millions of votes counted across America.
Ironically, this has put me in mind of someone hardly linked with most matters democratic, John Henry Cardinal Newman. Maybe it's what comes from my reflecting on Nancy Pelosi's sudden rise to power — as our first woman and first Italian-American-Catholic soon to live just two heartbeats from the presidency. Hers is a sensibility, you might agree, very different from that of the man occupying the office. In any event, I thought to share a passage apt to an understanding of a possible reason fit to that development. Though I doubt Cardinal Newman ever quite anticipated my particular take on his point, its delineation awaits some lines from his eloquently-styled sermon, "Implicit and Explicit Reason" (1887):
The mind ranges to and fro, and spreads out and advances forward with a quickness which has become a proverb, and a subtlety and versatility which baffle investigation. It passes on from point to point, gaining one by some indication; another by probability; then availing itself of an association; then falling back upon some received law; next seizing on some inward instinct, or some obscure memory; and thus it makes progress not unlike a clamberer on a steep cliff, who, by quick eye, prompt hand, and firm foot, ascends, how, he knows not how himself, by personal endowments and by practice, rather than by rule, leaving no track behind him, and unable to teach another. It is not too much to say that the stepping by which great geniuses scale the mountain of truth is as unsafe and precarious to men in general as the ascent of a skillful mountaineer up a literal crag. It is a way which they alone can take; and its justification lies alone in their success. And such mainly is the way in which all men, gifted or not gifted, commonly reason — not by rule, but by an inward faculty. Reasoning, then, or the exercise of reason, is a living, spontaneous energy within us, not an art.
The point here lies, I think, in Newman's conclusion. Though we all admire his own skillful climb up the "mountain of truth" (seeing him as the storied "genius" of the ascent), it's rather his implicit nod to all men ("gifted or not") that signals a wider aim. We may think of it as his glimpsed vision of what we might call "distributed intelligence" — those indications, probabilities, associations, received laws, instincts, and memories mostly constituting our thinking. Since they belong to men and women alike, it's reason of Newman's "implicit" kind — whether in the voting booth or on the battle field — that I think we all counted last Tuesday.
· 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.
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.
· 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.
· 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."
Last week I put grammatical moves on my students; I touted the strength of active verbs.
Comp teachers always have similar advice: to "prefer" them. We're so moved by them that, when passives appear, we are seen to hang our heads low, or at the sight of linkers, often to fall into a deep, existential angst. You might recall symptoms of that behavior even here, in my On Parsing English Justice.
Today I thought to beg the collegial but not yet psychological help of a great Civil War historian, James McPherson. His essay on Ulysses S. Grant, "The Unheroic Hero" (The New York Review of Books, February 4, 1999), I've long used to help students assess such verbs. McPherson's examples are instructive, not only in literature, but in life.
McPherson claims Grant's greatest stylistic achievements are two: "triumph in war, and success in writing [a] book [Personal Memoirs] in a race against death." Both are in turn based on a similar reality: "words," McPherson notes, not only "produce action — they become action."
Consider Grant's field orders in the Champion-Hill campaign at Vicksburg (1863):
To General Francis P. Blair, Jr.: Move at early dawn toward Black River Bridge. I think you will encounter no enemy by the way. If you do, however, engage them at once.
To General John A. McClernand: The entire force of the enemy has crossed the Big Black. . . . Disencumber yourself of your [supply] trains, select an eligible position, and feel the enemy.
To General James B. McPherson: Pass all trains and move forward to join McClernand with all possible dispatch.
To General William T. Sherman: Start one of your divisions on the road at once with its ammunition wagons. . . . Great celerity should be shown in carrying out the movement. The fight might be brought on at any moment — we should have every man on the field.
As McPherson explains, "[i]n the manner of Ceasar's Veni, vidi, vici, these sentences bristle with verbs of action: 'Move . . . engage . . . disencumber . . . select . . . feel . . . move . . . start.' Grant used few adjectives and fewer adverbs and then only those necessary to enforce his meaning: 'early dawn . . . engage at once . . . move with all possible dispatch . . . great celerity . . . every man.'"
Still more impressive was Grant's final battle against death. Fighting ruin and throat cancer, he rushed to finish his impressive Memoirs with a courageous command of language nowhere better shown than in a note, penned three weeks before his death, to his physician. Unable to speak, he wrote two short sentences every teacher might claim as the paradigmatic truth about verbs:
A verb is anything that signifies to be; to do; or to suffer. I signify all three.
That life lesson, too, my own students have already begun to learn.
You should maybe hear in my title a poetic line from Robert Frost. It's changed, of course — his "woods," from "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," turn (without acknowledgement) now into my "words."
I begin this way because, poetry notwithstanding here, my subject today is history — especially this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. We Americans celebrate it each January, of course. My own day I've spent preparing for a writing class tomorrow, one King has long figured in. Of interest has been a scholarly essay noting King's quoting of black clerics, but citing white, in My Pilgrimage to Non-Violence (Keith Miller, "Composing Martin Luther King, Jr." PMLA, January 1991).
Miller's claim is interesting. He explains how in borrowing from black preachers, King is not rightly to be charged, thoughtlessly, at least, with plagiarism. My students always take his essay to heart.
My purpose, however, is neither to commit nor commend such borrowing, but rather, in the interest of study, to inform solid, scholarly reading — which, as I tell my students, necessarily includes three key tasks:
abstracting the main ideas,
noting any ordered figures of speech,
and observing the main divisions of topical organization.
Here I thought to note just the second, implicitly giving you the gist of Miller's essay. Fit to the task is an email I wrote Friday to a student who, down with an incipient cold, asked me for a short study update. Here is our exchange.
Student: I will not be able to attend class today (1/14), and I sincerely apologize for this. I have been trying to fight off a bad head cold (even though it's just beginning). I would greatly appreciate any information you could give me as to what the class read or discussed today, granted no new hand-outs were given. I apologize for the inconvenience.
Styles: My thanks for your note. Since not everyone finished it, we had a conversation today about Miller's essay. I stressed only his use of figures, ignoring everyone's suggested titles and Miller's topical divisions. We'll do them Tuesday.
His main concerns are three: the key word "borrowing" (which when critics quote it may be ironical), his two phrases "shared treasure" (suggesting money and coinage) and "the black folk pulpit" (preachers preaching, literally, at Ebenezer Baptist Church), and, last, his key claim that King's discourse is whole-cloth weaving not quilt-making ("tapestry" not "patchwork" [p. 75]). You should note, however, Miller's prior use of "mine," "weld," and "alloy" — metallurgical terms — which he does not, of course, stress so much.
This reading, though technical, is really quite helpful in understanding Miller's argument. We all began, by the way, saying whether we agreed or not with his claim, however much we really understood it.
Do get well. I'll start analyzing his text and thought more Tuesday. Then you can share your own suggested title.
This short title, a classroom heuristic I use, will take the form tomorrow of "_____________, _____________, and the Idea of _________________." It helps my students inform their understandings of what I call an author's "conceptual topic." But tonight my topic is just bedtime, or, as Frost might say (echoing a prayerful rhyme), "Now I lay me down to sleep."
So, where have you been, Styles? Well, would it in any way lessen my visage hereabouts if I answered by clarifying whether, like the young-old dude at right, your grizzled logger has been restored over the summer? Hardly! So why try? As even E. B. White says, "Don't explain too much."
But I might say I'm back in form. The summer has taken me and my wife from here to Minnesota and back with regrets only that "Time does fly when you're having fun, and having later remodeling chores at home." Now I'm mindful of still more to come, what with a new school year starting. I heard about "pedagogical models" yesterday and worked today with a past student finishing an incomplete on tort reform (I want to bill by the hour, but I'm only salaried here).
Things aren't as simple as 1, 2, 3, I should say — but what else is new? Maybe Greek style in New York? I found some recently, spiffed up electronically. It's the subject this fall of Dr. Hardy Hansen's new graduate course called Greek Prose Style (Greek 701) for a consortium of classics students from CUNY, Fordham, and NYU. It makes me want to sign up.
Well, too many words, too little time!
But Hardy Hansen maybe knows how to tell that old story in Greek Style.
· All Eyes on Ronald Reagan, Ruth-Rockne-Lusetti-Hazlitt Style ·
Two days ago I read a bright piece of sports commentary. Bearing on concerns at · You Got Style ·, it came in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal (6/9/04) in a short review of Michael Mandelbaum's book, The Meaning of Sports (2004). A professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Mandelbaum, Fred Barnes writes, embellishes his subject "with so many fresh ideas, clever insights and bits of anthropology that The Meaning . . . is not only fascinating but enormously entertaining."
I was of course impressed, but yesterday with C-SPAN in the background, I happily recalled Barnes's apt take on Mandelbaum's "brightest insight":
One of Mr. Mandelbaum's brighest insights [Barnes writes] is that Babe Ruth, Knute Rockne and Hank Lusetti turned their sports into national obsessions in a similar thrilling fashion — by making the ball easier for spectators to see. In baseball, Ruth did it with the home run in the 1920s. Rockne, the Notre Dame football coach, popularized the forward pass in 1913. In basketball, Lusetti, playing for Stanford in the 1930s, invented the jump shot.
While channel-surfing today over breakfast, I, too, had an insight — recalling, "in a similar thrilling fashion," the lesser-known invention of English sports writing itself, this by William Hazlitt. You might recall Hazlitt's The Fight (1822), a short, personal essay on the Neate-Hickman fight of 1821. Though without a ball, Hazlitt keeps his eye fixed there on a much deeper subject: nationalism and, as Scott Juengel aptly argues, macho conversational pugilism.
So today's post links such inventions (national and international) in the much-honored personage of America's fortieth president, Ronald Reagan, whose just-completed ride into the sunset you may have seen on TV. I did — and cannot help but recall The Announcer's, The Gipper's, The Californian's last thrilling flight into history.
Meanwhile, back in Washington remains archrival Hickman-Gorbachev (a bit bloodied about the head still) taking hits in re-runs while attentive sports scribes worldwide praise Neate-Reagan — The Cold Warrior — in Grand Presidential Death.
Real Grand Slams, Hail Marys, Jump Shots, and Knock Outs are, I suspect, being scripted still, and I think we have seen them all today.
I read today that three-hundred-and-fifteen prisoners have been released from Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. With the aim of saving America's good name, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has of course engineered the event, perhaps also saving his own job. A clever move, it clearly suggests Rumsfeld's rising to do George W. Bush's political chores, trying also to save the President's own political life.
The news reminds me of a passage from Frank O'Connor's short story "Guests of the Nation." Set in Ireland during the First World War, the story deals with the fate of two British prisoners (Belcher and Hawkins) who are sacrificed to a sadly fateful political necessity. They are eliminated because, following word of the execution of Irish prisoners elsewhere, their captors can't excuse them from the terrible, bloody consequences of war. Despite their good efforts, they must go.
The particular passage that interests me is this:
It was a treat to see how Belcher got off with the Old woman of the house where we were staying. She was a great warrant to scold, and cranky even with us, but before ever she had a chance of giving our guests, as I may call them, a lick of her tongue, Belcher had made her his friend for life. She was breaking sticks, and Belcher, who hadn't been more than ten minutes in the house, jumped up from his seat and went over to her.
"Allow me, madam," he says, smiling his queer little smile, "please allow me"; and he takes the bloody hatchet. She was struck too paralytic to speak, and after that, Belcher would be at her heels, carrying a bucket, a basket, or a load of turf, as the case might be. As Noble said, he got into looking before she leapt, and hot water, or any little thing she wanted, Belcher would have it ready for her.
Now I don't mean to trivialize his story, but O'Connor's stylistic finesse is breathtaking. His larger intent notwithstanding, he has shifted — or so it seems to me — from objects initially listed in his fine penultimate sentence ("a bucket, a basket, or a load of turf") to the objective, substantive weight of "hot water" marked in his last. Reread and you'll maybe see his move!
What I ask is this: does anyone know the correct stylistic name for it — or perhaps, too, the political?
At the end of this shameful week in American history, it's good to recall on this Mother's Day its historic beginnings. Linked chiefly with three names — Julia Ward Howe, Anna Reese Jarvis, and Woodrow Wilson — Mother's Day is inseparable from the sad recognition of the bloody cruelties of war. Ours in Iraq today yields images not only of injuries endured but, more worrisome, of those inflicted too. Maybe we owe it to ourselves to ask if it might have been otherwise.
Consider Julia Ward Howe's original "Mother's Day Proclamation" (1870):
Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise all women who have hearts! Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears!
We will not have questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.
Consider, too, the purpose of the first Mother's Day in 1908. Primarily organized to honor the extraordinary memory of Anna Reese Jarvis — an Appalachian mother who organized women to work for better sanitary conditions in the Civil War and to reconcile Union and Confederate neighbors — the day was meant to prompt women to call for peace in the world as well. Indeed, its aim was an echo of Howe's call: "Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God."*
But consider Woodrow Wilson's 1914 order setting aside Mother's Day officially. In flowery, presidential language about the role mothers play exclusively in American domestic life, Wilson said nothing — nothing — about mothers' promoting peace in the world, much to the disappointment of Anna Jarvis and the admirers of Julia Ward Howe. As Mother's Day became commercialized, Anna Jarvis's own daughter — who never herself became a mother — spent her own energies trying to refocus the day on peacemaking, but it wasn't to happen. By the end of her life she was so saddened that she claimed she was sorry she had ever gotten Mother's Day started.
"Arise, then, women of this day!" Perhaps today there's time to suggest a still more peaceful Sunday.
· "We Hold These Truths" on the First-Person Plural ·
"Only presidents, editors and people with tapeworm have the right to use the editorial 'we,'" Mark Twain once said — apparently ending discussion on the pronoun "we." We beg to differ here, since whatever I might say plurally you might of course interpret singularly, and vice versa. One doesn't have to be George W. Bush to know as much since, whether Texan or not, you-all and we-all are both, of course, "plural."
Take, for instance, these uses of the first-person plural "we":
The Principal Uses of the Pronoun "We"
"We" as a familiar rhetorical agent, including writer and reader ("We must, of course, both agree").
"We" as the spokesperson for a group, "the editorial we" ("We [The National Review, The Nation, AARP] endorse presidential candidates").
"We" as a representative of a group, possibly excluding the reader ("We Republicans," "We Democrats," "We Geezers").
"We" as humankind ("We are all doomed").
Now don't get me wrong. Like President George W. Bush, we might, by law, be pluralized someday into office — moving from obscurity into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue through a rare vote count in an election. But anyone might still agree that we might have a long way to go, especially when measured stylistically by the most honored of American presidents, Abraham Lincoln.
Consider, for instance, these two paragraphs from a student essay on "The Gettysburg Address" — an essay analyzing President Lincoln's subtle shadings of the plural pronoun in his dedication of a battlefield cemetery (a rhetorical task sometimes, I think, of necessity falling upon presidents):
Lincoln's second paragraph not only locates the ceremony temporally and geographically in the midst of "a great civil war" and on "a great battlefield of that war," but in relation to an ambiguously specified "we," a pronoun referring to a much larger audience than that physically present. The word is enormously complex, for its most obvious referent initially shifts from all the citizens of the nation only to those present in Lincoln's audience. To illustrate, the first instance of "we" in his second paragraph ("we are engaged in a great civil war") refers to the nation as a whole, while the second, third, and fourth instances ("We are met on a great battlefield," "We have come to dedicate . . . ," and ". . . we should do this") refer only to Lincoln's own battlefield audience.
Admittedly, Lincoln's contraction of pronominal reference is a subtle one, yet his subtlety is what effectively blurs the referencing of "we" so that, on the one hand, "we" — the audience — might be present not just at the ceremony but at a genuine war (the great "testing"), and on the other, so that "we" — citizens — might also be present at the ceremony (hearing Lincoln's words and sharing his grief). The effect of such pronominal contraction is essentially to mythologize the ceremony, to make it much larger than life, to expand its importance beyond that of any single ceremony, any single battle, perhaps any single war. Obviously, Lincoln's final sentence ("It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this") becomes thereby a powerful, sympathetic acknowledgment not only of his own mourning, but also that of his audience and that, equally, of his entire American nation.
Having heard George W. Bush's lengthy State-of-the-Union speech last week, we might ask if anyone serves us now as a good president, editor, or "tapeworm" even. Happily, with Thomas Jefferson still, we might all fittingly say: "We hold these truths to be self-evident . . . "
Properly speaking (sotto voce), it is, of course, our challenge.
I was moved to learn of Richard Drew's story two years ago today in New York. The AP photographer who chanced to take "The Falling Man" photograph at the World Trade Center, Drew began that fateful day at Bryant Park, rather preparing to shoot a maternity fashion show. What had Bryant Park to say to Ground Zero, I asked myself, earth to man, birth to death, maybe past to present? And then I answered, recalling two brief lines from a little-known Bryant poem in fact called "Earth":
O Earth! dost thou too sorrow for the past
Like man thy offspring? Do I hear thee mourn?
Bryant's meditation on the question, though in a style we'd today call unfashionable, ends on a note still apt to our circumstances. Mr. New York of the nineteenth century, Bryant queried his own country at last from a much larger perspective,
What then shall cleanse thy bosom, gentle Earth,
From all its painful memories of guilt?
My native Land of Groves! a newer page
In the great record of the world is thine;
Shall it be fairer? Fear, and friendly Hope,
And Envy, watch the issue, while the lines,
By which thou shalt be judged, are written down.
Today we all know Bryant at least got his personified abstractions right.
One-hundred-and-thirty-eight years ago Abraham Lincoln died. Shot April 14, dead April 15, Lincoln is in one way still with us. For Good Friday, of course, is the day he was assassinated, and tonight, as Christians world-wide anticipate the coming of Easter, we can do him the justice of examining, if not his 1865 assassination directly, then indirectly his uncanny way of anticipating it. One essay, "Lincoln the Writer," in Jacques Barzun on Writing, Editing, and Publishing: Essays Explicative and Hortatory, offers one way of doing so, for it raises the related question of Lincoln's style.
In his own day, Lincoln's prose [Barzun writes] was found flat, dull, lacking in taste. It differed radically in form and tone from the accepted models — Webster's or Channing's for speeches, Bryant's or Greeley's for journalism. Once or twice, Lincoln did imitate their genteel circumlocutions or resonant abstractions. But these were exercises he never repeated. His style, well in hand by his thirtieth year and richly developed by his fiftieth, has the eloquence which comes of the contrast between transparency of medium and density of thought. Consider this episode from a lyceum lecture written when Lincoln was twenty-nine:
Turn, then, to that horror-striking scene at St. Louis. A single victim was only sacrificed there. His story is very short; and is, perhaps, the most highly tragic of anything of its length that has ever been witnessed in real life. A mulatto man by the name of McIntosh was seized in the street, dragged to the suburbs of the city, chained to a tree, and actually burned to death; and all within a single hour from the time he had been a freeman, attending to his own business, and at peace with the world.
Notice the contrasting rhythms of the two sentences: "A single victim was only sacrificed there. His story is very short." The sentences are very short, too, but let anyone try imitatiing their continuous flow or subdued emotion on the characteristic Lincolnian theme of the swift passage from the business of life to death.
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.
Encomium comes from the great tradition of classical rhetoric. Meaning praise, encomium ranks eighth among the fourteen graded assignments called Progymnasmata in classical rhetorical pedagogy, just before its harder opposite, ninth-ranked invective. Since the city of Baghdad has received much invective lately, I thought to share an ancient encomium of the place. It comes from Ahmad al-Ya'qubi, a ninth-century geographer who, having traveled to Baghdad in his youth, fulsomely praised the city in his Kitab al-buldan (published near his death in 897). I've foreshortened this passage from Bernard Lewis's Islam (published in 1974).
I begin with Iraq only because it is the center of this world, the navel of the earth, and I mention Baghdad first because it is the center of Iraq, the greatest city, which has no peer in the east or the west of the world in extent, size, prosperity, abundance of water, or health of climate, and because it is inhabited by all kinds of people, town-dwellers and country-dwellers. To it they come from all countries, far and near, and people from every side have preferred Baghdad to their own homelands. . . .
Its name is famous, and its fame widespread. Iraq is indeed the center of the world, for in accordance with the consensus of the astronomers recorded in the writing of ancient scholars, it is in the fourth climate. . . . Because of the temperate weather and rich soil and sweet water, the character of the inhabitants is good, their faces bright, and their minds untrammeled. The people excel in knowledge, understanding, letters, manners, insight, discernment, skill in commerce and crafts, cleverness in every argument, proficiency in every calling, and mastery of every craft. There is none more learned than their scholars, better informed than their traditionists, more cogent than their theologians, more perspicuous than their grammarians, more accurate than their readers, more skillful than their physicians, more melodious than their singers, more delicate than their craftsmen, more literate than their scribes, more lucid than their logicians, more devoted than their worshippers, more pious than their ascetics, more juridical than their judges, more eloquent than their preachers, more poetic than their poets, and more reckless than their rakes.
We are not likely today to heap much praise on Baghdad, but it is good to remember that when any human place suffers much, maybe it was once "the center of this world." Perhaps Baghdad still is.
· Wilsonian Democracy, Finnish-Style: To the Finland Station ·
You may recognize my allusion to Edmund Wilson's 1940 text, To the Finland Station. It marks Lenin's 1917 return to St. Petersburg and Wilson's stylish examination of philosophical-historical utopianism in the West. It's fair to say, of course, that such utopianism is still with us. Some advocate "regime change" and "nation building" in the interests of poltical democrary now, not of proletarian dictatorship. So if Czar Nicholas has become Saddam Hussein, maybe Lenin has today become George W. Bush (though I'm aware of the danger of this analogy).
What interests me today, though, is Wilson's contrastive approach to utopianism. Tipping his philosopical hand by nodding to Giambattista Vico's The New Science, Wilson invokes early an intellectual figure bearing on my subtler, even deeper allusion: Finnish-Style Wilsonian Democracy. But what I've in mind, in the words of historian Paul Hazard, is a still deeper question:
If Italy had listened to Giambattista Vico, and if, as at the time of the Renaissance, she had served to guide Europe, would not our intellectual destiny have been different? Our eighteenth-century ancestors would not have believed that all that was clear was true; but on the contrary that "clarity is the vice of human reason rather than its virtue," because a clear idea is a finished idea. They would not have believed that reason was our first faculty, but on the contrary that imagination was.
What is significant here, of course, is the distinction between reason and imagination — between the political hardening of "state" arteries, as Vico would say, and the proper heartening of the "body politic." For Vico of course considered poetry, not dialectic (either material or otherwise), as the source of a people's unique national identity. That's the deeper idea underlying Edmund Wilson's book and the political emergence of another nation from Vladimir Lenin's storied 1917 trip: Finland.
Yesterday, February 28, was Finland's "Kalevala Day," the day Finns celebrate not the bloody start of their modern state, but their emergent, consciously democratic sense of national identity as prompted by a book of poems, Elias Lönnrot's Kalevala (1835). A compiled book of transcribed epic poems, Kalevala is called "The Finnish National Epic." Though I won't say what you can read about here, Lönnrot's significance to Finland's 1917 "regime change" and to its "nation building" before and after should not be underrated. To revise Shelley's great line, rather than being "unacknowledged legislators of the world," Finnish poets became — with Lönnrot's help — "the acknowledged legislators of a world."
Theirs, of course, is an an ongoing work, an unfinished work.
I linked last to a footnote seen on top of a page and thought today to say why. In An Ode Owed to the Low Art of Footnotes, I linked to a Gibbon footnote represented in my text by its generic content initially:
Although I cannot stop to quote [my author] for every fact, I will observe that the navigation of [the subject] from [one place] to [another] and [another] is contained in [a text] ( [on some page] ), and that the historian has the uncommon talent of placing each scene before the reader's eye.
Although I haven't fully represented my own use of Gibbon's text, you can link to it to infer my larger intent. But my point is still larger, namely, to raise anyone's use of the academic footnote by such a dialectical move from a "low art" to a "high science," instructively invoking, to that end, a passage from Marc Bloch's The Historian's Craft.
Marc Bloch you may recognize as a member of the Annales school of historiography (including Lucien Febvre, Fernand Braudel, and Le Roy Ladurie). Although Bloch wrote as a practical French Medievalist, in The Historian's Craft he advocated scientific-theoretical standards for a still larger historical purpose. He believed that beyond objectivity, verifiable truth was the historian's ultimate aim. Bloch warranted this view on the assumption that history is a truth-seeking, scientific enterprise done by a group — even if conducted by individuals. So it's toward the development of the group's historical consciousness that Bloch aimed; indeed, he aimed ultimately at humanity's scientific consciousness.
Though I cannot pretend to outline Bloch's thought, I can present a small but subtle part of it as it bears on footnotes. These are the humble forms binding Bloch's theory to his practice. For Bloch the footnote helpfully binds word to deed, language to reality, consciousness to act, and, indeed, historian to craft. Initially, he starts by noting the low footnote's too-common abuse:
[W]hen certain readers complain that a single note, strutting along by itself at the foot of the page, makes their heads swim, or when certain publishers claim that their customers, doubtless less hypersensitive in reality than they would have us believe, are tortured by the mere sight of a page thus disfigured, these æsthetes merely prove their imperviousness to the most elementary maxims of an intellectual ethic. For, apart from the free play of imagination, we have no right to make any assertion which cannot be verified and a historian who in using a document indicates the source as briefly as possible (that is, the means of finding it again) is only obeying a universal rule of honesty. Corrupted by dogmas and myth, current opinion, even when it is least hostile to enlightenment, has lost the very taste for verification.
In noting the humble footnote's higher use, however, Bloch rises to a stylish eloquence linking factual notation to scientific verification to suggest, I think, even truth itself.
On that day when, having first taken care not to discourage it with useless pedantry, we shall succeed in persuading the public to measure the value of a science in proportion to its willingness to make refutation easy, the forces of reason will achieve one of their most smashing victories. Our humble notes, our finicky little references, currently lampooned by many who do not understand them, are working toward that day.
Published posthumously in 1953, Bloch's own text is ironically without footnotes. Considering his circumstances — tortured and executed by the Nazis in 1944 as a part of the Free French Resistance — we should maybe see Bloch as an abused footnote himself. The artful words of D. W. Brogan can suggest why:
I remember vividly the day on which the news of Marc Bloch's death reached us in Cambridge, and how eagerly we pounced on the rumour — false, alas! — that he had escaped. When we learned beyond doubt that he was dead, we felt that a blow had been dealt to the whole world of learning.
Consider — "in proper citation style" — about whom you could say that.
Yes, I know. Sorry. But they do charm me, and like puns mark a low form of thought — even (to mark to J-P. Sartre's case) of "Dialectical Reason." Know that I come to them here under the necessity of explaining the art of thinking to my students.
I begin with this "dialogue" (invoking the wider "dialectic" to which it points) because footnotes do, in fact, displace thought as puns do. You start out on one line of thinking, and end up on another. It's their virtue — though some think notes a low vice better lost than found today. Bruce Anderson in The Decline and Fall of Footnotes expresses the thought wittily: "Coming across a footnote, Noel Coward observed, is like going downstairs to answer the doorbell while making love." I grant: Coward does have a point.
But they do bring good news, too. It might be — think about it — Ed McMahon at the door. Take an academic note cited from Fredric Jameson's Marxism and Form (1971) and translated from Theodore Adorno's Philosophie der neuen Musik (1958):
It is hardly an accident [just like my titular "Ode"] that mathematical techniques in music as well as logical positivism originated in Vienna. The fondness for number games is as peculiar to the Viennese mind as the game of chess in the coffee house. There are social reasons for it. All the while intellectually productive forces in Austria were rising to the technical level characteristic of high capitalism, material forces lagged behind. The resultant unused capacity for figures became the symbolic fulfillment of the Viennese intellectual. If he wanted to take part in the actual process of material production, he had to look for a position in Imperial Germany. If he stayed home, he became a doctor or a lawyer or clung to number games as a mirage of financial power. Such is the way the Viennese intellectual tries to prove something to himself, and — bitte schön — to everyone else as well.
"So what now of your titular 'Owed'?" you ask. Well, naturally, it's Jameson's own take on Adorno — quite instructively explained. "Stylistic juxtapostion of music, symbolic logic, and financial sheets?" he inquires. "The text under consideration is all of these things, but it is first and foremost a complete thing, I am tempted to say a poetic object" — a footnote! So Jameson of course sings its praises. Adorno's mind "incarnates itself in order to know reality," he claims, "and in return finds itself in a place of heightened intelligibility" — a place where there's "momentarily effected a kind of reconciliation between the realm of matter and that of spirit . . . a socio-economic style [my emphasis] which can be named." Then Jameson adduces his own footnote, one partially quoted below:
[A]n almost physical cause [Jameson writes] may be said to account for the structural peculiarity of the text in question, which is neither more nor less than a complete footnote: and the abundance, as well as the stylistic and philosophical quality of the footnotes to Philosophie der neuen Musik is itself "no accident" and has symptomatic value. The footnote in this context may indeed be thought of as a small but atonomous form, with its own inner laws and conventions and its own determinate relationship to the larger form which governs it — something on the order of the moral of a fable or the various types of digressions which flourished within the ninteenth-century novel. In the present instance, the footnote as a lyrical form allows Adorno a momentary release from the inexorable logic of the material under study in the main text, permitting him to shift to other dimensions, to the infrastructure as well as to the wider horizons of historical speculation. The very limits of the footnote (it must be short, it must be complete) allow the release of intellectual energies, in that they serve as a check on a speculative tendency that might otherwise run wild, on what we will later describe as the proliferation of "theories of history." The footnote as such, therefore, designates a moment in which systematic philosophizing and the empirical study of concrete phenomena are both false in themselves; in which living thought, squeezed out from between them, pursues its fitful existence in the small print at the bottom of the page.
Naturally, Jameson's own debt to Adorno marks my debt to him, so before quitting, maybe I should add another footnote. And what better one to cite than an apt, long-time favorite from Edward Gibbon, a footnote simply, directly, and wisely marking the many debts authors generally owe one another. I mark Gibbon's text generically.
Although I cannot stop to quote [my author] for every fact, I will observe that the navigation of [the subject] from [one place] to [another] and [another] is contained in [a text] ( [on some page] ), and that the historian has the uncommon talent of placing each scene* before the reader's eye.
*Here what Gibbon calls "each scene" is a readerly metaphor, but if we just think about it, of course, the footnote's unfitful existence is likewise "seen" here.
· Aldo Leopold: Good Oak, Good Cedar, Good History ·
Log spliting has put me in mind of Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac (1949). It is a treasured text in the plain style, simple and direct, honest but subtle, and indeed, like a weblog, ordered monthly and topically. Here begins, for instance, Leopold's "February" — written by the warmth of "Good Oak" burning in his fireplace: "There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger," he says, "of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace." Admirable thought. Though I work no farm and own a furnace, yet as I garden and burn logs in season and end toiling today in three quarter-sections — herein called my classes — I'm happily at ease.
What Leopold has happily set me to thinking about today 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.
The saw works only across the years, which it must deal with one by one, in sequence. From each year the raker teeth pull little chips of fact, which accumulate in little piles, called sawdust by woodsmen and archives by historians; both judge the character of what lies within by the character of the samples thus made visible without. It is not until the transect is completed that the tree falls, and the stump yields a collective view of a century. By its fall the tree attests the unity of the hodge-podge called history.
The wedge, on the other hand, works only in radial splits; such a split yields a collective view of all the years at once, or no view at all, depending on the skill with which the plane of the split is chosen. (If in doubt, let the section season for a year until a crack develops. Many a hastily driven wedge lies rusting in the woods, embedded in unsplittable cross-grain.)
The axe functions only at an angle diagonal to the years, and this only for the peripheral rings of the recent past. Its special function is to lop limbs, for which both saw and wedge are useless.
Tomorrow, you should know, I am going to be making myself useful with the wedge (probably between rain showers). But I'm working on "Good Cedar," not "Good Oak." Two summers ago a Stihl chainsaw felled the cedars I'm splitting — indeed, cedars killed not by lightening but by tree bugs. But like Leopold's oak my cedar will soon warm the holidays (as it has warmed me twice already in summer) in a doubly reflective glow of Leopold's environmental meditation. Understandably, though, Leopold is an especially difficult stylist to follow.