|Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds|
The July/August Yale Alumni Magazine includes a piece entitled “Why ‘Bad’ English Isn’t.” Describing the work of Raffaella Zanuttini, a linguistics professor at Yale, the article’s author Peggy Edersheim Kalb, says, “Variation in our language, she argues, is a natural and very human process, whether it happens across geographic area or generations, socioeconomic lines or ethnic groups.” Kalb describes Zanuttini advocating a kind of pluralism in which "local dialect(s)" co exist with "the dialect of the elite.” Some of the dialects that Zanuttini validates are what standard bearers for correctness would call bad English. And one could probably count a number of formally educated Yale undergrads amongst those who’d hold such views in high dudgeon. After all, if you attack language, you’re attacking civilization. Huck and Jim didn’t speak correct English, but they’re characters in a novel. In fact, a new edition of Huckleberry Finn has been produced removing some of the racist language. The edition has its defenders and critics. And the issue is tantamount to the one that Zanuttini is dealing with. One could say if Mark Twain is sanctioning the use of poor grammar or racist speech, he’s setting a poor example. On the other hand, if beauty is truth, then beauty would be the victim of such a antiseptic approach to language. In Joyce’s Ulysses similarly you find a high level appreciation of language and structure coexisting with the vulgate. Anyone who has had dealings with the language police, who take particular joy in informing you it’s “he and I” instead of “him and me”will find Zanuttini’s approach refreshing, particularly since there’s an awareness of the fact that the King’s English exists in a dialectic with that of the people. Upstairs, downstairs, the high and the lo all should all be considered free speech. You don’t need no self appointed expert discountenancing your right to express yourself. Ain’t that the truth?
Friday, November 29, 2013
Thursday, November 28, 2013
|Photograph: Rina Castelnuovo For The New York Times|
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
|Mount Redoubt Eruption|
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Leon Wieseltier has written his own Tractatus. At least that’s the unequivocal aphoristic style in which the first three paragraphs of his review of Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel in The New York Times Book Review (“The State of Israel,” NYT, 11/21/13) read like. Here are some of his propositions: 1) “Israel’s problems are too often combined and promoted into a Problem, which has the effect of emptying the Jewish state of its actuality and consigning it to a historical provisionality” 2) “existence itself must never be regarded as an experiment” 3)“Israel is not a proposition…Its facticity is one of the great accomplishments of the Jews’ history.” If we think back on Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus his proposition 1 was “The world is all that is the case” and his last proposition number 7 reads, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”With respect to his first propostion, Wieseltier appears to be in complete agreement with Wittgenstein (the title of the review is incidentally a wonderful double-entendre). He creates a philosophical argument for a seemingly de facto state (unless one discountenances political realities in favor of biblical justifications for the piece of real estate we call Israel).Wieseltier, however, appears to be in disagreement with proposition 7, the most quoted and compelling of Wittgenstein’s statements. He is not silent about that which cannot be said. In fact, a lot of things can’t be said about any political entity and particularly one as young as Israel. The creation of both the Roman and Ottoman empires and modern nation states, like the birth and death of individuals, remains one of the great mysteries of human existence and something which great historians like Gibbon, Carlyle and Spengler have spent lifetimes trying to understand.
Monday, November 25, 2013
|Photograph: The Daily Mail|
“Train in India Hits Elephants Crossing Track” (NYT, 11/15/13) may be the saddest story reported this year. There have been many terrible stories. Certainly the carnage following the typhoon in the Philippines is a constantly unfolding Pandora’s Box of horrors. Add to that the case of Ariel Castro (“Death in Prison of Man Who Held Ohio Women Captive Prompts Investigations, NYT, 9/4/13) and the kidnapped girls in Cleveland, the young woman recently shot in the face in Chicago (“Fatal Shooting of Black Woman Outside Detroit Stirs Racial Tensions," NYT, 11/14/13), the 9 year old boy killed (“Boy, 9, Is Killed by S.U.V. in Brooklyn,” NYT, 11/2/13) when a SUV jumped the curb in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, the twisters that recently reeked havoc in the Midwest. Add to that the suffering that still lies in the wake of Sandy and the fact that there are people in New York and New Jersey whose lives have still not returned to a semblance of normality (one displaced family was reported eking out an existence cramped into a Times Square hotel room where they have subsisted on fast food). Rob Ford continues to provide comic relief as North American’s resident Falstaff and George Zimmerman keeps getting arrested. The power of poetry is that it contains eternity in a finite number of words. The elephants are like poetry. The image of them being destroyed epitomizes both the sentiments of helplessness and senselessness which is the essence of pure tragedy. In addition elephants are large and stately, fitting the Aristotelian view of tragedy, which alludes to the fall of a person of greatness. What could be a greater representation of the greatness itself than the elephant? There was one female elephant who the Times said literally “fell into a ravine below the tracks." The Times quoted a statement Hiten Burman West Bengal’s forestry minister gave to the Associated Press to the effect that “The herd scattered but returned to the railroad tracks and stood there for quite some time before they were driven away by forest guards.” The image is awful and yet also creates its own brand of awe. “More than 26,000 elephants are believed to live in India, where they are closely associated with the Hindu god of wisdom,” was how the Times writer Hari Kumar began his concluding paragraph.