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

· 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. Richard Weaver, 'The Phaedrus and the Nature of Rhetoric,' in Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg, eds., The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present, Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1990, 1063-64.

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)


· A Lonerganian Précis ·

You may be curious about our wedding weekend. Rest assured, everything went well. My wife Stylish and I can't be more pleased. Savvy Graceart joined our younger son Suave Saturday in marriage, and we two Stylechoices are agreed — they make a handsome pair.

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:

  • In the ideal detective story the reader is given all the clues yet fails to spot the criminal. (Naturally our happy couple once hadn't found one another.)
  • In the midst of that vast and profound strirring of human minds, which we name the Renaissance, Descartes was convinced that too many people felt it beneath them to direct their efforts to apparently trifling problems. (We here referred to such tasks as fixing the dinner arrangements and writing needed guest invitations.)
  • It might be thought that, at the end of this long book, the long-suffering reader was entitled to a concluding summary. (You can imagine our audience's brief, agonized laughter.)
  • In the introduction I stated a programme. Thoroughly understand what it is to understand, and not only will you understand the broad lines of all there is to be understood but also you will possess a fixed base, an invarient pattern, opening upon all further developments of understanding. (We here suggested Suave and Savvy had finally found each other.)

 Bernard J. F. Lonergan, Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan: Insight: A Study in Human Understanding, Vol. 3, Eds. Frederick E. Crowe and Robert M. Doran, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992 [1957], 3, 27, 754, 769-79.



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?"

 · T-Shirt Front ·

 · T-Shirt Back  ·






















Nice send-off, eh?*

Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)


· My Unfashionably "Carlylean" Take on Sartorial Elegance ·

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

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

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

 · Friedrich Nietzsche · Every concept arises from the equation of unequal things [Nietzsche writes]. Just as it is certain that one leaf is never totally the same as another, so it is certain that the concept "leaf" is formed by arbitrarily discarding these individual differences and by forgetting the distinguishing aspects. This awakens the idea that, in addition to the leaves, there exists in nature the "leaf": the original model according to which all the leaves were perhaps woven, sketched, measured, colored, curled, and painted — but by incompetent hands, so that no specimen has turned out to be a correct, trustworthy, and faithful likeness of the original model [my italics]. Freidrich Nietzsche, 'On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense,' Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg, eds., The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present, Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1990, 891.

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

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

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

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

"Und so weiter," Nietzsche would add.

Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)


· My Half-Nietzschean Take on Brevity ·

"It takes less time to learn to write nobly," Friedrich Nietzsche once remarked, "than to learn to write lightly and straightforwardly."

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:

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country. We have the chance now to undertake the job the nation has prepared us for. It's hardly the time to do otherwise. What would the nation say if we were to renege on our duty? It's abundantly clear that if we don't take up the challenge now, we will succumb to the sad temptation to avoid forever that patriotic task for which we have so long been prepared. Mark my words: This is the day. This is the hour. This is the year. We can do no less than our ancestors have done already, dedicating our lives to bringing everyone the joys of freedom, the riches of enterprise, the pleasures of art, and the clear, honorable challenges of service. Now it is our turn. Rise up Men (and Women) of America! It's time to come to the aid of your . . .

"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:

It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what other men say in whole books — what other men do not say in whole books. Freidrich Nietzsche: Jon Winokur, ed., Writers on Writing, 2nd. ed., Philadelphia: Running Press, 1987, 23; above, 112.


And I remembered, too, my own recent post's quite analogous conclusion:

Properly speaking (sotto voce), it is our [my] challenge.

Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


· From Substance to Style: G. H. Lewes Takes on Immanuel Kant ·

I've the task here of introducing students to Immanuel Kant. You can imagine their groans: "What," they ask, "was this dude really on?" "You expect us to understand him?"; "We mean, like, 'He's boring!'" While I sympathize, I feel at least compelled to induce some into believing, even as the French sometimes say: "Le style le moins noble a purtant sa noblesse" — "The least noble of styles has nevertheless its own nobility." Most students scoff: "Don't give us that stuff; the French even eat their greasy fries with a fork!"

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":

The aims of Literature being instruction and delight, Style must in varying degrees [Lewes writes] appeal to our intellect and our sensibilities: sometimes reaching the intellect through the presentation of simple ideas, and at others through the agitating influence of emotions; sometimes awakening the sensibilities through the reflexes of ideas, and sometimes through direct appeal. George Henry Lewes, 'The Laws of Style,' Representative Essays on the Theory of Style, ed. William. T. Brewster, New York: Macmillan, 1913, 229.

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":

Bacon, . . . having an opulent and active intellect, spontaneously expressed himself in forms of various excellence. But what a pitiable contrast is presented by Kant! . . . not simply unwise, he was extremely culpable in sending forth his thoughts as so much raw material which the public was invited to put into shape as it could. . . . he might have been induced to recast it into more logical and more intelligible sentences. George Henry Lewes, 'The Principle of Beauty,' Representative Essays on the Theory of Style, ed. William. T. Brewster, New York: Macmillan, 1913, 223-224; below, 222.

Before you gloat with my students, however, do at least consider this happy exchange from Friday afternoon's English 101 class:

Styles to the Class:

I spent a whole hour arranging my words in the passage I shared with you yesterday.

A Student to Styles:

Well, you've got too much time on your hands.



To which G. H. Lewes' reply is:

Styles to the Class again, quoting Lewes:

[M]en who will spare no labour in research, grudge all labor in style; a morning is cheerfully devoted to verifying a quotation, by one who will not spare ten minutes to reconstruct a clumsy sentence.

Whether researching or writing, I do have, it seems, Lewes' point made expressly for my own style.

Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)


· Michel Serres Aces the Final ·

I'm giving my final exams this week. Without time to describe them, I thought to share something from the philosopher Michel Serres today, a writer whose extended 1995 text, The Natural Contract, grasps both substantively and stylishly the aims of the work I typically ask students to do.

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":

May this Sage1 found a lineage. The rearing of the human baby is based on two principles: the first positive, concerns his instruction; the other, negative, involves education. The latter forms prudent judgment and the former valiant reason. · Michel Serres ·

We must learn our finitude: reach the limits of a non-infinite being. Necessarily we will have to suffer, from illnesses, unforeseeable accidents or lacks; we must set a term to our desires, ambitions, wills, freedoms. We must prepare our solitude, in the face of great decisions, responsibilities, growing numbers of other people; in the face of the world, the fragility of things and of loved ones to protect, in the face of happiness, unhappiness, death.

To deny this finitude, starting in childhood, is to nurture unhappy people and foster their resentment of inevitable adversity.

We must learn, at the same time, our true infinity. Nothing, or almost nothing, resists training. The body can do more than we believe, intelligence adapts to everything. To awaken the unquenchable thirst for learning, in order to live as much as possible and to persevere, sometimes, through invention: this is the meaning of equipping someone to cast off.

These two principles laugh at the paths that guide today's contrary educational practices; the narrow finitude of an instruction that produces obedient specialists or ignoramuses full of arrogance; the infinity of desire, drugging tiny soft larvae to death.

Education forms and strengthens a prudent being who judges himself finite; instruction by true reason lauches this being into an infinite becoming.

Earth, the foundation, is limited; yet the casting off from it knows no end. Michel Serres, The Natural Contract, trans. Elizabeth MacArthur and William Paulson, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1995, 95-96.

Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)


· Blue End Note: Louis Menand Sings "Chicago Blues" ·

I saw the PBS documentaries on The Blues last week. Seven independently-directed films produced by Martin Scorsese, they had me tapping my toes and singing "Sweet Home, Chicago" like a blues brother. I especially liked Clint Eastwood's series-ending "Piano Blues" — capped off by Ray Charles doing "America the Beautiful" with an orchestra. There's nothing like Ray's going low-down and high-flown at once.

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:

It is 2:30 a.m. of a Monday, spring semester . . . Things are looking extremely good. Forty-eight hours of high-intensity stack work and some inspired typing have produced the thirty-page final paper for Modern European History . . . you are satisfied that you have turned out, in two days, the intellectual and moral equivalent of three months’ steady application . . . Only the notes and the bibliography remain. . . . Two-thirty is by no means an unreasonable hour of the night. You anticipate a decent five or six hours of sleep before class time. And you are, of course, so wrong. You are not nearing the finish line at all. There is a signpost up ahead: you are about to enter The End Matter.

Foreshortened, you can almost hear old Muddy Waters wailing, strumming, and beating out the 12-bar blues:

Baby, you've found us the right source

Do, Da Da Da, Duh

Baby, you've found us the right source

Do, Da Da Da, Duh

But, Baby, you gotta cite us that source!

Do, Da Da Da . . . Duh?

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:

The "Manual" is not too long. It is not long enough. It will never be long enough. The perfect manual of style would be like the perfect map of the world: exactly coterminous with its subject, containing a rule for every word of every sentence. We would need an extra universe to accommodate it. It would be worth it.*

*What Robert Nozick once said of philosophy could now be said of all academic subjects: They're

beset by the temptation to say everything explicitly. Robert Nozick, 'What is Wisdom and Why Do Philosophers Love it So?' The Examined Life: Philosophical Meditations, New York: Simon and Shuster (Torchstone), 1989, 268.

And what J. David Bolter noted of their latest media equally applies:

The network can never be fully explicit. J. David Bolter, Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing, Hillsdale, N.J.: Earlbaum, 1991, 113.

Between the temptation and the reality we have, of course, "Chicago Blues."*

Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)


· On Singular They ·

You know the problem: "Everyone has a right to their opinion." Arts & Letters Daily recently linked to an essay recording author Jjoan Ttabor Altieri's (really Joan Tabor Altieri's) gradual acceptance over thirty years of the singular pronoun "they." Everyone does, she thinks in Singular They: The Pronoun that Came in from the Cold, have a right to their opinion. Historically, I grant she's right.

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)


· Ten by Ten by Ten ·

Today my hit counter reached 1000. I'm hardly impressed since my own visits count, though I am pleased. Indeed, I even found this link to "round out" my pleasure. My thanks.

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:

A man really writes for an audience of about ten persons. Of course, if others like it, that is clear gain. But if those ten are satisfied, he is content. As quoted in James Charlton, ed., The Writer's Quotation Book: A Literary Companion, New York: Penguin, 25.

With that I think I'll return to my neglected weekend paper grading.

Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


· 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. Paul Hazard, La pens饠europ饮ne au XVIII譥 si飬e: de Montesquieu ࠌessing, Paris: Boivin, 1946, as quoted at www.vicoinstitute.org/Giambattista.htm.

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.

 · Kalevala ·

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)


· High Style ·

A New Yorker essay has put me in mind today of style as a form of "substance abuse." John Lanchester in an essay entitled "High Style: Writing Under the Influence" (1/6/03), addresses what he calls "the discourse of recreational drug use." Although Lanchester employs what he calls the "barbaric" but sometimes "useful" dialect of "contemporary critical theory," his essay nonetheless interests me because, though I'm, like Emily Dickinson, "an enebriate of air and debauchee of dew," I do sometimes drink when I'm not otherwise splitting my occasional posts. For the sharp tools of my own literary style — facts especially, as Aldo Leopold has said — do demand sobriety.

Should you wonder, here's Lanchester's prime literary example — Jean-Paul Sartre in The Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960):

But it should be noted that this regulatory totalisation realises my immanence in the group in the quasi-transcendence of the totalising third party; for the latter, as the creator of objectives or organiser of means, stands in a tense and contradictory relation of transcendence-immanence, so that my integration, though real in the here and now which define me, remains somewhere incomplete, in the here and now which characterise the regulatory third party. We see here the reemergence of an element of alterity proper to the statue of the group, but which here is still formal: the third party is certainly the same, the praxis is certainly common everywhere; but a shifting dislocation makes it totalising when I am the totalised means of the group, and conversely.

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.

  · Absolut Clarity ·

After writing this post, I needed a drink.

Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


· Thinking Thanksgiving ·

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. Martin Heidegger, What is Called Thinking, New York: Harper & Row, 1968 [1954], 142-43.

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)


· Style as a Test of Truth ·

I found an impressive essay Wednesday exploring the frontier, the frontier "between politics and culture, between continental Europe and the Anglosphere," as its author writes, "between academia and journalism, left and right, history and reportage." Author Timothy Garton Ash essays still another theme, however, one exploring what he calls "the literature of fact" or, better, how a fact can be deduced verily, he claims, from the style of literature.

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:

If we find witnesses accurate on things we know, we are more likely to believe them on things we don't; but sometimes, there is little that we can know or check. What test works here? The best I can come up with is the quite unscientific litmus of veracity. Do we feel, as we read the text, that the writer is making what Orwell, in praising Henry Miller, called "a definite attempt to get at real facts"?

For me, the model of such veracity is Orwell's own Homage to Catalonia. Actually, Orwell got some of his externally verifiable facts wrong — not least because most of his notes were stolen during a secret police search of his hotel room in Barcelona. But we never for a moment doubt that he is trying to tell it exactly as it was. And when we reach his plea of veracity at the end of the book, it is the very opposite of Theroux's.* Orwell writes, in that wonderfully plain, conversational style that he worked so hard to achieve, "In case I have not said this somewhere earlier in the book I will say it now: beware of my partisanship, my mistakes of fact, and the distortion inevitably caused by my having seen only one corner of events." In effect, he says, "Don't believe me!" — and so we believe him.

Veracity is revealed in tone, style, voice. It takes us back to the artistic reasons for defending this line. You can often tell just from internal, stylistic evidence when a writer has strayed.

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:

Paul Theroux's travel book The Great Railway Bazaar, which is full of amusing incidents and wonderfully entertaining dialogue, concludes with an elaborate plea for its own strict, reportorial accuracy. He describes in detail the four thick notebooks in which he wrote things down as they happened "remembering to put it all in the past tense." On this railway trip through Asia, he writes, he had learned "that the difference between travel writing and fiction is the difference between recording what the eye sees and discovering what the imagination knows. Fiction is pure joy — how sad that I could not reinvent the trip as fiction." At which I found myself thinking, "Well, you did, you did." Perhaps I am wrong, but even the production of four weather-stained notebooks containing words identical to those on the printed page would not dissuade me, for the invention can come at the moment of recording.

Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)


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

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

I got to thinking about all this while I was writing Under the Weather Tuesday. You'll recall I was doing a deliberate double-take on weather/whether and a subtler, single-take on rafters. Although I felt like apologizing — even writing first, "Forgive my puns. I couldn't resist." — I decided to drop my sad pleading and, with the authority of James Clerk Maxwell behind me, stand up plainly and honestly for some electro-magnetic juice delivered straight. Maxwell, you say — literally or figuratively? Literally, though it's still, as you'll see, very tricky business.

What I have in mind is the witty first paragraph to his essay "Are There Real Analogies in Nature?" Included in Campbell and Garnet's 1882 biography of Maxwell, it remains a good literary-philosophical supplement to his more famous A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism. Although Maxwell's scientific equations aren't my subject, his speculations in that essay seem in some ways their equal, especially in the wisely affirmative answer he gives to his essay's leading question (not surprisingly given Maxwell's Scottish-Presbyterian style, the answer has a nice moral tinge — slightly shaded by Kantian reflections on the larger methodological-scientific questions that prompt it). In any event, since my present interests are stylistic, I'll just cite Maxwell's witty (I think you'll agree) first paragraph. The subject is the reciprocal relation of puns to analogies.

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

Although I don't want to reciprocate the transposition here — by going astray into deconstructive excursions into catachresian takes on Paul de Man, say — it seems worth noting that, stylistically speaking, Maxwell's text seems to be onto something. In any case, as mine has expressly that aim, I thought to conclude with a good short story, one brought to my attention earlier this week in a widely-shared punny email. Slightly edited for dramatic emphasis, I give you

Taco-Bell Liver & Cheese

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

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

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

"I love liver and cheese."

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

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

"How well can you do?"

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

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

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

"How about you, little guy?"

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

"Liver alone, cheese mine."

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

Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)


· For \ Four \ Fore! Philosophical Explanations ·

Obviously, I'm stuck in a rut, if only trivially so, or should I say titularly? I'm referring to my recent titles, Metaphors \ Methods \ Models, I \ Eye \ Aye, and, now, For \ Four \ Fore! Each one is, I suppose, trivially warning me to keep alert to the matter of redundant form — or even reiterative function. In any event, I think I'll soon desist.

Meanwhile, I've a story to tell about the late philosopher Robert Nozick (dead last January 23rd) whose 1981 tome Philosophical Explanations fits my title nearly. Nozick's story is this.

 · Robert Nozick ·

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:


"Er, I was wondering if you might care to say something — you know — about the footnote at the bottom of page 557."

He laughed — breaking into a broad smile — "Oh, that's an academic joke."

"Aye, that's," I said, "just what I thought."

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. Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations: Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1982, 555-57.

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:

The listing of five possibilities about our relationship to value, as well as the further responses to the decline of realism, forswears one frequently traveled route to intellectual influence: devising a classification of three character types, via which people could puzzle over where they and their mates fit, categorize their friends, understand different social interactions, and play parlor games. Thus we have had Freud's oral, anal, and genital; Sheldon's mesomorph, endomorph, and ectomorph; Reisman, Glazer and Denny's inner-directed, other-directed, and autonomous; Reich's Consciousness I, II, and III. Dyadic classifications (such as introvert, extrovert) have less interest, while quadratic ones apparently are too complicated for most people to keep fully in mind, which is why there is no holy Quadrinity.

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)


· Metaphors \ Methods \ Models — Dirty-Hand Style ·

If you've been paying attention, you'll have noticed that three times in these posts I've alluded to the subject of dirty hands. I thought to reflect today on the subject, and the seeming inconsistencies in my three takes.

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

[a] man who has absolute facts to communicate from some branch of study external to himself . . . is careless of style; or at least he may be so . . . for what he has to communicate neither readily admits, nor much needs, any graces in the mode of communication; the matter transcends and oppresses the manner. The matter tells without any manner at all. Thomas DeQuincy, Style, in William T. Brewster, Representative Essays in the Theory of Style, New York: Macmillan, 1905, 142.

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)


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

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