Though I've nothing to say for myself today, do trust me. For I've a ringing endorsement. Perhaps as old as the 3R's — if you count Repetition, Redundancy, and Reverberation, too — it's for rhetoric, Rhetoric, RHETORIC (or, in this instance, commoratio: "dwelling on the point"), and that with style.
Quote: "I've known Harriet for more than a decade. I know her heart. I know her character." President Bush, introducing Supreme Court nominee Harriet Ellan Miers.
Figure of Speech: anaphora (ann AH for ah), the first-word repeater.
The president loves the anaphora, which repeats the first word of successive clauses or sentences. It's the most plain-spoken of figures. It sounds right. It sounds true. It gives Bush fewer words to remember.
Snappy Answer: "But does Harriet know the Constitution?"
If you want other sharp figures of speech every day, do tune in, for Jay has the sense to teach us all rhetoric, Rhetoric, RHETORIC with, well . . .
recency, Relevancy, and RELIABILITY, too.
But I doubt Jay's a republican, Republican, REPUBLICAN.
I should be celebrating my birthday here, but I'm in something of a blue funk. My home computer just failed on me, media-wise. If you know how to get free ZoneAlarm to stop locking up my server, send me word. In the meantime, back to some more ordinary indexing of the "consciousness of mediation."
That's my weblog theme, since as Geoffrey Hartman avers on my About page, "Style is an index of how the writer deals with the consciousness of mediation. Style is not cognitive only; it is also recognitive."
In some self-serving recognition of that view, I thought today to indicate two of my favorite YGS posts, and the text of my all-time favorite YGS passage. I'll try to be concise.
My two posts are easy:
In honor of my Norwegian heritage, with my late mother playing a critical role, is Syttende Mai: L. A. Style, an example of what I call a "link delivery system" — mucking around in mediocre prose just to link at last to a doubly apropos celebration of "freedom."
And in honor of my scholarship, with a triple mixture of philosophy, politics, and poetry, is Wilsonian Democracy, Finnish-Style: To the Finland Station, an example of what I call a "link slip system" — slipping over some needed links to mark, on Kalevala Day, the yet unfinished work of "democracy."
What Leopold has happily set me to thinking about today [December 13, 2002] is a famous passage near the end of "February." Leopold reflects on the tools of good history in it — and meditates simply and deeply on a glowing oak on his andirons, one cut, bucked, and split from an eighty-ring giant scarred by lightening and transecting, twice, American history from 1945 to 1865. He considers especially the environmental-geographical, not political, history of his oak, and dwells, at last, on the aforementioned tools making good wood of it. It is to these tools — "requisite to good oak, and to good history," as he says — that he points: namely, the saw, the wedge, and the axe.
Now I'll let you judge why so few words, happily indeed, matter so much to me today.
It was with profound sadness that I learned today of the death by cancer yesterday of John Lovas. John's comments to my postings, beginning with Mark, Mark, that Exclamation and ending with Veni Vidi, Vici, led to our visiting, in 2003, at the Modern Language Assoication meeting in San Diego, and to our collaboration, last March, at a meeting in San Francisco of the College Conference on Composition and Communication. John's lively intelligence, his dedicated professionalism, and his humane sense of justice, as those who knew him can attest, were inspiring.
To mark his passing, I thought to share today — from what he thought his own "inspiration" — Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem "The Windhover." In marking, with three rousing exclamations, what all those who have read A Writing Teacher's Blog saw in John, Hopkins shows us — students, colleagues, and fellow bloggers alike — what it really means to "take wing."
The Windhover To Christ Our Lord
I CAUGHT this morning morning's minion, king- dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing, As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear, Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.
Function Follows FormIt renders two very helpful buttons I've crafted to "blockquote" my code above and, indeed, to "pullquote," at left, its point: "Function Follows Form" (indicatively speaking). I've thought to share it to demonstrate how self-referencing recursions can sometimes be partly seen in textual or visual representation, at least if carefully deformed and wholly unworkable. Happily, you can find them both below, even if you can't use them in my two left-hand BQ/PQ buttons.
Naturally, there are more — involving Perl script, ASCII code, binary digits, electrons, quarks, even theorized strings, I hear. All of which goes to show that such backend matters can become enormously complicated.
But it's been that way from the get-go. Indeed, you might recall my first nod to Geoffrey Hartman's apt take on style, "an index of how the writer deals with the consciousness of mediation." So I thought to end by extending Hartman's point with a quotation drawn from a programmer much smarter than I, LeRoy Searle — a Seattle writer who marks Hartman's point also more stylishly than I:
[T]he shape of language, as articulation [Searle writes], is the realization of a potential; and what is produced in the exercise of the power is a form. Linguistic insight is based on the ability to infer from manifest examples the function of the example from its form, as when one recognizes that the relation between a topic and a comment is invariant, no matter what the content of the topic or the comment. So too with subjects and predicates, noun phrases and verb phrases, parts of speech, inflectional patterns, and so on. It follows that items in a language have not "meaning" but only a distinctive shape and that understanding any articulate expression requires assigning an interpretation to that shape.
My theme today is reading. It's naturally elementary — Dr. Seuss style — with a dash of rhetorical bitters added to my final result. "So what's new?" you might ask. Just that I'm in a blue funk about recent comment spam here.
Beyond my autumn paper grading (sadly occupying this last week), I've been fighting on the front lines of some intriguing political warfare. Consider how on the day after posting My New England Patriotism: Red Green Style, I received a thousand-plus spam messages. After two hours scrubbing their blue filth out, I found one of at least amusing, ironically geeky significance:
Lesser-Known Programming Languages #2: RENE
Named after the famous French philosopher and mathematician Rene DesCartes, RENE is a language used for artificial intelligence. The language is being developed at the Chicago Center of Machine Politics and Programming under a grant from the Jane Byrne Victory Fund. A spokesman described the language as Just as great as dis [sic] city of ours.
The center is very pleased with progress to date. They say they have almost succeeded in getting a VAX to think. However, sources inside the organization say that each time the machine fails to think it ceases to exist.
Naturally, I was amused by the clear, distinct style, but when scores more messages appeared later, I had had enough: I simply closed comments on old posts, but with RENE then acknowledging my latest move:
How doth the VAX's C compiler
Improve its object code.
And even as we speak does it
Increase the system load.
How patiently it seems to run
And spit out error flags,
While users, with frustration, all
Tear their clothes to rags.
That seemed the last word. But had not my site then been hacked Wednesday — breifly shutting it down — I'd not have another. All I can think now is that RENE is (if you'll pardon my French) just some impatient, blue-talking, ruddy political S/he/it.
· Tradition and the Individual Talent: Aristotle Does the Blog ·
It's official.Languagehat has found clear reference to Weblogging in Aristotle's Metaphysics. Although not definitively checked yet, it's clear from the style — noted in Style as a Test of Truth — that we might give grammatical, if not logical, assent to his discovery, and rhetorically, I'm sure even Aristotelians would agree: the text seems genuine. Here is Languagehat's find.
All the same, as we have said, the causes and principles which they describe are capable of application to the remoter class of websites (topoi tou histou) as well, and indeed are better fitted to these. But as to how there are to be updates, if all that is premissed is the Linked and the Unlinked, and Present and Past, they do not even hint; nor how, without updates and change, there can be generation and destruction, or the activities of the links which traverse the web. And further, assuming that it be granted to them or proved by them that blogs (blogoi) are composed of these factors, yet how is it to be explained that some are lesser, and others greater? For in their premisses and statements they are speaking just as much about virtual as about mathematical objects; and this is why they have made no mention of markups (anasemeia) or links or other similar phenomena, because, I presume, they have no separate explanation of virtual things. Again, how are we to understand that number and the modifications of number are the causes of all being and updating, both in the beginning and now, and at the same time that there is no other number than the number of which the universe is composed? Because when they make out that Opinion and News are in such and such a region, and a little above or below them Controversy and Disharmony or Flames, and when they state as proof of this that each of these abstractions is a number; and that also in this region there is already a plurality of the magnitudes composed of number, inasmuch as these modifications of number correspond to these several regions,?is the number which we must understand each of these abstractions to be the same number which is present in the virtual universe, or another kind of number?
Here are the context and reader comments, too; I can't help today but note my comment:
Ethos, Pathos, Logos, Tragos, Blogos.
Incapacitated by emotion some have dropped letters here — L's, I think (ogos, bogos) — but certainly you've honestly provided us the authoritative, virtual text.
To which Languagehat replied: "I mean, some people seem to think blogging started with Caesar."
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.
With that I think I'll return to my neglected weekend paper grading.
· Aldo Leopold: Good Oak, Good Cedar, Good History ·
Log spliting has put me in mind of Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac (1949). It is a treasured text in the plain style, simple and direct, honest but subtle, and indeed, like a weblog, ordered monthly and topically. Here begins, for instance, Leopold's "February" — written by the warmth of "Good Oak" burning in his fireplace: "There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger," he says, "of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace." Admirable thought. Though I work no farm and own a furnace, yet as I garden and burn logs in season and end toiling today in three quarter-sections — herein called my classes — I'm happily at ease.
What Leopold has happily set me to thinking about today is a famous passage near the end of "February." Leopold reflects on the tools of good history in it — and meditates simply and deeply on a glowing oak on his andirons, one cut, bucked, and split from an eighty-ring giant scarred by lightening and transecting, twice, American history from 1945 to 1865. He considers especially the environmental-geographical, not political, history of his oak, and dwells, at last, on the aforementioned tools making good wood of it. It is to these tools — "requisite to good oak, and to good history," as he says — that he points: namely, the saw, the wedge, and the axe.
The saw works only across the years, which it must deal with one by one, in sequence. From each year the raker teeth pull little chips of fact, which accumulate in little piles, called sawdust by woodsmen and archives by historians; both judge the character of what lies within by the character of the samples thus made visible without. It is not until the transect is completed that the tree falls, and the stump yields a collective view of a century. By its fall the tree attests the unity of the hodge-podge called history.
The wedge, on the other hand, works only in radial splits; such a split yields a collective view of all the years at once, or no view at all, depending on the skill with which the plane of the split is chosen. (If in doubt, let the section season for a year until a crack develops. Many a hastily driven wedge lies rusting in the woods, embedded in unsplittable cross-grain.)
The axe functions only at an angle diagonal to the years, and this only for the peripheral rings of the recent past. Its special function is to lop limbs, for which both saw and wedge are useless.
Tomorrow, you should know, I am going to be making myself useful with the wedge (probably between rain showers). But I'm working on "Good Cedar," not "Good Oak." Two summers ago a Stihl chainsaw felled the cedars I'm splitting — indeed, cedars killed not by lightening but by tree bugs. But like Leopold's oak my cedar will soon warm the holidays (as it has warmed me twice already in summer) in a doubly reflective glow of Leopold's environmental meditation. Understandably, though, Leopold is an especially difficult stylist to follow.
Those of you who have seen Doonesbury's Blog-strips will recall the one on the blogger's penchant for clever, messed-up punctuation. Of course, I found it amusing, since I've tried my best to oblige even here. Messing with punctuation, I sometimes think, is the essence of style. But words are no less important.
Requires No Work
It so happens I've just learned how to mess with words wonderfully, and as I've been harping on that theme a while (as the artfully difficult grace of style) I thought to share — though I must confess it requires no work and may thus be doubly suspect. In any event, here's the impressively clever "Dialectizer."
Just Click-'n-Clack your way through my site as you will — but please, will someone tell Tom and Ray Magliozzi I'm sorry they're not listed yet.
I've studiously avoided so far the moniker of choice for my scribble-page here, Blog — short for Weblog, or Web Log, I don't know which.
Gary Trudeau has given me an excuse, anyway, to leave a particularly tough tree I've been sawing on and thank him personally. Should he ever cruise the timber out this way, I'd throw a (b)log on the fire and pass around the b(l)ottle. (I think of myself as a Logger, of course.) In any case, it feels good — therapeutic even — to see him name my work so. It's so much like his — save, of course, for slight differences in our pay, notoriety, and longevity (but I'm not complaining: I'm in a [b]logger sort of mood today, in word and deed).
If you haven't yet seen Trudeau's new work, check it out, or at least the trace of his now-vanished (b)log-set.
I discovered today a new weblog, from Minnesota — Wrote.org, a fascinating collection of old newspaper pieces from the Minnetonka Record and other papers. Though materially a century old, it's as fresh, stylistically, as "Yesterday's News Today" (the site's apt description).
Here's a recent entry, from March 11, 1910:
A game of chance in which the chances are about even. The man leads at first, but after leaving the altar he usually follows breathlessly in his wife's trail. The rules are very confusing. If a masked player holds you up some night at the end of a long gun, it is called robbery, and entitles you to telephone the police, but if your wife holds you up for a much larger amount the next morning at the end of a long hug, it is termed diplomacy, and counts in her favor. In this, as in other games of life, wives are usually allowed more privileges than other outlaws. — Judge
Who is this "Judge" I want to know, so crisp of judgment and witty, too? What exactly is he saying? Should I or maybe some grim PC cop detect double-entendre here: a sexy "member of the bar" held up in the morning, or just some Judge? Frankly, I don't know, and don't care — 'cause this guy's got style.
So does Minnetonka's Record. Judge your own local rag by the standard, and weep.
· Jacques Barzun "Takes On" Wayward Educationists ·
Newsweek's issue of 9/30 featured a fine "My Turn" essay called "Forget the Fads — The Old Way Works Best." A colleague dropped a copy in my mailbox yesterday, and after reading it on my way to class and then reflecting on it overnight, I thought more seriously about it: "Where," I thought, "have I seen these ideas expressed before?" Then bingo: Jacques Barzun, Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, the sanest, shrewdest collection of education essays ever.
But to Newsweek first. Author Evan Keliher, author of Guerrilla Warfare for Teachers: (A Survival Guide), takes on the likes of Walter H. Annenberg and others in it, who, with private, sometimes public funds, have endowed Projects, Programs, and Policies aplenty while forgetting, of course, the fourth, most important "P": People (classroom teachers especially).
What's the result of their work? Mostly meetings. In fact, while making my slow way to Barzun overnight, I think I was put on track by chancing to read one such teacher, Naomi Chana, in her fine weblog Baraita.
We do not have a faculty meeting this week [she writes, in Two Texts Over Easy]. This is exciting, because for the past seven weeks we've had meetings every week — a spot of curricular reform, some mission-y stuff, a few searches to get underway, all things that needed doing. I, of course, got accustomed to the weekly meetings because I'd never known anything else. But this week we are meeting-free, and — in further proof that all's well with the academic world — . . .
Do you sense the relief here? Bored? Call a meeting, all educationists say, their answer to every curricular ill. And their question? Why, as Keliher explains, it's ever the same, a variation on the one Pharoah put to his geometry teacher Euclid — "Isn't there a short-cut hereabouts?" "No," Euclid rightly replied, "there is no royal road to geometry."
Obviously I'm not on it. So on to Barzun. In one essay, "The Art of Making Teachers" prefacing "Occupational Disease: Verbal Inflation," Barzun defines the problem by taking a bee-line to the heart of Keliher's complaint and of Chana's relief: the style road. He simply fixes on the chronic disjunction between educationists' words and deeds, on all educationese — powered by big bucks and small ideas — that turns teachers like Keliher into Survivalists and those like Chana into Dutiful-but-Duly-Relieved Skippers.
By temperment they [educationists] have no interest in Learning or capacity for it; by purpose they are bent not on instruction but on social work. They care little about history or science or good English, but they grow keen about any scheme of betterment; one recent proposal is: teach the importance of washing the hands.
The result of half a century or more of this world-reforming attitude may be seen in the language in which educationists think and talk. A fair sampling appears in the discussion of art teaching . . . : It[s] characteristics are: abstraction instead of direct naming; exaggeration of goals and results; seeing the student not as an individual but as an example of some psychological generality; taking any indirect means in place of the straight one; and finally: mistaking words for facts, and intentions for hard work.
Such is the educationist mind everywhere.
That's enough to make one educationist like me ashamed, for here I am today (October 11th), dutifully heading off to a meeting to hear talk about "mission-y" things (love that word) — having not yet learned to "wash my hands" of the stuff (in deed at least). But Listenin' to the Talk ain't Talkin' It, is it?