Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Press Your Luck Scott, exhausted, opens Outlook and prepares to check his email for the first time today. He would prefer not to check it ever again, but must send off an article before the end of business hours. The tension shows on his face. Not about the article, but about what might await him in his inbox. Scott: BIG MONEY NO WHAMMIES BIG MONEY NO WHAMMIES BIG MONEY NO WHAMMIES! The deluge begins. Al3X recommends he tries C1Ala5. H-Net Something-or-Other requests something or other. Scott: BIG MONEY NO WHAMMIES BIG MONEY NO WHA— An email with an unfamiliar name is not shuffled to a sub-folder. He closes his eyes. Scott: (softly) no whammies ... no whammies ... no whammies ... He opens one eye and slowly reads the first line. It is the first of many, many letters of support. He considers himself lucky, and is momentarily relieved. Scott: C'mon now! NO WHAMMIES NO WHAMMIES NO WHAMMIES NO WAIT WHAT? Another email with a strange subject line from an unknown sender. He baits his breath so fast he draws blood. However, as he does not need his carpets cleaned this month, his eyes continue down the screen. Scott: BIG MONEY NOW, BIG MONEY NOW, NO WHAMMIES BIG MONEY NO WHAMMIES! One hundred emails pass. Then two. Then three. Scott's face becomes the very portrait of the man subscribed to too many listservs. Four hundred emails have arrived and been ushered into the appropriate sub-folder, destined to be read as soon as Scott finishes that pile of New Yorkers from 2003. Her attention drawn by all his yelling, The Little Womedievalist enters the room and addresses Scott. Scott: (winded) big ... big ... money ... no ... no ... whammies. LW: What are you doing? Scott: Ch-ch-check-ing m-m-mail. LW: And? Scott: No whammies. LW: No what? Scott: Whammies, I say, no whammies. Praise Jesus, no whammies.
A Post Every High School Graduate Should Be Able To Understand* Over at Crooked Timber, Seth Edenbaum churlishly proclaimed me another fatuous academic who abjures clarity: Academic snobbery is snobbery first and foremost ... Kaufman used the very specific language of a snobbery that I for long standing and very personal reasons find repulsive ... It's a class thing. The sentence he identified as incontrovertible evidence of my snobbery? I mean to sound light and quippy, but I seem destined to the stentorian. I pay attention to my prose. Some words, like "stentorian," have a knack for enacting their meaning. My defense of tweedy naïvete sounded overwrought, so I apologized in language equally overwrought. Little is less "light and quippy" than a phrase like "destined to the stentorian." Edenbaum, I presume, would have me write more abstemious prose—my tactical naïvete made him "wanna go all Joan Didion on his sorry ass," a phrase seemingly designed to compel Joan Didion to wanna go all Joan Didion on his sorry ass, but I digress. When Edenbaum is crowned King of the Words, all this ironic chicanery will stop. His Omnipotence will put an end to the Hegemony of the Facetious and the deleterious playfulness of its oligarchs. Sentences like this one, from Little Dorrit, would be banned: How there had been a final interview with the head of the Circumlocution Office that very morning, and how the Brazen Head had spoken, and had been, upon the whole, and under all the circumstances, and looking at it from the various points of view, of opinion that one of two courses was to be pursued in respect of the business: that was to say, either to leave it alone for evermore, or to begin it all over again. See how Dickens interpolated the feckless phrasing of those who work in the Circumlocution into his description of its workings? Such loquaciousness might be literarily effective, but to the supercilious Edenbaum, such rhetorical flourishes betray mannered emptiness. They are mere rhetoric, the feckless noodlings of orthographic nihilists like Joyce. When Edenbaum is King, he will declare war on the jejune. In the beginning, his campaign will be subtle—a little gerrymandering here, a little disenfranchising there, you know, the quotidian manipulations of contemporary politics—but his bellicose nature will out soon enough. Questionable language will be expurgated. (The Chief of Soliquies is reputed to have asked the Second Assessor of British Literature, Elizabethean Divsion: "Do 'outrageous fortunes' really need 'slings' and 'arrows'? Are these 'fortunes' even 'outrageous'? Winnow 'em out!") Any novel not written by Hemingway will be bowdlerized. When his administration publishes its official lexicon—complete with a taxonomy of adjectives and guide to their proper usage—the public, before only mildly unsettled, will become tempestuous. They will demand their representatives mount a filibuster, futile though they know it will be. The more vehement will call for them to impeach Edenbaum, but you cannot impeach a king. He will appear on television with a diffident smirk that grows into an obsequious smile as he explains why he had to remove...

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