You Got Style
· Pointed Takes on Style Delineated ·
September 15, 2005
· Wherein I Pick Up, Conservatively, Where I Left Off ·
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."
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.Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
June 1, 2004
· A Lonerganian Précis ·
Although we can't begin to describe a weekend stretching from Thursday's two-family meal to yesterday's gift-opening brunch, we can at least note Friday night's rehearsal toast. Being a garrulous philosopher, I am occasionally obliged to follow Thoreau's apt advice: "Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!" (which my wife naturally calls a prelude to a K.I.S.S.). So I decided to clothe our toast in a single text (Bernard J. F. Lonergan's Insight) and a pair of matched Fruit-of-the-Loom T-shirts. Here's our story:
Since Suave and Savvy will soon be honey-mooning happily in Lonergan's Canada, we thought to honor their college majors (philosophy and physics) by condensing Lonergan's complex text to a simple, plain-talking textile. I mean even for an Oxford-tutored Lonerganian and his new Catholic bride, such a heady honeymoon ironically begs physical smoothing (which is why I worked our Sunbeam steam iron before Friday's rehearsal). So I found myself referring to some key passages from Lonergan's Preface, first chapter, and Epilogue (much to the relief of our very astonished guests when they saw my 875-page tome). Lonergan's key passages follow:
So, the two T-Shirts? Well, their fronts and backs are depicted below — with Lonergan's brief quip reading: "But insights are a dime a dozen, eh?"
Nice send-off, eh?*Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
February 8, 2004
· My Unfashionably "Carlylean" Take on Sartorial Elegance ·
Today's post isn't much likely, I'm afraid, to mend that omission. If you saw me here — now an aging graduate of Red Green's School of Fashion Design, West Campus — you'd laugh at my sad threads. Imagine a pair of woolen Acorns warming my feet, a Bangladeshi-stitched Forest Trails shirt over my shoulders, a Canadian-knit KellySport fleece vest under that, and a ratty REI turtleneck under my old, "locally fashionable" Pendleton plaid. I mean, apart from chilly fishermen on peninsular rivers hereabouts, I warm to the idea of sartorial splendor about as well as steelhead do to frozen bait. You can see why I was rejected at Red's U.S. campus near Brainerd (a bit north of Garrison Keillor's wonderfully idyllic Lake Wobegone), Minnesota.
Well, I got to thinking today about my unfashionable handicaps, especially inasmuch as Friedrich Nietzsche once observed — on the philosophical subject of clothing — how even Adam and Eve's threads can bear metaphorically upon language. Now that got my attention.
Now Nietzsche is too much given here to brevity to weave what, Platonically speaking, seems the pattern likely to make his very threads fashionable. So I got to hunting about in my library for a non-Nietzschean model, when suddenly I spied Thomas Carlyle. Of course, I know he's not in style today, and I know his book Sartor Resartus is to California's Rodeo Drive what Red's design school is to New York's Fashion Institute — "The Tailor, Retailored" — yet Professor Teufelsdröckh's text might serve as one likely original of Nietzsche's thought (composed, ironically enough, in the quaint old German university town of Weissnichtwo).
I should note before literally heading out the door now to a steelhead dinner at my son's, how in Thomas Carlyle's own editorial analysis of Teufelsdröckh's style, Carlyle rightly marks — "as in my own case," too — yet another difference. Please, at quote's end, do at least fill in the blank with one of your own choosing.
"Und so weiter," Nietzsche would add.Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
February 1, 2004
· My Half-Nietzschean Take on Brevity ·
Since writing my last post I've been thinking about Nietzsche's claim, especially since the ending of "We Hold these Truths" on the First-Person Plural took some time to write. For most of the week I tried, mercurially but methodically, as I sometimes tell students, to move my slippery adverbs and shifty pronouns into substantively significant, and still stylish, juxtapostion. Finally, I heeded President Lincoln's advice: "It is fitting and proper that we should do this," as you may have seen in my result.
But Saturday night I essayed another take on Lincoln's theme by trying out a friend's latest teaching trick: "Turn off the monitor," he tells his students. Indeed pointing to their keyboards alone, he suggests writing for a change blind — "in the dark!" "Well," I thought, "why not? Mine is but a Nietzschean variation on the keyboardist's sentence, 'Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country!' So go for it!"
Here's what I wrote in just four minutes:
"I'm on quite a roll," I thought. "In just minutes (just as my colleague suggested), 'I've found my voice' — 'fluid,' 'rounded,' 'full,' 'profound,' 'indeed maybe decisively brilliant.'"
"And darkly, fulsomely bathetic, too!" I had to confess.
But I remembered, then, Nietzsche's aptly personal, perfectly-styled ambition to craft his own famously difficult, light, straightforward prose:
And I remembered, too, my own recent post's quite analogous conclusion:
Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
January 11, 2004
· From Substance to Style: G. H. Lewes Takes on Immanuel Kant ·
So what of English speakers? Well, we're of course betwixt-and-between, typically adopting Kant's essentially smart intellectual substance while necessarily abusing his style. Consider the mid-Victorian writer George Henry Lewes. His The Principles of Success in Literature (1865), published in The Fortnightly Review, catches well the spirit of Kant's words while abusing his often drab style. Take this from Lewes' sixth chapter, "The Laws of Style":
Lewes' vocabulary, "intellect" and "sensibilities," "ideas" and "emotions," is lifted, of course, right from Kant's three great classic critiques of reason, practicality, and judgment, but used in the direct service of literature, not of philosophy. Yet as to Kant's own prose style, Lewes himself disparages it as do most of my smart students. Take this brief passage from Lewes' fifth chapter, "The Principle of Beauty":
Before you gloat with my students, however, do at least consider this happy exchange from Friday afternoon's English 101 class:
Whether researching or writing, I do have, it seems, Lewes' point made expressly for my own style.Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
December 8, 2003
· Michel Serres Aces the Final ·
Serres' words pass a clear test of intelligence and mark well the two aims of real study, instruction and education. As we sometimes forget them, I've thought Serres' "Rearing" section, from his book's third chapter ("Science, Law"), apt to our use. His passage, given today without added comment, I hope you'll agree merits a solid "A."
In any case, here's Serres' "Rearing":
Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
October 6, 2003
· Blue End Note: Louis Menand Sings "Chicago Blues" ·
But my take is not on Charles but on Louis Menand, who last week — in The End Note, The Nightmare of Citation — reviewed The Chicago Manual of Style (15th Edition) in The New Yorker. He did it with real feeling, striking a blue note. Here is Menand's lead:
Foreshortened, you can almost hear old Muddy Waters wailing, strumming, and beating out the 12-bar blues:
You are in "Muddy Waters" indeed. As Menand has it you're in fact sailing into trouble. Included are such odd arcana as whose citation form is it? (MLA, APA, or Chicago's?); what do you do with those punctuations and abbreviations? (,:;.* loc cit, ibid, et al.?); where do publishers today really do their thing? (New York, Chicago, London, Cambridge, Toronto, Sydney, Delhi, or Cambridge, MA?), and why can evil Redmond (I know it well) make your life so miserable today? ("First of all, it is time to speak some truth to power in this country: Microsoft Word is a terrible program.").
Though I can't begin to carry Louis ("The Delta Dart") Menand's bluesy tune, I can at least essentialize its point. It smiles in his last paragraph:
*What Robert Nozick once said of philosophy could now be said of all academic subjects: They're
And what J. David Bolter noted of their latest media equally applies:
Between the temptation and the reality we have, of course, "Chicago Blues."*Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
September 25, 2003
· On Singular They ·
But might Altieri agree that the here-analogical difference between "sense" and "reference" — or Sinn and Bedeutung as Gottlob Frege has taught generations of modern philosophers to think — also blunts her point? Let me explain.
It is true, of course, that "their" means everyone in the sense of a plural group, but might it be the case, too, that "everyone" still refers to the singular verb "has" as does the group's singular "opinion"? Although I grant such matters are trivial as matters grammatical, rhetorical, and logical always are, still, maybe they allow me to express yet another point.
It is that I will continue to remind my students that 1 ≠ 2. While I agree one should perhaps mark no more precision in English than our language allows, I am still allowed, as Frege reminds us — with respect to meaning and to reference — sometimes to be plural and sometimes singular.
Say, "Everyone has a right to an opinion."Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
March 15, 2003
· Ten by Ten by Ten ·
With due respect for his considerable authority, I thought to cite a passage today by the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. I think Whitehead is doubly served by my Platonic footnote, as you can perhaps infer from my previous post For \ Four \ Fore:
With that I think I'll return to my neglected weekend paper grading.Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 1, 2003
· Wilsonian Democracy, Finnish-Style: To the Finland Station ·
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:
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.Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
January 5, 2003
· High Style ·
Should you wonder, here's Lanchester's prime literary example — Jean-Paul Sartre in The Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960):
Well, if you say so, Mr. Sartre! Of course, passed by his hard-working New Yorker fact checkers, Lanchester's view is itself more fairly, subtly, and rightly presented: "There are a number of valid responses to these arguments," he writes: "They sure don't make public intellectuals like they used to. Another might be: I'm not sure Sartre's arguments constitute more than a footnote to his work in 'L'être et le Néant.' A third might be: What was he on?" The answer, it appears, is "corydrane, a form of amphetamine," Lanchester avers, "mixed with, of all things, aspirin."
Although I hardly wish to dispute Lanchester's claim, as you read his essay, ask yourself how Sartre's stylistic "alterity" — to borrow Sartre's language — precisely marks a more serious form of philosophical substance abuse? For taken in the larger "totalising" context of Western thought, it might be said, as old Styles might say, just "substance abuse" Aristotle-Aquinas style — meaning: Sartre doesn't much care for you dear reader rhetorically, nor for that matter, logically, for God, either. As for Sartre, well, Lanchester does find the goods on the guy.
Meanwhile, Lanchester's rhetoric and logic are clearly uppers.
After writing this post, I needed a drink.Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
November 28, 2002
· Thinking Thanksgiving ·
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:
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.Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
November 23, 2002
· Style as a Test of Truth ·
Although I don't want to repeat Ash's essay (you can read it here), his concern for what he calls "veritas" seems today an apt subject, since that term I've adduced already. What I have in mind is Ash's particular use of literary style as a test of truth, as this passage makes clear:
You can of course supply your own examples, maybe recognizing that curious form of judgment epitomized best in Cardinal Newman's apt phrase, "A Grammar of Assent." If it's unfamiliar to you, its logic is simple: in an insufficiency of data there emerges a developing sufficiency of informal detail marking (but not verifying, strictly) the discernable shape of the verifiable still: what Ash calls the "line" to be defended. And of course his conclusion follows: we may reasonably find — and assent to — in literary style, at least an emerging local equivalent (grammatically) of a less strict but partially verifiable insight into substantial truth.
But as that's poorly styled, E. B. White may say it better (though I'm afraid, like Orwell, I've lost my references — and you may thus rightly question my veracity): "Facts have an eloquence all their own."
But of course, as Ash claims, "so too does style."
*Ash is here questioning a previously-cited passage from Paul Theroux:
Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
November 16, 2002
· A Punny Thing Happened on the Way to . . . ·
I got to thinking about all this while I was writing Under the Weather Tuesday. You'll recall I was doing a deliberate double-take on weather/whether and a subtler, single-take on rafters. Although I felt like apologizing — even writing first, "Forgive my puns. I couldn't resist." — I decided to drop my sad pleading and, with the authority of James Clerk Maxwell behind me, stand up plainly and honestly for some electro-magnetic juice delivered straight. Maxwell, you say — literally or figuratively? Literally, though it's still, as you'll see, very tricky business.
What I have in mind is the witty first paragraph to his essay "Are There Real Analogies in Nature?" Included in Campbell and Garnet's 1882 biography of Maxwell, it remains a good literary-philosophical supplement to his more famous A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism. Although Maxwell's scientific equations aren't my subject, his speculations in that essay seem in some ways their equal, especially in the wisely affirmative answer he gives to his essay's leading question (not surprisingly given Maxwell's Scottish-Presbyterian style, the answer has a nice moral tinge — slightly shaded by Kantian reflections on the larger methodological-scientific questions that prompt it). In any event, since my present interests are stylistic, I'll just cite Maxwell's witty (I think you'll agree) first paragraph. The subject is the reciprocal relation of puns to analogies.
Although I don't want to reciprocate the transposition here — by going astray into deconstructive excursions into catachresian takes on Paul de Man, say — it seems worth noting that, stylistically speaking, Maxwell's text seems to be onto something. In any case, as mine has expressly that aim, I thought to conclude with a good short story, one brought to my attention earlier this week in a widely-shared punny email. Slightly edited for dramatic emphasis, I give you
"Hot stuff," my dad would say. "Tell me, how much do we owe?"Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
November 1, 2002
· For \ Four \ Fore! Philosophical Explanations ·
Partly by way of his wife Gjertrud Schnackenberg, the accomplished American poet, Nozick was in 1981 invited to give the Walter C. Schnackenberg Memorial Lecture at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. As I had known Dr. Schnackenberg and had just read Nozick's new book, I thought to drive the eighty miles from home to Tacoma to attend it. As I recall, just before the lecture began, we two chanced to eye one another in the lavatory as philosophers even must, and, with so apt an opportunity — both of us standing at the urinals relieving ourselves — I tentatively began:
So you're asking, what's the joke or the larger point? Well, since philosophy is mostly, as Alfred North Whitehead claims, "a footnote to Plato," I've thought to indicate its Platonic essence representationally — though you're of course free to doubt it.
In his previous two pages of Philosophical Explanations, Nozick had outlined an impressive fivefold scheme of broad ethical theory — nihilism, realism, idealism, romanticism, and realizationism (roughly his own position) — when, with an ironic grin, he happily drew one conclusion: "Unlike Lewis Carroll's cheshire cat, which disappeared leaving its smile, this disappearance of [realist] values did not even leave behind its (salient) value." Then, I'm happy to report, he added his footnote:
You should appreciate the pleasure I took that evening and, indeed, take again tonight, recalling (this All Saints' Day) the ever-so-very-ideal nimbleness of Nozick's witty-wise mind. Perhaps even the Triune God is enlarging the Plurality of Divine Being tonight, saying, "For, Four, Fore! Robert," as they consider other matters avocationally in still greener pastures of the Great Beyond.
In any case, you might see that Nozick's footnote is more than a psychological-sociological-cultural-ethical-philosophical matter of mere style. It might just possess Real Substance.Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
October 28, 2002
· Metaphors \ Methods \ Models — Dirty-Hand Style ·
You may recall in Wetting a Line \ Whetting the Points that I first approved of Thoreau's view that getting one's "hands" dirty knocks the "palaver" out of one's writing. I still believe that, yet in Jacques Barzun "Takes On" Wayward Educationists, I confessed, I'm afraid — somewhat contradictorily — my regret in not literally "washing my hands" of educationists' styles. Now if you're like my philosophy students, you're likely asking with Martin Heidegger some question like this: "Hey, what gives?" since I ignored in Gardening and Writing the Point-Defiance Way how Marianne Binetti's style is, necessarily, if also insufficiently so, dirty-handed too. I mean: "How are you ever going to garden otherwise?"
So as not to be evasive, I'm going to go straight to right stuff on this question and cite Thomas DeQuincy, the great English writer and — in his treatise Style, published in Blackwood's Magazine in 1840-41 — a thoughtful student of style. DeQuincy focused on "pursuits" he thought "favorable to a culture of style" — that indeed "force[d]," he believed, "that culture . . . drawing much from our own proper selves, [but] little (if anything) from extraneous objects."
DeQuincy marks for us, it should be noted, an important philosophical difference, one drawing on a Kantian vocabulary implicitly tuned to such concepts as subjectively- and objectively-defined pursuits — that is, those drawn between ordinary common sense on the one hand, and modern science on the other: wherein a topic like "dirty hands" is considered metaphorically stylish in literature, but methodologically not in science. Although I admit it is a helpful distinction, I would add, too, it is indifferently spelled, in either case, "dirty hands" — and so may model, explicitly, like my italicized words, a slipperier, still more important truth.
My point turns on DeQuincy's common, but I think too-simplistic assumption that
Although initially tempting, DeQuincy's main assumption fails here since, though a scientist may of course find his point in matter, he must nonetheless communicate it still in words. Indeed, one of the most celebrated dirty-hand stories in history illustrates my point. Dr. Ignaz Phillip Semmelweis, the Hungarian discoverer of microbial pathogens, failed at first to report his discovery and so, for a time at least, lost public credit for it (although his discovery did happily save many lives, as anyone familiar with the story knows). But my real point lies deeper, for it can be argued that Dr. Semmelweis's reticence came not so much from his literary shyness as from a deep, subtle, stylishly philosophical understanding of the point of scientific discovery: namely, that it is less a matter of finding any "matter" as such than a "method" by which that matter's existence can be suggested but never proved per se (or an sich, as Kant would say).
What's called the Hempelian model of the scientific method explains as much. Attributed to philosopher Carl Hempel, it turns, simply, on the analysis of logical inference in scientific inquiry, wherein the results grasped by its research must rely on invalid formal arguments (on affirming the consequent, to be precise), yielding practical benefits but revealing theoretical traps, too. So whenever good scientists report results, they usually say: "The data suggest [but don't 'prove'] the matter in hand." So in a manner of speaking, we have, in such phrasing, scientific style modeled — though Semmelweis had it, of course, in the extreme.
In extremis, indeed, if you followed my link above, for you know he finally died of the "matter in hand." So in a manner of speaking, not only did he show that getting one's "hands" dirty knocks the "palaver" out of one's writing, but suggested, too, that not till we discover "'imaginary gardens with real toads in them'" — to borrow a different Marianne's words (Marianne Moore's in "Poetry") — can we ever hope to learn how to knock the "palaver" out of our lives. Perhaps that's the matter Thoreau also had in mind.Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
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Wherein I Pick Up, Conservatively, Where I Left Off
A Lonerganian Précis
My Unfashionably "Carlylean" Take on Sartorial Elegance
My Half-Nietzschean Take on Brevity
From Substance to Style: G. H. Lewes Takes on Immanuel Kant
Michel Serres Aces the Final
Blue End Note: Louis Menand Sings "Chicago Blues"
On Singular They
Ten by Ten by Ten
Wilsonian Democracy, Finnish-Style: To the Finland Station
Style as a Test of Truth
A Punny Thing Happened on the Way to . . .
For \ Four \ Fore! Philosophical Explanations
Metaphors \ Methods \ Models — Dirty-Hand Style
Figures & Tropes
Grammar & Syntax