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.
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.
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.
· Pro Deo et Patria — Father-Called, Father-Sent ·
Father's Day was for me a happy one, with my school year ended and summer in view. Though I'd saved some papers for noon reading on the deck, finals were behind me and a dinner in prospect with Smart and Soulful who, thankful for their blessings here, sat with Stylish and me in church Sunday. We were all happy.
But we were mindful, too, of less happy families. For Tony, a U. S. Navy Lieutenant, and his wife Natalie — with their children Gabrielle, Hayden, and Hudson — are soon facing a sad separation. Dressed Sunday in his parade whites, Tony is being sent to Iraq Wednesday.
I can't begin to describe the service, which honored members graduating and others leaving for building work in Mexico, but pastor's words for Sunday were profound: "transition" and "confidence." What struck me more, however — since Tony had ended his talk to us by saying, "Here I am" — came in a bible reading of some weeks before from the prophet Isaiah,
1In the year that King Uzziah died, I beheld my Lord seated on a high and lofty throne; and the skirts of His robe filled the Temple. 2Seraphs stood in attendance on Him. Each of them had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his legs, and with two he would fly.
3And one would call to the other
"Holy, holy, holy!
The Lord of Hosts!
His presence fills all the earth!"
4The doorposts would shake at the sound of the one who called, and the House kept filling with smoke. 5I cried,
"Woe is me; I am lost!
For I am a man of unclean lips
And I live among a people
Of unclean lips;
Yet my own eyes have beheld
The King LORD of Hosts."
6Then one of the seraphs flew over to me with a live coal, which he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7He touched it to my lips and declared,
"Now that this has touched your lips,
Your guilt shall depart
and your sin be purged away."
8Then I heard the voice of my Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me."
You'll appreciate that Tony stressed that, regardless of our views on Iraq, our larger duties to God and country transcend personal, merely private claims. It is good we remember that, while we pray for fathers everywhere separated by the sad scourge of war.
If you've been reading long, you'll agree that I'm seldom rhetorically "demonstrative." It goes with the territory of my being Norwegian. Rarely given to emotional outbursts, I'm ever prone to letting others inject literary hyperbole. The "literal" is my game.
I thought today to revive their warm memory by turning things over to someone with much sharper language skills, William Shakespeare. Who better, in English, to ventriloquize — on this St. Valentine's Day — rhetorical things sufficiently "demonstrative"?
Shakespeare's Sonnet LV
Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear'd with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
'Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room,
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes. br> br>
Tomorrow I just might, of course, be turning things over to more wintry chores — like log splitting.
They go, too, with still more stylish poetic tasks — themselves undemonstrative in "Norwegian-style."
I've been on holiday for a month. This is not to say I've accomplished nothing, for though incommunicado I've been implementing tools of other trades — indeed driven by car to California and back, survived some bureaucratic school chores, wired my son's garage recently, and, even, endured the services of a distant knife-wielding dentist. I've also compressed the air of our holiday cheer with remarkably efficiency, which is to say I've sent off another abbreviated Christmas missive.
Our year began with the death in January of Styles' beloved sister-in-law JoAn. To celebrate her long life with Styles' brother Styleshort, we flew in early February to attend her memorial service in California. They had been married almost fifty years.
Over spring break we flew east to Washington, D.C., staying in suburban Virginia in a B&B operated by Sharon Reingold, one of Stylish's P.E.O. sisters. Sharon and her husband Rob, who works with the American Meteorological Society, gave us an especially warm welcome in Washington's typically rainy, late-March weather.
Summer was more pleasant, starting with the Fourth of July. Suave and Savvy had us staying over with her parents at their beach cabin on Camano Island. Including Suave and Savvy, all of us enjoyed fireworks outside on a perfectly pleasant Northwest evening. On the following day we met up briefly with Styleshort at SeaTac. He informed us of his budding interest in one Wittywise Solemnchoice, inquiring if double-knee replacement was right for her: Savvy advised, "Go for it."
In early August we enjoyed separate getaways to Vancouver and Banff (Stylish with friends by train, and Styles on his motorcycle), later driving off to Rochester, where we visited a week with Suave and Savvy. On our way back we visited Soulful's brother Mort in Kansas City, toured briefly in Denver, made a loop through Yellowstone, and — to understand just how good we had it — headed west over Lemhi Pass in Montana near to the day Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery did so in 1805. Quite a thrill.
Here we've had still more wonderful experiences. In November Smart and Soulful informed us of their purchasing Suave's old place at 711 Nth Street. Just as significant was The Goodplace's winning a $180,000 grant in August from Seattle's Bishop Foundation and Soulful's being selected earlier — with other Northwest artists, including Dale Chihuly — to do a "Red Door" for Seattle's Gilda Radner Cancer Research Foundation. Smart and Soulful are doing fine here.
Best was our traveling over Thanksgiving to a Los Angeles wedding. Wittywise stood on two new knees — neither of them knocking, we thought — promising to become the new Mrs. Stylechoice of Camarillo, California. We are happy for Styleshort and for our lovely new sister-in-law Wittywise.
Our best to each of you wherever you are this Holiday Season.
Not bad compression, huh, for the shortest day of the year?
I'm not writing on Immanuel Kant today, merely trying to mark the approach of another Thanksgiving — one I'll have to miss, locally at least.
For always "on Thanksgiving Day," as Wilbur Nesbit writes, "the heart will find the pathway home," and mine leads Wednesday afternoon on I-5, south, toward Los Angeles.
In light of Ghostly Veterans-Day Reading Tips and without a chance of posting Thursday, I've thought to compile some posts I've long seen at YGS under a broader category, Holidays. Although it's not imperative that you read them all, you might get a larger sense of my spirited, stylish aims by trying.
In any case, wherever you might find yourself a home, do have a Happy Thanksgiving.
Since commenting on Walt Whitman in Literacy, Halloween Style, I thought to mark my point more explicitly. It turns, implicitly, on more active reading. You'll recall my About-page remarks: "My writing is unfortunately affected by too much old book learning, the revenge of dead trees upon the living." It falls equally upon aging writers, too.
Two great-souled men of philosophy and literature, Francis Bacon and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, today seem apt in their own spirited thoughts on book reading and what I'd call adult-level literacy.
Some books are to be tasted [Bacon claims], others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to read only in parts; others to be read but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.
There are three kinds of readers [Goethe judges]: one, who enjoys without judging; a third, who judges without enjoying; another in the middle, who judges while enjoying and enjoys while judging. The last class truly reproduces a work of art anew; its members are not numerous.
You might consider such souls as reminding us anew of our own duties, to get on with life while simultaneously finding meaning — especially on this day — in the full face of death.
It's the triple groundwork — don't you think? — of freedom, of democracy, and, perhaps, of happiness itself.
Boo! I thought to sustain a ghostly theme today since, ironically enough, I have recently used the word haunted here. For I've a spirited passage to share with a bit of added comment.
Stemming from my cleaning a desk Saturday to make room for a new computer, it's ordered less by space than by time — and for serious consideration of college-level literacy. Here is my tale.
In papers horizontally filed and archeologically found, I chanced to spot an old letter I'd sent a few years ago to my local newspaper. The paper had done a piece on a forty-year-old who had started reading through the dedicated help of our college staff. You can imagine what personal courage it took to tell his story. My thank-you letter appeared as
Literacy begs all pause
"Literacy," according to R. P. Blackmur, "is the form ignorance takes in a society subjected to universal education."
Although disagreeable, even arguable, Blackmur's definition has, like your front-page story last week, an arresting appeal. Literacy begs all pause. We readers are in your debt for the reminder of what it is we do and are. My thanks.
Lest we forget our ignorance, however, we might pause at literacy's definition. Blackmur helps. Ignorance is, universally and ironically, he suggests, an "ignoring" of real education, the education of selves in the sense of their "leading out."
I submit that functional illiterates led out of school to our current boundary line of failure only reveal our definition of success. Our failure now to produce folks who fill out forms or read signs is just that, our failure. We only miss what we call a target.
Clearly, we miss much. My hope is that in years to come when we air education's dirty laundry, we'll find souls merely confessing that poetry or the ways of persuasion passed them by. Though still taking courage, the confession would, for us all, not be embarrassing to read.
It so happens I've some youngsters at my door begging Halloween treats. Understandably, I'd like to tell them how Martin Luther, four-hundred-eighty-eight years ago tonight, changed the world by showing that the real trick — always requiring "missing what we call a target" — demands more "leading out."
As I recall, Luther posted reasons why on his church door and created a Reformation by his effort — one with true Literacy, Halloween Style as its start.
· Teacher, Scholar, Father — Sir James's Modest Accomplishments ·
I've come this Father's Day to the end of another academic year. Submitting grades after attending a relative's graduation party Saturday and watching graduates receive their degrees Friday night, I had earlier been grading essays, giving finals, and tidying my office. But more memorable still has been some reading in Simon Winchester's The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary (2003), especially about James Murray, the famous teacher-scholar-father alluded to above.
Murray was, you should know, at fourteen a Scottish school dropout who, by life's end, at last received the coveted Oxford D. Litt. (honorus causa) he so surely deserved. Since my relative is now starting a new well-paying job, consider England's most famous lexicographer's job application — at age twenty-nine — to the British Museum library. His letter is not bad for an autodidact's:
I have to state that Philology, both Comparative and special, has been my favourite pursuit during the whole of my life, and that I possess a general acquaintance with the languages and literature of the Aryan and Syro-Arabic classes — not indeed to say that I am familiar with all or nearly all of these, but that I posses that general lexical & structural knowledge which makes the intimate knowledge only a matter of a little application. With several I have a more intimate acquantance as with the Romance tongues, Italian, French, Catalan, Spanish, Latin & in a less degree Portuguese, Vaudois, Provençal & various dialects. In the Teutonic branch, I am tolerably familiar with Dutch (having at my place of business correspondence to read in Dutch, German, French & occasionally other languages), Flemish, German and Danish. In Anglo-Saxon and Moeso-Gothic my studies have been much closer, I having prepared some works for publication upon these languages. I know a little of the Celtic, and am at present engaged with the Sclavonic, having obtained a useful knowledge of Russian. In the Persian, Achaemenian Cuneiform, & Sanscrit branches, I know for the purposes of Comparative Philology. I have sufficient knowledge of Hebrew & Syriac to read at sight the Old Testament and Peshito; to a less degree I know Aramaic, Arabic, Coptic and Phenecian to the point where it was left by Gesenius.
As Winchester adds dryly, "Murray's application was not successful," but as he also avers, by life's end Murray's children's quite stellar careers had compensated him well for his bumpy start. Here is his third son Wilfrid's rightly matter-of-fact account:
Harold, the oldest son, Exhibitioner and First Class Graduate of Balliol, was author of the Oxford History of Chess (1913) and, at the time of his retirement, a Divisional Inspector under the Board of Education. Sir Oswyn, GBC, the fourth son, Scholar, triple First and Honorary Fellow of Exeter and Vinerian Law Scholar, was Secretary to the Board of Admiralty from 1917 until his death in 1936; Jowettt, the youngest, was a Scholar and Triple First of Magdalen and became a Professor in the Anglo-Chinese College at Tientsin; the second, Ethelbert, was at his death in 1916 Electrical Engineer for North London in Willesden; the fifth, Aelfric (Wadham College), took orders and became Vicar of Bishop Burton; the writer, also a Balliol Exhibitioner, was for 21 years Registrar of the University of Cape Town. Of the five daughters Hilda, the eldest, was First Class Honours student at Oxford, Lecturer in English at Cambridge and Vice-Mistress of Girton College and has publish several works; the second, Ethelwyn (Mrs. C. W. Cousins) was married to the Secretary for Labour of the Union of South Africa; the youngest, Gwyneth, (Mrs. H. Logan), a Girton First Class graduate, was married to a Canadian Rhodes Scholar who became Principal of the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School in British Columbia; the remaining two, Elsie (Mrs. A. Barling) and Rosfrith, were both valued assistants for long periods on the Dictionary staff.
Apparently they don't make Victorian fathers like they used to, but lest you think Murray took any undue credit, consider Murray's take on his great philological work — in a quaint, modest style we're too apt to sneer at nowadays:
I think it was God's will. In times of faith, I am sure of it. I look back & see that every step of my life has been as it were imposed upon me — not a thing of choice; and that the whole training of my life with its multifarious & irregular incursions into nearly every science and many arts, seems to have had the express purpose of fitting me to do this Dictionary . . . So I work on with a firm belief (at most times) that I am doing what God has fitted me for, & so made my duty; & hope that He will strengthen me to see the end of it . . . But I am only an instrument, only the means that He has provided & there is no credit due to me, except that of trying to do my duty; Deo soli gloria.
Naturally, Murray's saving grace could be strictly parenthetical, but it's quite apt — for all times, I think — to induce some needed "fear and trembling."
Of course, I say this for all those still working on degrees.
· Nature's Double Bill, Locally and Stylishly Displayed ·
In only three days this holiday I've seen thousands of migrating shore birds, two Italian operas, and the subtle operations of Nature in the fullness of her motherly moods, suggesting today that spring has really sprung. Mama mia! Talk about your unity in variety!
It's of course the old life-death theme; for you should have seen the dog-fight of a Merlin chasing a small Western Sandpiper Friday. Even at telescopic distance, it was like no aerial ballet I had seen. Much like the mother-birders on our boardwalk, I was rooting, myself, for the sandpiper.
But then Saturday night, hearing the often-paired productions of Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci, I knew that death's cold knife can pierce human life forms, too. Those sopranos, I mean, knew what they're doing, but, oh, what glorious singing!
Then today, in celebrating Mother's Day — happily the Seventh Sunday of Easter this year — to be having, along with Stylish, a breakfast courtesy of a loving son, well, it doesn't get much better than that, does it?
Best of all, both of us shared blue cheese and champagne at lunch before heading to a nearby nursery for our pick of summer plants. Indeed, we're going to have ourselves a pleasant, colorful place this year.
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.
· Presidents' Day Thoughts on Christopher Lasch's Plain Style ·
I've been reading Christopher Lasch's volume of writing advice, Plain Style: A Guide to Written English. Printed for graduate history students at the University of Rochester (1985) and published in paperback by the University of Pennsylvania Press (2002), the book lives up to its apt title. I heartily recommend it.
According to Weaver, Plain Style "is something of an essay in cultural criticism, a political treatise even, by one for whom directness, clarity, and honesty of expression were, no less than for George Orwell, essential to the living spirit of democracy." Weaver's allusion is no mistake, for Lasch holds to Orwell's belief that, as Orwell's own "Politics" makes clear, "the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts" — that "an effect can become a cause . . . A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks."
To second Orwell's claim, I thought to share Lasch's sharp styling of the thought in one spirited paragraph from his third chapter, "Characteristics of Bad Writing" — a paragraph entitled "Abstract Language":
Abstract Language Bad academic writing [Lasch writes] avoids concrete (literally solid or coalesced) words and phrases as assiduously as it avoids the active voice, and for the same reason: it seeks to convey an impression of scientific precision, of painfully acquired learning and scholarship, of Olympian detachment from the commonplace facts of everyday life. It prefers phenomena to things or events, socialization to growing up, orientation to position or location. Abstractions are often indispensable, of course (as are forms of to be). Sipped in small amounts, they may even have a slightly intoxicating effect, not inconsistent with verbal clarity. Over-indulgence, however, leads to slurred speech and eventually destroys brain cells.
Lasch's own happy take on Orwell tells. Beyond one tipsy academic, though, it's worse to see America's sober-sided politicians from the President down reeling so clearly now under the inebriating influence of such abstractions as "The Axis of Evil" and "Strategic Outsourcing." You'd maybe think that they would foreswear such stuff, rhetorically as well as politically.
A justly temperate nation might, I would suggest, ask them to try.
We're expecting old friends and family for dinner, all gathering to celebrate our American national holiday today, Thanksgiving.
We're all a happily diverse bunch, with a trio of medical types who speak physiology; two engineers who talk of electrical grids and blackouts; a secretary whose Finnish substitutions of what for which amuse; a soda distributor who with his wife and his two children represent the Pepsi generation; our museum-director son and his wife, an artist, who ooze local memory and imagination; a pianist son who keeps us all soundly entertained; a college student and his mom who both manage a substation of bright light hereabouts, and my wife who will once again keep everyone stylishly cheered and deliciously fed this Thanksgiving.
Of course, this is nothing like the first Thanksgiving, an original report of which I thought to share today — William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation:
And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck a [sic] meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.
So is this report, likewise, though I might feign saying I hear a knock at the door now.
Well, whoever you are, do have a Happy Thanksgiving!
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.
Shielded here by Norway Lions, I'm celebrating Syttende Mai. Today is Norwegian "Independence Day," May 17th, famous for political-seasonal liberation — a day marking relief from Denmark's rule in 1814 and, of course, from winter's annually. If you've ever experienced hard and cold, you may — even if not Norwegian — celebrate.
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.
Today's post is brought to you, guardedly, by the letters PC. They stand for "Politically Correct" — rendered perhaps more meatily by the better phrase, "Philologically Crippled." You can be the judge today. It is a good day for truth.
In a recent review of the new Diane Ravitch book, Merle Rubin asks:
What do dinosaurs, mountains, deserts, brave boys, shy girls, men fixing roofs, women baking cookies, elderly people in wheelchairs, athletic African Americans, God, heathens, witches, owls, birthday cake and religious fanatics all have in common? Trick question? Not really. As we learn from Diane Ravitch's eye-opening book "The Language Police," all of the above share the common fate of having been banned from the textbooks or test questions (or both) being used in today's schools.
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:
Lucid, forceful, written with insight, passion, compassion and conviction, "The Language Police" is not only hair-raisingly readable but deeply reasonable. It should be required reading not only for parents, teachers and educators, but for everyone who cares about history, literature, science, culture and indeed the civilization in which we live.
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?
First, the matter of semantics. I am a cripple. I choose this word to name me. I choose from among several possibilities, the most common of which are "handicapped" and "disabled." I made the choice a number of years ago, without thinking, unaware of my motives for doing so. Even now, I'm not sure what those motives are, but I recognize that they are complex and not entirely flattering. People — crippled or not — wince at the word "cripple," as they do not at "handicapped" or "disabled." Perhaps I want them to wince. I want them to see me as a tough customer, one to whom the fates/gods/viruses have not been kind, but who can face the brutal truth of her existence squarely. As a cripple, I swagger.
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."
Because I do not hope to turn, as T. S. Eliot says in Ash Wednesday, "Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope," today I offer from the poem a small part without added comment:
Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice
And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us
Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.
· 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.
It's fortunate the instrument Bartolomeo Cristofori invented some three hundred years ago is known nowadays only as the piano. Pianoforte better marks its real appeal, of course — soft and loud — and its proper achievement, hammering home (literally via a technical trick called an "escape mechanism") a new musical experience, one I suspect Prince Ferdinando de'Medici of Florence recognized: the sounds of love and war at once.
I got thinking about all this at my son's piano concert tonight. I'd earlier been following the news. Between Blix and Bush, of course, I'm glad my escape mechanism was just musical. I couldn't help thinking, though, that the distance between love and war — between Debussy's "L'Isle Joyeuse" and Liapunov's "Lezginka," say — isn't really that far. In my generation making love not war seemed the thing, but today "studying war no more" isn't quite our forte.
Still, I'm hopeful that like Suave's encore, we might in fact rest in the piano peace of Grieg's "Arietta."
Trees hereabouts mark Christmas all year. They seem to go with the territory. Of course, you seldom see trees decorated save with what you perceive, rain or shine, quite naturally to hang from their boughs. Here hangs, for example, thanks to the miracle of digital technology, the light of the world caught suspended in fir.
Such radiance seemed to deserve sharing today. Of course, those indoor trees around which we may have gathered will all soon enough be put away and, with them, the bright lights that have artificially but happily, I hope, graced your Christmas Day. In any case, I have thought to reflect on how my own web of words — this technology in which we live and move and have our being — may itself be neither so artificial as is sometimes thought nor so ignorable as might still be imagined. For as old St. John has said, the light of the world does in fact hang in there with trees.
In any event, around here it does — and may it do so where you live, too. Merry Christmas!
Today's thought speaks for itself. In the few days leading up to this holiday I've given thought, I'm afraid, only to school and home tasks needed to reach this good day somewhat out of breath. But with my schoolwork done and my home chores begun, I've at least the time now to reflect on this happy American day itself.
Thanksgiving! An interesting term, particularly in light of philosopher Martin Heidegger's famous 1954 book, What is Called Thinking? What's central here is the spin he gives therein to thinking and thanking as reciprocal concepts. I give you from his text three short paragraphs:
The "thanc," as the original memory, is already pervaded by that thinking back which devotes what it thinks to that which is to be thought — it is pervaded by thanks. When we give thanks, we give it for something. We give thanks for something by giving thanks to him whom we have to thank for it. The things for which we owe thanks are not the things we have from ourselves. They are given to us. We receive many gifts, of many kinds. But the highest and really most lasting gift given to us is always our essential nature, with which we are gifted in such a way that we are what we are only through it. That is why we owe thanks for this endowment, first and unceasingly.
But the thing given to us, in the sense of this dowry, is thinking. As thinking, it is pledged to what is there to be thought. And the thing that of itself ever and anon gives food for thought is what is the most thought-provoking. In it resides the real endowment of our nature for which we owe thanks.
How can we give thanks for this endowment, the gift of being able to think what is most thought-provoking, more fittingly than by giving thought to the most thought-provoking? The supreme thanks, then, would be thinking? And the profoundest thanklessness, thoughtlessness? Real thanks, then, never consists in that we ourselves come bearing gifts, and merely repay gift with gift. Pure thanks is rather that we simply think — think what is really and solely given, what is there to be thought.
What is there to be thought today is, of course, what, beyond the turkey and trimmings, we all have as our essential Being, Thoughtfulness and Thankfulness together. A Happy Thanksgiving to all.