Monday, 30 November 2009

Cultural Illiteracy: Professor, teach thyself

When two "academic" books stunned the blase' New York publishing industry this summer by hovering on top during the dog days of Stephen King and Danielle Steele, I decided--as an ex-academic with a special interest in getting thoughtful messages onto the more massive media--I'd better take a look.
Alas, Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind and E.D. Hirsch Jr.'s Cultural Illiteracy: What Every American Needs to Know both seem to me unwittingly to exacerbate the growing gaps in income and consciousness between the underclasses and what, for lack of a better term, I'm calling the overclasses.
Bloom's is the bigger disappointment, with two subtexts that you don't need to be a psychiatrist to perceive.
The first is a question of academic turf. For two generations the social sciences have been steadily eroding the enrollment (and clout) of the humanities. This book is a blatant (and sometimes contemptible) counterpunch at the regnant misbehavioral scientist.
The other subtext is a meretriciously ad hominem swipe at affirmative action that apparently grew out of Bloom's bitterness at the black militants' ugly behavior in the 1960s at Cornell.
Parents who are going into hock putting their children through Ivy (or lower) institutions are mightily stroked by such a debater's tactics. For every black who is shoehorned into an undergraduate berth (or worse, a professional slot), one set of white parents fumes. Those are the real messages: Academic life is unfair when "trivializing" social science displaces the classics. And parental life is unfair when your qualified child is bumped down a notch to compensate for generations of black denial.
The academic infighting demeans the great tradition it presumes to defend. What do you think of a thinker who casually characterizes Margaret Mead (in a preposterously unconvincing putdown of cultural relativism) as a "sexual adventurer"? Or a man whose academic reputation rests (for what it's worth) on translations and editions of classical texts taking cheap potshots at Mortimer Alder for being a businessman who is more interested in profits in his Great Books enterprises than in commissioning fresh translations?
This is Faculty Club bitchiness at it's most squalid. Bloom's book is disgraced with such ad hoc hip shots. If that is what studying the classics leads to, please renew my subscription to the National Enquirer.
A major thesis of Bloom's argument is that cultural relativism has closed the minds of American youth. I couldn't believe that a philosophy professor from a major university could unload such Sunday supplement oversimplification on his anxious public.
Anthropology, for God's sake, has never contended that one culture is as good as another. Far from it. It argues, to my complete conviction, that the traits of a particular culture exist in symbiosis to each other. Influence one trait and the entire culture reverberates.
If American foreign policy had been guided by such sophisticated understanding, we'd be in a lot less trouble than we are around the world. We need more--not less--cultural relativism to keep opening the American mind.
Take the case of English as literature. Since World War II, there have emerged across the globe regional and national literatures in English of great intrinsic value and exceedingly important tactical importance. Students who read Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart are in much better shape, intellectually and imaginatively, for understanding Africa's diverse turmoils than students who have been run through what Bloom knows of Plato. If I had to choose between assigning a second novel of Mark Twain or one by Nadine Gordimer, I'd opt for the South African.
I don't think we stand a Chinaman's chance of sorting out the contradictions of Latin America without the tutoring of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez or Carlos Fuentes. R.K. Narayan provides indispensable insight into his subcontinent. Without Derek Walcott's poetry, our comprehension of Caribbean culture remains juvenile.
But academics like Bloom who have a career invested in Plato and Rousseau falsely urge us to go back to our roots, pro forma. Our roots are best understood by all but the specialist professor in the tendrils of meaning that contemporary writers are sprouting out of their creative absorption of tradition.
Oddly, Bloom's diatribe against rock music (with which you would have expected me to huzzah) helped me understand for the first time the "cultural" meaning of the music.
Rock music is the exploitation by cynical commercial forces of the structural problems of the advanced democracies. If Prince makes you froth in the mind (as he does me), address yourself to concrete proposals for the renovation of the ghetto. If punk rock makes you sick (as it does me), take a walk through Brixton in South London or in the slums of Liverpool to see where and why it breeds.
Our own children's captivation by rock is more function of the disintegration of the family and nuclear jitters than of some musicological conspiracy.
Bloom appears as a kind of pathetic Mr. Chips who can't get his best students to share his passion for Mozart. I would guess that's an occupational hazard of consorting too much with that genius of sentimentality, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
May I suggest that rather than getting colleague Saul Bellow to write an admiring introduction (which only proves to me that great essayistic novelists can write lousy prefatory essays for friends), he read Bellow's The Dean's December, which convinces me that just as America's superpower foe is a prisoner of pain, so has our hedonistic consumer culture made almost all of us prisoners of pleasure.
Bloom's students' minds are not closing for lack of Plato or a surfeit of anthropology; they are closing because they are encased in cocoons of instant gratification from their very first Pamper to their latest fern bar. In short, Bloom rode the best seller lists because he took the weight of bad parenting off his readers' backs.
Hirsch's confusions are of a different order. If someone set our to parody our SAT culture, he couldn't do better than Hirsch has. There is a kind of higher trivia solitaire involved here. How would I do with the 1,600 items Hirsch says we need to cohere as a community? (Whew! I'm relieved, after 30 years of teaching, to find myself in his 99.99th percentile.)
But let's play the game my way for a few minutes. "Pro forma" follows "prognosis" in Hirsch's hit list. Have you ever found yourself in a teaching situation (or otherwise) when control of those two terms was crucial?
Then there's a nice run: "Jane Addams/ad hoc/ad hominem/adieu/Adirondack Mountains." Is it more important to know who Jane was than to help community settlements in your city?
Following some of Bloom's ad hoc and ad hominem arguments makes me wish I could bid him adieu for a retreat in the Adirondack Mountains to reconsider his mean-spirited, small-minded flattering of parents who are worried that even the best SATs may not guarantee their children a run on the narrowing ladder of upward mobility.
If Margaret Mead's minions are the heavies of Bloom's apocalypse, John Dewey is Hirsch's devil. I wish I had a nickel for every English professor who put Dewey down just before confessing he had never read a word of that philosopher's work.
Let me remind English professor Hirsch of a crucial bit of our intellectual history. Seventy-five years ago the Ivymen who ran the Modern Language Association decided not to concern themselves with the common schools, in spite of Jefferson's warning that a democracy could be no better than the quality of its elementary education. The National Council of Teachers of English was formed--in an eventually devastating act of cultural apartheid--to train teachers and monitor curriculum.
MLA realized what a catastrophic decision it had made to confine its attentions to elite universities. But the damage had been done. It wasn't John Dewey who brainwashed two generations of teachers. It was mediocrities who were cut off from the Great Tradition and from original American philosophers like John Dewey and Williams James.
We need more--not less--John Dewey in our schools. We put our money and our best teachers into preparing an overclass for better SATs, and we created a divisive mess. Until the estrangement of our academic intellectuals from the common schools is ended, we will get two cultures--underclass and overclass--more and more divided, more and more incapable of working together to resolve the huge debts that have been piling up since World War I. They make our current fiscal budget crisis a piker by comparison.
It is silly, nominalism to argue, as Hirsch does, that 4,600 terms in common will create a common culture. Our problem is a cultural economy that overproduces Ph.D.s and underproduces first-rate elementary and high school teachers.
On Hirsch's list, by the way, John Dewey rests between "devil can cite Scripture, The" and "dialectic." Ha. Just so.

from Welcomat, Vol XVII, No. 20, Philadelphia, December 9, 1987

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Airport / Roanoke

Space age travelers
fidget over Sunday funnies
waiting for a fateless ceiling
their Blue Ridge foliage
blurred to useless tarmac
wasteland runways
going nowhere
Nature taunts Technicolor man
with a flicker of fog

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Labrador Love

No site's too glacial
for such love as ours--
Out of Atlantic gales,
but sighting iceberg drifts--
We made a bed of crags
and resting us on moss
as roughly soft as us
we cooled our arctic ardors
while icebreak thunders
shielded our sunlit cries


It could be summer
(that calm pace, your turning naked)
the way my blood fires.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Hi Fi

Sam Goody sold us
the FM always did drift
even when the blond cabinet
was as new and unabused
as were you then, my love.
soon we became WQXR-wise.
First the AM went
then the crystal pickup
Now rock's its own speed
too expensive to try
to patch up any more.
For two who no longer listen
distortion is a way of living
apart, together.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

A Week's Groceries

As suddenly as
sodden bottomed
cardboard carton mushes,
from capillary wet,
spilling a sample
of our weekly life
for all to see--
so fell apart
our diverging lives
to eat alone.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Wildwood Twilight: Early May

Not yet the blur
of bicep and breast
perpetual emotions
flighty frisbee souls

Only the gentlest whir
of gull, wing surfing,
riding an Atlantic gale alone
with surest touch, for us.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The American Newspaperman by Bernard A. Weisberger

The Chicago History of American Civilization contains two kinds of volumes--chronological and topical. Weisberger's book falls into the latter category, and divides the history of the American newspaper into seven phases: the colonial printer and the public business; politics and press in the infant republic; special audience papers in the early nineteenth century; mid-century innovations caused by increased democracy, improved technology, and an intensified search for profits; the creation of newspaper empires through the last half of the nineteenth century; the world of reporting and punditry in the early twentieth century; and a final section on the impact of the newer media and conditions on "the vanishing newspaperman."

The history of American journalism suffers from unevenly distributed documentation and inadequate conceptual apparatus. The first problem leads to the kind of overminute examination of the few precious scraps of surviving colonial newspapers characteristic of our early histories of journalism. The latter difficulty tends to cause later histories of journalism to break down, shortly after the Civil War period, into a formless registry of changing editors, mergers, and suspensions. Weisberger has avoided both these misemphases; the former through brilliantly written precis of earlier journals, the latter by judiciously selecting typical developments and analyzing them thoroughly. Thus, within the compass of little more than two hundred pages, he has written an extraordinarily good orientation to the complex history of the American newspaper.

Something of his method-an artful blend of generalization and pithy excerpt -can be gained from his summary of the colonial newspaper in 1760, just before it assumed its crucial role in the American Revolution: "One could expect to find in it a column of 'Occurrences, or the History of the Times,' an essay or two of local or imported origin on any subject from astronomy to turnip culture, a list of advertisements running from prosaic requests to buy so-and-so's fine laces to a modernsounding claim for the wonders of some nostrum like Dr. Bateman's Pectoral Drops, the infallible destroyer of 'Fluxes, Spitting of Blood, Consumption, SmallPox, Measles, Colds, Coughs, and Pains in the Limbs or Joints.'

And always, poetry, the unfailing recourse of the eighteenthcentury writer in the grip of mirth or malice-doggerel on the appearances of comets, the visits of dignitaries, the fall in paper currency, or the sins of rival printers. Perhaps the most important of all these rhymed flights of fancy, from a journalistic point of view, was the one which began: 'A Newspaper is like a Feast; some Dish there is for every Guest' " (p. 24).

The book is based on secondary accounts, and the judicious Bibliographical Essay attests to the author's catholic reading in this growing literature. Most of his judgments, thus, are standard ones, although his perception of "special audience papers" for businessmen, religious partisans, farmers, and reformers as the characteristic pattern of prepenny-press journalism is fresh and useful.

His fear that population increases appeared to outstrip circulation growth between 1950 and 1958 seems to me to overlook the fact that a baby boom has necessarily only a delayed reaction in increased newspaper readership. Similarly, his observation of the irony that "responsible monopoly" comes awkwardly from the mouths of "free enterprise" ideologists overlooks the overriding consideration that some of our best papers-Louisville, Milwaukee-come from monopoly situations and some of our worst-Boston, San Francisco-are in fiercely competitive cities. The proof of this pudding would seem to be in the reading.

Finally-and this is more an observation on the state of journalism research than a comment on Weisberger's shrewd and witty packaging of what has already been harvested-for a really fresh synthesis in journalism history we need more quantitative monographs to establish the relative influence of journalism on the course of American history. We need content analyses of typical papers to chart the changing tides of editorial and advertising content; we need modal leisure budgets of many historic American types to pin down just how much time each spent with newspapers as sources of information, entertainment, and consumership; and we need to relate this influence, over time, with the myriad other media and sources accessible to various classes, regions, occupational groups, and other significant categories of association.

As the spectrum of American media expands and audiences fractionate, it is even more important to describe clearly the total pattern of potential media exposure and the actual configurations of audience attention and influence. Until research uncovers these relationships, a book like Weisberger's will remain invaluable to nonspecialists concerned about the role of mass communication in American civilization.

University of Hawaii

Monday, 23 November 2009

Some Words for Our Ears

Among the benighted minority who squeaked through graduate training without a smidge of linguistic enlightenment, the present writer must with shame admit membership. With the hotheaded omniscience that sometimes afflicts graduate students, one could equate linguistics with Anglo-Saxon and all that jazz, and skip it. The only consolation, even compensation, is that discovering language as a discipline fifteen years later has the zing of Balboa seeing his ocean or a poet first perusing Chapman's Homer. Luckily, too, for those like me discovering the Big Truth, it is becoming easier and easier to relieve one's ignorance without even having to return to graduate school. The word is as close as your LP phono or FM radio.

The first step in a sound regimen of self-inflicted in-service training about the miracle of language is available in a remarkable radio series available on LP's; "Ways of Mankind," edited by Walter Goldschmidt of UCLA's Anthropology Department for the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (Gregory Hall, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois), is still, in my judgment, the high water mark of educational broadcasting in America. The late, great Moe Asch--founder of Folkways Records--put "A Word in your Ear" and "I Know What I Like" on an LP now available from the Library of Congress.

Ironically, for the pride of us know-how Americans, the series was created by that Canadian genius Lister Sinclair in CBC's studios at Toronto, with Ford money. English teachers who share a general skepticism about my principle that cultural anthropology is the most important single cognate course for four majors need only invest a half-hour listening time to check my hypothesis: "A Word in Your Ear: A Study in Language" has been described by the late Robert Redfield as containing in its small compass all that the general public needs to know about the nature of language.

It shows how language and culture exist in reciprocal interaction; it explains how place, time, age, sex, circumstances, and occasion affect language. Not only is this half-hour the most extraordinary elementary introduction to linguistics, but it is also a compelling work of art per se. Having used this recording for the past ten years in classes as varied as seventh-grade core and Ivy League graduate school, I now defy the recording to bore me. It is like an almost perfect poem; the more I hear it, the more I am pleasantly astonished by its structure. (The next insidious step in my subliminal campaign to get every English teacher to take at least one course in cultural anthropology is to play the flippantly phrased but serious reverse side, "I Know What I Like: A Study in the Arts.")

The next set of sounds for sorely tried ears (with little faith left in radio as a cultural force) is Dr. Bergan Evans' delightful new series for Westinghouse Broadcasting (with radio stations in New York City, Boston, Baltimore, Cleveland, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh). The Northwestern University English professor has taken that tawdry instrument of triviality-the interviewer's beeper telephone-and made out of it a machine for civilized conversation. His improvised chat about "transpire" with Theodore Bernstein, the linguistic watchdog of the New York Times, was a fascinating insight into that good grey lady's grave prose. Evans rapped Newsweek's knuckle-headed editor who had outrun his etymological information in "learned" speculation on the meaning of the "apple" controversy in the new translation of Genesis.

And why does an airport control tower talker say "Do you read me, Eastern 516?" when it's hearing not reading that is involved? These are just a few of the news-pegged items on one half-hour of Evans' linguistic omnibus, "Words in the News." Write Westinghouse if you are not within earshot of their stations. Ask them to let your NCTE affiliate put it on a local station. You'll be surprised how easy it is to convince these public-spirited broadcasters. And having listened to the series for a few weeks, you will think of local angles for a show of your own on the way language is being used, abused, and confused in your neck of the continental woods.

Out at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, they didn't wait for Doctor Evans' good example. "Where Minds Meet" is a thirteen half-hour series of aurally illustrated conversations between John Freund of the English Department and specialist colleagues. On the halfhour I heard over the Philadelphia's educational station, WHYY-FM, Freund and a colleague were discussing "Speech Sounds." Their synopsis suggests the interestingly off-beat but perfectly relevant examples they "quote" on tape to give their conversations more pedagogical point:

"Earmarks of English." Concerned chiefly with the nature of the phoneme. Emphasis is upon the importance of hearing rather than articulation in the learning of language. Examples include reversed speech sounds and words, interviews with speakers of Swedish and Chinese, and the speech of a man without a tongue.

The latter could talk intelligibly, whereas a congenitally deaf man was impossible to understand-the point so audibly underscored being that, paradoxically, the ear is more crucial than the tongue in the act of speech. Freund's series explores, among other things, feedback at cocktail parties, the varieties of noise that clutter communications channels, the intonational aspects of language, self-hearing and the experience of Helen Keller, the capacity to apprehend abstractions at successive age levels, the maturing of baby talk, famous voices as they influence ordinary speakers in search of a self-image, the Whorfian hypothesis and the explication of proverbs, the impact of fear on language, how context influences Negro and white images of each other, and, finally, programs on thinking in language and creativity with language. You have less excuse not to hear this program than the Westinghouse series.

For it is now being broadcast over the National Association of Educational Broadcasters tape network, a virtuous circle of almost 200 FM stations throughout our country. Listen, and watch your language: the linguistics you learn over radio may become your own, on tapes taken into your own classroom.

This is an abridged version of an article on "Language and Radio" to appear in the May 1963 issue of Studies in the Mass Media devoted to "The Cultural Potential of Radio."

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Leisure in America: A Social Inquiry by Max Kaplan

In the current debate over mass culture, perhaps no issue is more crucial than the presumed relationships between kinds of leisure and the quality of life in contemporary America. For America is taken to be the archtype of a mass culture, and the visible results of the first widespread democratization of leisure in human history have, not surprisingly, attracted the attention of social scientists and humanists alike.

Dr. Kaplan, who describes himself as a "humanist-social scientist," professes "a greater respect for the masses than is currently shown by the younger crop of social scientists, who (in my own opinion) have unwittingly been defending the values of a departed aristocracy and a feudal way of life." In his judgment, we have "no way of telling whether our nation is happier now than it was a century ago, and the decision cannot be made by editorials." On the other hand, he believes that "we have incontrovertible evidence that the people of our time have access to a wide variety of things, kinds of persons, ways of thought, and styles of life."

It is possible, Dr. Kaplan believes, that leisure may "prove to be a source of human identity and personal values which in former days were obtained from work and religion." This possibility rests largely on our ability to conceive "creative values" in a way that encompasses more than the arts, for "every person, in all ages, from all backgrounds, can set himself a challenge, a possibility of growth, by direct participation in creative values or as consumer and distributor of such values." The criterion seems to be the kind of rational choice that opens up an individual's intelligence and sensibility to a wider range and depth of experiences. Thus, "we may note a folk wisdom and an intellectual-educational tradition that holds that a nation with 50 million happy gamblers is not as desirable as one with 50 million Jims creating works of art."

Yet it is at least possible to argue that skillfully autonomous poker players are more "creative" than grimly therapeutic finger painters. In fact, the tension that exists in the cults of creative expression between competence and therapy is an ambiguity unresolved in Dr. Kaplan's analysis. At one point he argues that "we had better unlearn the professional's judgment of effort by the criteria of excellence that stems from a long tradition"; yet at another, he affirms: "The quality of creativity, broadly conceived, remains the paramount issue."

It would appear that his ideal for "building constructive leisure" is implicitly based on his own experiences with the Community Arts project at Champaign-Urbana where he asked: "Is there not, among all this effort, some real degree of aesthetic seeking, artistic growth, meaningful new interrelation of persons?" These are interesting and, for some kinds of people, important, leisure innovations; but it is often difficult to see the connections between such lively anecdotes and case studies and the general analysis of leisure attempted in this book.

The volume's twenty-two chapters are divided into five sections of unequal length: "Data, Methods and Issues of Leisure"some useful tables and definitions of leisure as a social relationship; "Relations and Variables in Leisure"-the variables of work, personality, family, social class, subcultures, community, the state, religion, and value systems; "Types and Meanings of Leisure"-sociability, association, games and sports, art, movement and immobility; "Processes of Leisure"-theory of social control, social roles, structure, and the modification of leisure experience; and a final chapter on creative values and prospects in the new leisure.

For a humanist with both respect and curiosity for the social sciences, there were several characteristics of the author's style that tended to inhibit assent: unseemly name-calling aimed at other traditions of social science-for example, the "imperialistic empiricists"; gratuitous methodologizing; painful neologisms-"vicinal proximity" for nearness; pretentious capitalizing"Nucleo-Hydro-Technico-Sputnico Age"; a tendency to substitute italics for evidence on important points; and a certain lack of integration between loosely strung summaries, lists of data, and barrages of rhetorical questions. In spite of these weaknesses, however, the book is valuable for the number of significant questions it raises about the ambiguities of the new leisure.

Annenberg School of Communication
University of Pennsylvania

Saturday, 21 November 2009

The Photograph and the English Teacher

The second graphic medium that English teachers have a great stake in is the photograph. There are two things we can do to accelerate the acceptance of this form at an artistic level in America. First is to make the classroom a clearing house for intelligent comment on the medium: the Saturday Review folios on "Photography as a Fine Art" which have become catalogs for their two annual exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the groundbreaking activity of the Museum of Modern Art, especially Edward Steichen's The Family of Man, an ideal classroom text available from Pocketbooks; as well as the growing library of first-rate books on the history and criticism of photography.

The great picture magazines are not only interesting in their week to week work, but distinguished series are gathered into enduring volumes not only valuable for their subject matter contents but also illustrative of first-rate photojournalism. The Life series on the West, on America's arts and skills, on the history of Western man, religion, as well as the monumental World Library. And if we keep a sharp eye out, we can catch windfalls like Time's color folio, "Shakespeare: Midsummer Night's Box Office," which will reward us for years with better instructional materials. Look, Horizon, American Heritage, and the photography magazine annuals are other sources of work that often deserves the close attention characterized by good criticism and teaching.

It would help if we stocked the general school library with a few examples of the expensive if eloquent new books which exploit fully the special characteristic of photography as an expressive medium. One especially fine example is Ansel Adams' and Nancy Newhall's This Is the American Earth (Knopf, 1960, $15), a labor of love attempting to show Americans how gravely they have abused the goodly continent entrusted to them. The director of the Sierra Club (founded in 1892 by John Muir to study and protect nature in America) writes in the foreword to this eloquent collocation of Ansel Adams' (and others') photography and Nancy Newhall's poetic prose: "Although Thomas Jefferson argued that no one generation has a right to encroach upon another generation's freedom, the future's right to know the freedom of wilderness is going fast. And it need not go at all.

A tragic loss could be prevented if only there could be broader understanding of this: that the resources of the earth do not exist just to be spent for the comfort, pleasure, or convenience of the generation or two who first learn how to spend them; that some of the resources exist for saving, and what diminished them diminished all mankind. .. ."

This ethic of conservation stands out with great power from pictures of eroded land, macadamized urban jungles, burnt-over forests, bulldozer level uniformity, as well as images of hope-green shoots against the charred trunk of a great tree, jewels of dew on grass, the miracle of a bird in flight. A book using the new eloquence of the photoessay to indict us in our careless stewardship is particularly apt for it presents a paradigm of the kind of reverence for nature and the possibilities of greater life that the humanities have a major responsibility to instill.

The second method for accelerating a mature and widely based appreciation of photography as a fine art in America is to encourage use of the medium by the student himself. Visual essays, term papers illustrated by appropriate pictures, even blackboard "exhibitions" are naturals for the English classroom. (A high school student's photoessay on prejudice, hung about the bars of a jungle gym, was the sensation of the splendid photo exhibition at the Oregon Centennial in 1959; so many Oregonians were impressed by this photomontage of their land that the state now supports the activity each year.) Superior photographers should be encouraged, just as writers are, to enter the annual Scholastic-Ansco picture contest. And interested English and art teachers should see if they can get the local newspapers to sponsor esthetically oriented photo shows.

They might also get their local TV stations to use classic photos for station breaks. The whole strategy is to get as many people as possible actively responding to the cultural potential in these new art forms. The hobby photography groups will have some enthusiasts to talk about how to use the cameras for expressive purposes. The photography magazines deserve a place in the classroom for the perspective they give. Photography would seem to have the greatest unexploited possibilities in the English curriculum both because excellent models are cheaply come by and because it is almost as cheap for individuals to "take up" the art themselves.


Mind's fingerprint
Palmer method
that other message
of an opening hand.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Decor (Interstate, Anywhere)

New motels
raise furnishings
to a pitch of sadness
Modernoid provincial
interior degradation

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Beverly Hills (Kingston, Jamaica)

Up the under side
crawled scrofulous shanties
while smartly stepping up the other
premier homes / luxury hotels
(where wealthy hillbillies
doze boozily by private pools
sun glass blind / transistor deaf)
to the impending summit--
aimless apocalypse.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Thoughts Composed After Filming a Sunrise on the Walt Whitman Bridge

For John Hart, CBS Morning News

A Hundred Years have passed, gay Camden Camerado,
You were the World's before you were ours
Your charity has begun abroad, ethnic rancor festers by the Delaware,
From Gorki's lower depths, your promiscuous sun rose in a Soviet East
"O take my hand, Walt Whitman!
Such gliding wonders! Such sighs and sounds!"
And in a scummy Dublin slum
Sean O'Casey (nee John Casey) warmed numbed fingers
at your universal fire
"Leaves of Grass: a book in which the whole world danced,
even on its way to the grave..."
Ten thousand miles South of Camden
The giant of Macchu Pichu
tuned in your airy frequencies
at fifteen, over half a century ago.

That's the good news, this century of waiting and waste:
Now the bad, Old Buddy:
Your hotel burnt out some years back
It had closed anyway, rundown, derelict
bypassed by Holiday Inns and the Anywhere Hilton
The "Poet's Corner" coffee shop teemed with garbage
When I was looking for a pious breakfast this morning
They even hassled naming the bridge after you
"Notorious homosexual" that you were
Setting machismo kids a bad example
(It pleases me that it replaced the Camden ferry)

Ignoring you, the jolly cop who let me film
Drove me to your Broad Street statue
Smearing that sunrise with blackest hatred.

October 23, 1972

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Lifting the Nordic Curtain

The historic Cooper Union in New York (where Abraham Lincoln gave one of the most crucial speeches of his political career) was the venue last Halloween weekend for another historic event: The Nordic Poetry Festival, organized by two twenty-somethings from the Finnish Consulate in New York, Kajsa Leander and Ernst Malmsten, who flew 50 poets from the Scandinavian North (and not just from the Nordic Big Four—there were amazing muses from Aland, the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, and Samiland).

The poets were put up in the sleekly rehabbed Paramount Hotel on 46th Street and given Friday on the town to sample the museums, try the restaurants, and do what most New Yorkers relish most—hang out and walk around. For most of the visitors, it was a first visit, and the euphoria was palpable. Grime and crime notwithstanding, New York still packs a visceral wallop that eclipses Dr. Johnson’s famous encomium on London.

But beneath their playful demeanor, the Nordic poets were dead serious. A handsome festival anthology of the poets’ works was selling briskly for $10, along a row of tables set up by literary bookstores and small press publishers (such as White Pine Press of Buffalo, New York which for 20 years has specialized in small editions of underknown international Third World writers).

A gratis “Meet Your Nordic Neighbors”, an 88-page brochure produced by the Nordic Council of Ministers, makes the point: “The winds of change that have swept through Europe, marking the end of an era in which two major powers and several blocks of countries were locked in wasteful and potentially disastrous military and ideological confrontation, have heralded the dawning of a new age—the age of co-operation.”

And the Nordics believe that they are the cooperators par excellence among the 19 EC and EFTA nations. Yet until they lift the Nordic Curtain of small audiences speaking and writing their diverse indigenous languages by breaking out into the English language corridor, their capacity to lead cooperatively means limited.

They want to become the equal opportunity kibitzers for landmark historic events like the quiet brokering by the Norwegian foreign minister of an entente between Israel’s Rabin and the PLO’s Arafat. When I told Swedish Academician Kjell Espemark—chairman of the Nobel Literature Prize committee—that I thought the Norwegian Foreign Minister deserved the Peace Prize next year, he smiled cagily. “Impossible: the Norwegians award the Peace Prize.”

Espemark is a good case in point for lifting the Nordic Curtain. The 63-year-old Swede, professor of comparative literature at the University of Stockholm, who was elected to the Nobel Committee at 58, is a prolific poet and novelist as well as an internationally renowned literary historian and critic. But his cycle of seven novels (four of which are already written) remain locked in Swedish.

A Shrewsbury, England translator, Joan Tate, has Englished three of the novels already, but publishers are wary of the risk of bringing out an “unknown” author. Forest Books has just published his poems.

If such a paragon has difficulty garnering a world (or at least Europe-wide) audience, how can his lessers hope for better support? The short answer is the Nordic Poetry Festival. Throwing two dozen American poets into amiable contact with their Nordic counterparts may ultimately be the most direct kind of indirection. Friendships, personal and intellectual, lead to sharing of publishing strategies. The pleasures of discovery motivate Americans to share their newly found wealth.

But the Nords are no nerds. They are leaving nothing to chance. “Nordisk Litteratur 1993” is a canny 80 page experiment: a new magazine about books from all the Nordic countries. Non-fiction and fiction; interviews and excerpts; long, short, and ultra-short presentations of more than a hundred books published in all the Nordic countries in 1992, presented in Nordic languages—and in English. The Finns gave out copies of a 435-page anthology—A Way to Measure Time: Contemporary Finnish Literature. The Danes countered with a 32-page tabloid Danish Literary Magazine.

A huge delegation from Lund was there to give moral support to “their poets.” Their presence triggered a trivia crisis over where the final sequence of Bergman’s Wild Strawberries took place—in Upsala or Lund. The Lundites have promised to silence the Uppity Upsalas by getting no less than Ingmar himself to settle this dispute.

There were over 30 Scandinavian journalists. If there was one disappointment to the organizers, it was the meager showing of American journalists. Lowly subeditors from Time and the New Yorker. No names. The poet critic John Ashberry was there—but as a poetic peer of Norwegian poet Torgeir Schjerven, not as a journalist.

The American poets were learning things about how generously the Scandinavians support their geniuses. Take 51-year-old Helsinki poet Pentt Saaritsa, Finland’s premier translator of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He gets a monthly government stipend of 5500 Finnish Marks—about $1000 US—to honor his achievements as a translator.

Easily the most beguiling muse of those moments was the 63-year-old Aland fisherman poet, Karl Erik Bergman. Bedecked with a Viking-like beard and a face mellowed by decades of hauling up Baltic herring, Bergman claims he now only fishes in good weather. But his poems work under all meteorological conditions:

Slow Learners
Aland is the country we came to.
We were bred and born in open boats
and on barren shores
by men and women in seal skins
and with the light of false fires in their eyes.
But even as the islands rose up,
and grew out of the sea,
we became compliant,
building stone churches on the shore hills.
we got to be folks.
But doffing our caps
and bowing deep
is something
many of us
haven’t learned yet.
(Translated from the Swedish by Verne Moberg, Nordic Festival Anthology.)

Hazard At Large, Welcomat, December 29, 1993

Monday, 16 November 2009

Teaching English in a Mass Society

A Series of Reflections on Excellence in Mass Communications

The rise of the more massive media of communication has not a whit changed the traditional dual role of the English teacher: he still remains the custodian of integrity in linguistic behavior and the partisan of excellence in the realm of taste and the arts. But this new cultural democracy has radically changed the context within which he must pursue his traditional ends; if his methods change, it is not then because his ideals or objectives are diminished but rather because the new conditions suggest new ways of ensuring old values.

Paradoxically, the more massive media of communication are both better and much worse in their effects than most of our classrooms. When Robert Frost makes his annual Christmas appearance on "Meet the Press," our feeble verbal attempts to define his individuality to our students seem puny indeed; or when Maurice Evans stages a Shakespearean classic on TV, the pedagogical process of explicating the play's imagery and theme is enormously accelerated.

Yet the median level of the central medium of our time unquestionably erodes the highest values of American culture. There is nothing intrinsic to TV that is responsible for this erosion. TV's ability to erode the complex web of relationships that make a high civilization possible is a matter of concern to us primarily because of its centrality, its five-hours-a-day mortgage on the leisure of the American family. Other media before its appearance helped create the traditions of a fun culture: P. T. Barnum's ballyhooey, the canonization of Hollywood stardom, press prefabrication of sports heroes and vicarious sensation, radio's applied bathos.

Television's first decade has scared us more than these earlier manifestations of a sandbox society because it has coexisted with the global stalemate of the Cold War. We thus became painfully aware that while we had been institutionalizing a painless mediocrity for the past forty years, our chief competitor had been inculcating a Spartan rigor in its citizenry.

The first responses to our guilty realization that we had been living beyond our intellectual means have not been reassuring to the humanist: Instead of recovering our lost democratic ideal of maximum individual growth, we have resorted to a kind of intercontinental muscle-flexing. Cape Canaveral could only be considered an answer by a people whose leisure is symbolized by Miami Beach, Las Vegas and Disneyland; and whose collective emotions are exhausted by the banalities of Ralph Edwards' "This Is Your Life" and the grim joie de vivre of Dick Clark's "American Bandstand."

The problem, then, is how to avoid panic after we have brought our culture to the brink of disaster and how to persuade our fellow American prodigals who have wasted our substance to reaffirm the best in our heritage and mercilessly bait those Pied Pipers of Play who, like Mad's Alfred Neuman, naively retort, "What, Me Worry?!" It is not being unnecessarily cosmic to begin a disquisition on the special problems of teaching English in contemporary America with these reflections on how an entertainment ethos has taken over our mass democracy at the very moment in time when a fast converging outside world brings us our severest test.

For our ability to use the language for dispassionate reflection and careful expression is at the crux of any widespread recovery of mature national purpose; and what happens in the English classroom today determines the possible levels of discourse on the public interest tomorrow. Similarly, the prevalence of sub-art and pseudo-art in the American landscape is both symbol and cause of the mediocrity of our aspirations as a people. Our ability to instill an affection, indeed a zeal, for true art in our students, then, also becomes essential any recovery of excellence as an ideal in American civilization. Thus we are brought back to the basic issues: How can the English teacher best pursue the traditional goals of linguistic mastery and esthetic maturity under the changed conditions of a mass society? To answer that question, we must describe the changed conditions.

The New Milieu

More people with more money and more time to choose the qualities of their lives: that is the new milieu in digest form. And each "more" is a complicating factor in the tedious if rewarding task of English teachers introducing students to the complexities of language and art. We don't have to be reminded of the "more" people, from the front of a classroom bursting at the seams. But there are side effects of the population explosion caused by industrialization. The rapidity of the changes has left most of our cities in a shambles, their central cores rotting, the most intelligent and responsible people having fled to the temporary surcease of the polite suburbs. Yet the brutality of the uncared for city takes an esthetic toll.

Every time we tell our students that the works of art discussed in class represent the best meaning of man, we risk student cynicism. For the disparity between what we hold out for them and what their outside lives will support is often too great to bring the response of aspiration; the less difficult response is cynical acquiescence in the dehumanizing standards of the decaying city. We must convince them that the humanities are neither verbal rituals nor weakened withdrawals from reality. (If we do, we run our own risk of becoming hypocritical.) The humanities are meant to transform man and his man-made environment. We must always insist that these debasing effects of mass production and mass communication are transitory phases, at least they can be overcome if man cares enough to expunge them. Teach them to believe that slums start with sloppy sentences.

"More" money in inexperienced hands has meant the excesses of the hard sell. We should neither feel superior to advertising nor be skeptical about its ability to mature as a social institution. The $11 billion dollars spent on advertising in 1959 was only a small part of the total Gross National Product of nearly $500 billion. Yet it is a crucial part, for it acts as a gatekeeper for the contents of the mass media system. And the sponsor's penchant for avoiding controversy is as well known as the tendency of advertising messages to appeal to pride, avarice, lust, and other qualities of the human animal that don't really need formal encouragement.

And advertising's power to debase the language is clear enough to English teachers, in spite of Dr. Bergen Evans' permissiveness about "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should." (The substitution of prepositions for conjunctions is less important in my judgment than advertising's constant diminution of the superlative and the weasel worded logic of some of its claims.) But English teachers are perhaps not as aware of differences within the advertising world as they should be. Under pressure from the intelligent and articulate community, enlightened businessmen are raising the standards of both form and substance in their advertising.

The graphic standards of much American advertising are truly exciting, and deserve attention for their intrinsic excellence and for rhetorical power they achieve. The New York Times ads in The Nezw Yorker, Ben Shahn's newspaper tune-in ads for CBS-TV's Hemingway productions, Bert and Harry Piel's spiel, Doyle Dane and Bernbach's campaigns for El Al airlines: these and many more show that it is economically feasible to appeal to the intelligence and sense of humor of large sectors of the public. And the decision of Standard Oil Company of New Jersey to write into its contract its refusal to control the sophisticated Broadway scripts of WNTA-TV's "The Play of the Week" promises higher levels of corporate artistic patronage from the business community. The pressure should not be a rancorous appeal for the abolition of advertising, but a steady push under the mature standards already achieved.

"More" time is at once our greatest challenge and most serious problem. For if not for culture then for mental health, it is essential that the beneficiaries of democratized leisure-everyone-be shown that the myth of "free time" is one of our greatest delusions in America. Statisticians like to reel off the figures about how much more time we have to kill than our grandfathers. The truth is that we live in so much more complex an environment than our ancestors that we need to reinvest much if not most of our so-called free time into deeper personal maturity and wider social intercourse just to keep our complicated society viable.

It is probably inevitable that as the democratic masses are first released from the bonds of unrewarding work or unremitting toil that they should go on a binge of private fun. But if our society is not to keep piling up the social deficits that we sweep swiftly under the rug of non-stop living room entertainment, then a considerable portion of the new free time must be devoted to political action and cultural participation that will only be as good as the education we gave them for using language in civilized discourse and understanding of the arts.

More people with more money and more time to choose is not necessarily an equation of despair. The English teacher is in an ideal position to change the magic word "more" into the mature standard "better," in short, to fulfill the American promise by seeing to it that our revolution in quantity, already achieved, is followed by an equally pervasive revolution in quality. Inhibiting such a development is a climate of belief in America which is going in the opposite direction.

Source: The English Journal, Vol. 49, No. 5 (May, 1960), pp. 354-356
Published by: National Council of Teachers of English

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Do Words Work Good, like Instruments Should?

Rarely has the publication of a book sparked a controversy as intense as that produced by the appearance of Webster's Third International. Since when should a dictionary lead to disputes more impassioned than those attending, say, Nabokov's Lolita or Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer? That a scientifically "justified" acquiescence in the word "ain't" should touch so many raw nerves is on the surface surprising. But not really.

For beneath the surface lie many crucial issues about the prospects for linguistic integrity in our cultural democracy. Unfortunately, instead of clarifying these issues, we display a rare talent for getting sidetracked. A recent addition to the debate by the distinguished poet and critic John Ciardi so illuminates these useless confusions that I comment on them at the risk of adding the further fuel of attention to his senselessly inflammatory remarks. If the episode has taught me anything, it is that a good poet and fine critic is not necessarily even a mediocre linguist.

Ciardi alludes, first of all, to a TV encounter with Bergen Evans on "The Last Word." I confess to having for a long time been put off by Professor Evans' linguistic latitudinarianism on that series: it struck me, mistakenly I must admit, that Evans seemed to be over-compensating for a certain personal prissiness by being the archetypal good guy about permissiveness in language.

But Ciardi recalls challenging the usage "a crusading Egyptian newspaper" on the grounds that Moslems were de facto disqualified to engage in any Crusade, for religious reasons. Evans was perfectly willing to extend the original meaning of the word to include "any campaign or concerted action toward a good cause." Ciardi was loath to give up the, to him, crucial connotations of "cross" in the word crusade. Is that really the crux of the matter? Poet Ciardi crossed himself up surely by confusing his own professional need to explore the life histories of words with less Olympian mortals' obligation to see and say as clearly as possible.

Another linguistic "cause celebre" cited by Ciardi was his blue pencilling the word "arrive" in an ex-Navy student's autobiographical sentence: "We arrived at our mid-ocean rendezvous point." Why? "Arrive" comes from the Latin ad ripa, meaning "to the bank." Ever heard of a river bank in the middle of an ocean? It is really difficult to take seriously this kind of nit-wit picking.

More convincing is Ciardi's complaint about the sloppy fusing of distinctly different words like "imply" and "infer" into fuzzy synonyms. But the basis of Ciardi's complaint is less credible: "Imply" comes, he says, from the Latin "to fold into" and "infer" from "to carry into." Interesting etymological minutiae, but what real light do they throw on the basic problem, viz. "imply" meaning "indirectly suggesting" as opposed to "infer" meaning "deducing." Do I infer from his etymological sortie that he imimplies that 'where a word came from a thousand years ago is more important for school children to know than what educated men agree it means today? I should hope not.

His own brilliant explication of the term "broadcast" suggests a more thoughtful alternative. The original metaphor, of course, is that of a sower flinging seed into the ready earth with a broad sweep of his arm. How many who use this word today are aware of its metaphorical roots? Does it hurt their thought and expression not to know? It would surely enrich them to have a deep curiosity about the history of their language. But I doubt if it would make them more thoughtful and mature men. Mr. Ciardi's unconvincing arguments in his Saturday Review piece (October 27, 1962) further suggest etymology and logic are only distant cousins if related at all.

If one is unconvinced, finally, by Ciardi's "crusade" against Webster's Third, still it is easy enough to share his too free-floating anxiety. Discourse, public and private, is not nearly as clear as it needs to be in America today. And Ciardi is right in stating that the English teacher has a great responsibility for purging our common habits of language of their debilities.

But our alternatives must not be limited, as they are at present, to a narrow middle range of sullen anger and frustration at the pushy hordes of democratic vulgarians. We must be both. more comprehensive and more particular. More comprehensive, in that we must show how the gathering forces of politics, salesmanship, and entertainment condition everything we do in the schools. Give us, then, philosophies to make our textbooks and teacher training institutions sophisticated enough in their discussions of the corruption of word and argument in the modern world.

And more particular too. For in the last analysis there can be nothing but a painful transition from the traditional society where a few do the thinking for the many to the open society in which everyone must learn to think for himself. It is complicating matters today that some thoughtful and humane people want Everyman to run to high poetry before he has mastered the lowly art of walking in rational discourse.

The pain stems from our assigning frequent themes and worrying over them with the students who need to know how to be clear and logical. It would be more pleasant for us to talk about poetry, fiction, and drama. But pruning the wrong word, the superfluous word, the awkward sentence, the lack of evidence and logic is the way to improve the state of our common language. This is drudgery. There are too few ready to accept the challenge of this drudgery.

In my judgment, too much energy and intelligence in the English profession is invested in scholarship only vaguely productive of the civilizing qualities assumed to flow automatically from the humanities. Too much criticism is oneupmanship in narrowing circles of communication. To use a Galbraithian analogy, the private sector of our cultural economy concerned with studying literature and its criticism is overdeveloped; the public sector devoted to such mundane skills as using the right word, writing the clear sentence, and developing the logical paragraph is underdeveloped.

We may have to change the priorities in our economy of English teaching. Fewer poems, fewer explications: more themes, more blue pencils. Not the makings of a "crusade" here, surely; but, then, we aren't supposed to choose our own crosses.

The trick is lugging gracefully the one society or one's chosen role inflicts. Business before pleasure, please.

Source: The English Journal, Vol. 52, No. 2 (Feb., 1963), pp. 147-148
Published by: National Council of Teachers of English

Saturday, 14 November 2009

How Educational Can Television Be?

What ETV ought to be doing is addressing itself to the backlog of public deficits, very often blue collar in nature, which the commercial channels don't handle in any systematic way. Retraining automation's unemployables, developing a broadly based attack on urban blight, facing squarely the obdurate pockets of religious and radical obscurantism, overcoming the deficits in quality teaching in our public school system-these would seem to me to be first on any thoughtful agenda, not creating more High Culture programming for minorities already well served by FM radio, high price paperbacks, and long playing records.

But the ETV policy makers are in a tough economic bind. As their foundation money runs out, there will be an increasing tendency to turn to the public relations arms of large corporations for support. The men who disburse such funds are themselves, generally, High Culture enthusiasts. They are also likely to be viewers of ETV as presently programmed. And opera and drama, as "high status" as they are noncontroversial, are prime objects for the Timid Patron.

The tangled social and economic problems that ETV should explain to blue and white collar alike are not the kind that make fancy and reassuring presentations to boards of directors. But they are the realities we must consider, even if it means delaying for a while the kinds of immediate high-level gratifications the arts provide.

Perhaps the most hopeful direction ETV seems to be considering is a more wholehearted support of Instructional TV (ITV). Roughly forty per cent of the programming of ETV stations is in this area of formal instruction, largely because school systems and universities have been more stable in their financing than community stations which must beg from year to year. Until very recently there has been a reluctance on the part of NET to get deeply involved in experiments like Midwest Airborne Television and the videotaped and filmed courses of Learning Resources Institute. But if we are to incorporate the blue collar into the consensual society, if we are to wean him from his self destructive reliance on excessive fantasy, then the formal cultural institutions of school, library, and museum must join forces with NET to achieve this essential breakthrough.

Wilbur Schramm points out that blue collar and white collar peers share their media fantasies until adolescence. Why, then, not try to internalize the norms of delayed reward in all children by revivifying our educational system through first-rate ITV? In fact, the process should start before school with children's programming. If ETV were to invest a much greater share of its finances and talent in the children's sector, then in ten, fifteen, or twenty years, it would have incorporated huge sectors of blue and tattle-tale-gray collars into audiences capable of selecting a balanced diet of cultural and public affairs programming. This isn't the glamorous alternative, but it would seem to be the one that insures the maturing of the total American society rather than the separating of our cultural economy into the undevelopable blues and the overdeveloped whites.

Opportunity for Research

To accelerate this process of finally fulfilling the revolutionary democratic ideals of the eighteenth century, the school of communications has a marvelous opportunity. The new edition of Wilbur Schramm's book of classroom readings, Mass Communications (University of Illinois, 1960, $6.50) attests to the vitality of the very best in this new discipline. Warren Breed's brilliant analysis of the covert ways a reporter perceives what not to report, Raymond Nixon's convincing analysis of the paradox that newspaper monopoly is often a much better condition than excessive competition, Elihu Katz' description of how people are influenced by the mass media indirectly through their group opinion leaders, the Wolfenstein-Leites examination of American sexual mores through the "good-bad" girl who starts out looking merely sexy but in the last analysis can be brought home to mother, the Langs' analysis of TV's latent editorializing by which a MacArthur parade in Chicago that was dull to see in the flesh was "exciting" when viewed on television-these are among the few essays in Schramm's collection that give TV viewer and policymaker alike valuable insights into the new institutions that so influence the quality of American life today.

But mass communications research can hardly be said to be flourishing on the basis of these few brilliant "takes." For one thing, given the investment in money and time that Americans have made in television, one would hope that there would be much more research on the history and dynamics of the new medium. Where are academicians with interim reports on the new medium as good (at a higher level of insight) as Martin Mayer's Madison Avenue, U.S.A.; Irwin Ross's The Image Merchants; and Stan Opotowsky's TV: The Big Picture?

The academic fraternity must accustom itself to a faster rate of social change in its research, even if it means quick, penetrating snapshots for policymakers on the run rather than massively documented works that try to shut the barn door long after the horses of power have left. Wilbur Schramm's earlier book, Responsibility in Mass Communication (1957), was just such a book, and I think it still has more to say, in clarifying the ethical and esthetic ambiguities of mass media policymakers, than his latest attempt to integrate our children's experience of television with the latest sociological theory.

For example, in the former, more journalistic book he discusses Captain Kangaroo's policy directive to his own program people as an excellent set of standards worthy of emulation by all who produce programs for children. Yet in his comprehensive book on how children use TV, Captain Kangaroo appears only twice-in tables with run-of-themill programming. There is something seriously wrong with a systematic theory that blacks out the most significant single innovation in the first ten years of TV for children. Perhaps what is needed is research which starts with the best programs and tries to document how they began and survived, or, as is so often the depressing case, why they died.

What is the real story behind the demise of indigenous drama on TV? What hidden struggles did Murrow have to keep his documentaries on CBS-TV? What happened to the "Home" show started by Pat Weaver at NBC? Why did "Disneyland" go western? Why doesn't "American Bandstand" feature real singers like teenager Joanne Baez?

My hunch is that these qualitative questions frighten off those who, first and foremost, want communications research to be an academically respectable enterprise adequately and continuously financed. I fear that the academic organization man, who wants an associate professorship rather than a vice-presidency, may prevent communications research from asking the tough, embarrassing questions. Schools of communications have to be financed too, and the most obvious source of money is the wealthy media entrepreneur. There is a reluctance on the part of many school administrators to be critical to the point of alienating donors. After all, the rationalization goes, our students have to get jobs, and who wants to hire soreheads? Gradually we will improve media standards-gradually. And the stern face of dissent dissolves in smiles of affability.

One final dilemma faces the mass communication researcher who after all wants his work to influence policymakers in a positive direction. Schramm's very careful book on the interactions between children and TV, time and again points out how difficult it is to prove causality between, say, violence on TV and juvenile delinquency. Such conclusions are arduously arrived at and meticulously phrased. But to the TV executive hauled before a congressional committee, the book says just one thing: You can't prove any connection. In other words, in most cases all this research work has done is to get the lazy and irresponsible executive off the hook.

In the handful of reviews of Television in the Lives of Our Children I have seen, the selective perception is shocking. The book in its effect merely reassures; it doesn't seem to lead to corrective action or even a well-deserved sense of guilt. What responsibility does a scholar have to see to it that his hard work isn't abused to justify the status quo? It might be instructive to do a content analysis of all the reviews of, and allusions to, this book to get a sense of just how feeble a corrective the raised eyebrow approach is-as a regulatory device. Such a study might itself raise a lot of scholarly eyebrows.

Source: The English Journal, Vol. 51, No. 8 (Nov., 1962), pp. 588-590
Published by: National Council of Teachers of English

Friday, 13 November 2009

Globalizing Everything?

Peter Schneider's theory that Latin was the lingua franca of Renaissance dissidents is a stunning insight. But as a former professor of American literature, I must remind uncritical enthusiasts for globalizing everything using English what Thoreau said when hoopla for the then newest medium of 1853--the trans Atlantic telegraph--got out of hand: "What will be the first thing to come into the broad, flapping American ear--that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough."

The saddest part of Americanization is that it amplifies only our shallowest, merely technocratic achievements: McDonald's, Disney, MTV. Where are Walt Whitman, Louis Sullivan, and William James in this global dissemination? Largely unheard.

Beginning, of course, in America itself. A society that opts for the bland fakeries of Las Vegas instead of its true heritage is a very, very bad example for the world to follow.

As I try my damnedest to learn German at age 74, I fear American monolingualism not because English has taken over airport control towers, but because we Americans use our variant of English to promote mainly the least important elements in our heritage. That's a formula for eventual failure.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Multi-Media Literacy

The paperback, because it is relatively cheap and expendable, makes it easy for us to experiment with multi-media literacy. To take a specific example, "The American West as Symbol and Myth" could become a focal point for considering every possible kind of medium, popular and elite. Indeed it can show us how to work from the adolescent's absorption in popular culture back to a respect for the more demanding elite traditions.

One way to begin such a unit would be to take the paperback edition of a very fine novel, Walter Van Tilburg Clark's The Oxbow Incident, and compare it with the film translation available in uncut form from Films, Inc. (Wilmette, Ill.) or in truncated form from Teaching Films Custodian. This "adult western" provides a first-rate perspective on television's sagebrush saga. Why is "Gunsmoke" superior to many of the syndicated western series? What happens to "Gunsmoke" on radio? What do Hollywood producers (80% of nighttime TV is on film now) mean by needing a gimmick for a new western series? How many gimmicks can you name? How closely do western heroes such as Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Brett Maverick jibe with historical reality?

A good place to start students on a mission to distinguish fact from myth is This Is the West (Mentor), a paperback created by a group of western buffs. The teacher on the other hand can find invaluable perspective on the West as symbol and myth from Professor Henry Nash Smith's Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth (Vintage).

Why has the West dominated our consciousness? How has it affected writers as diverse as James Fenimore Cooper and Ned Buntline? When did the western catch on as a popular form of entertainment? Here are scores of term paper topics on dime novels, Buffalo Bill's Wild West shows, the first movie heroes such as Wm. S. Hart and later sentimentalized cowboys like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, and of course the plethora of TV westerns. Such a unit begins with the teenager's interest in entertainment and ends with philosophical enquiry: What fantasies does the wild and woolly West satisfy in today's organization man in office, factory, and salesroom? Who are the real pioneers today, these paper dolls with chaps or Jonas Salk and the astronauts? Does fixation on adolescent westerns (where uninhibited violence acts out the child's reveries of aggression) tell us of a failure of nerve on our part?

Another advantage of approaching a theme which permits the inclusion of a great deal of fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry is that it enables the teacher to capitalize on the art forms that have only recently begun to profit from advances in the technology of mass communication. Students can give reports and do study papers on the artists who have fixed for our national imagination the great Westering: Frederick Remington, George Catlin, George Caleb Bingham, Albert Bierstadt, Charles Russell, some of the painters treated in the indispensable 300 Years of American Painting. And the everyday beauty-Conestoga Wagons, rifles, saddles-are handsomely mounted in Life's America's Arts and Skills.

Folk singing can destroy the image of stuffy solemnity that makes the English classroom so often a place of detention. The Schwann LP catalog will give innumerable examples, but Folkways Records should be singled out because of Moses Asch's conscious creation of study materials for the schools. And there has been a great deal of serious American music composed on Western themes: Leo Sowerby's Prairie, Ferde Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite, Aaron Copland's Billy the Kid. There are good histories of American music with discographies to aid the unfamiliar teacher.

What is true of the West as a teaching unit is true of the entire curriculum; recent developments in mass communication (especially cheap four-color printing and long-playing vinyl recordings) now make it possible to instruct our students in the totality of their intellectual heritage and esthetic culture. We must guard against our prejudice of thinking of print as the only medium that the English teacher has a real stake in. We are humanities and language teachers, and what we teach is naturally enlarged when technology makes many more art forms accessible to the great mass of people.

Source: The English Journal, Vol. 50, No. 2 (Feb., 1961), pp. 132-133
Published by: National Council of Teachers of English

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Selectivity in Mass Communication

Pather Panchali by Satyajit Ray

Mass communication is not a monolith; it is rather a bewildering variety of technological and institutional arrangements to achieve a variety of purposes, some sacred, some secular. Much of the contents of some are on an extremely high level. But the most visible media are frequently less exalted in their standards. Our approach should be to know so much about the excellence that exists that we can constantly bring it to the attention of our students, and to know enough about the structure of the media that we can exert effective leverage to have them raise their sights whenever it is economically possible.

A further dimension of the media that should concern us is their existence and change over time. It would be ideal if teacher training courses in the history of literature could be slightly modified to include a careful consideration of the changes in the sociology of authorship, audience, and media. If we know, for example, that the English upper class elite responded, in the eighteenth century, to the new middle class media forms of novel, newspaper, and magazine in much the same way that we middle class critics have responded to the new working class forms of the twentieth century, we might become more effective in our criticism.

In the furor over broadcasting payola, for example, everyone seems to have forgotten that our press was similarly venal in the mid-nineteenth century. Mark Twain's description in Roughing It of how journalists got shares for puffing mining claims is about payola, plain and simple. If the newspapers could be shamed out of that kind of chicanery, why not radio and TV?

In a similar way, if we remember that the rich nobles who had great manuscript book libraries at first scorned the vulgar printed articles, we can better appreciate the snobbish folly of those "intellectuals" who pride themselves on not having a TV set. It's perfectly legitimate, of course, not to want a TV or a hi-fi, or a subscription to Life, but to brag about not having something is surely prima facie evidence of a person's not being truly intellectual, i.e., thoughtful in a profound and comprehensive way.

What then are the characteristics of the most pervasive mass media (popular newspapers, pictorial journalism, entertainment movies, and network nighttime broadcasting) that work at cross purposes with our efforts to cultivate excellence in taste and language usage? The exceptions to the run of the mill form the basis for a later column in this series, but for the present let us consider the rule rather than the exception. In my judgment, the most subversive tradition of the media is their apotheosis of the entertainer in our culture.

Instead of encouraging the admiration and emulation of those professionals and scientists, artists and intellectuals, whose disciplines and skills make our society of abundance possible, our media system holds up for indiscriminate adoration and fantasy a rogue's gallery of irrelevant characters: sports champions, socialite playboys, and the ubiquitous stars of stage, screen, and TV. These persons are, in the broadest sense, "the entertainers" who, according to Webster, "engage the attention of others agreeably," by amusing and diverting. The word originally referred to the special kind of attention one shows to infrequent guests, when they are given the run of the house, the keys to the city.

But the significant difference about our mass media entertainment heroes is that what was once a something thing, an agreeable and wholesome diversion and recreation from the enervating work of survival, has now become an almost all the time happening. And the entertainer's values are simpleminded ones pleasing the audience, no matter how undemanding it may be.

Bob Hope praises Jimmy Durante as a great person because "he's big hearted and he lives to be nice to people." His philosophy is equally profound: "You only live once and you have maybe twenty-five more years to enjoy yourself, so why not live it up until the sheriff comes and wheels the whole thing off to be sold. When you've worked long enough and hard enough, I think you have the right to baby yourself a little." Bob Hope as a standup comic is fine; but when the court jester begins to hanker after the throne, it is time to question the hegemony of the entertainer as hero in America.

When Patti Page stops singing and starts to "Think" out loud about philosophy of life-talking sincerely but casually with God is her definition of prayer-then it is proper for the teachers of the young to resent the usurpation. Parents, preachers, counselors, and community leaders are among those whose advice is being undercut by the facile soothsaying of, say, Dick Clark, whose Your Happiest Years defines adolescence in such a way that maturity must be an anticlimax, something to shun.

Another peculiarly American fallacy that inhibits the maturing of the media is their giganticism, the fallacy of bigness. A movie is billed as costing 15 billion dollars, a metropolitan newspaper offers six (count 'em) book installments every Sunday, a TV spectacular has more sets than any other so far-all these assumptions that what is bigger is better implicitly challenge our attempts to foster respect for quality irrespective of size! We must constantly search for countervailing examples to this elephantiasis of the mind, e.g., the Indian film-maker Satyajit Ray made his great masterpiece "Pather Panchali" for $35,000, less than we spend for the production costs of a formula TV western.

Another ideal supported by the big media in America is the notion that the public can't be wrong. For example, ABC-TV, whose westerns and private eye shows have depressed the level of commercial TV, justified their appeal to the lowest common denominator in trade magazines in this way: "This is cultural democracy in action: The programming obligations of the broadcasters must therefore be based on a democratic concept of cultural freedom-that is, the rights of the people to want what they want when they want it." When critics objected to their influence, an executive of that network replied in Washington: "Can we legislate taste? Can we make it a criminal offense to be mediocre? Shall we set up a commissar of taste?"

In opposing the media when they subvert our purposes, we are not alone. More and more organized groups are taking sensible steps to promote the best the media have to offer at the same time they oppose the mediocre and regressive. In the specific suggestions that follow on the print, graphic, and broadcasting media in the English classroom, several principles apply:

(1) we should identify mature trends within each of the media and contrive ways of accelerating these trends;

(2) we should develop study themes in American culture that will enable us to analyze several of the media in unison, e.g., a paperback novel and its film and TV adaptations as well as newspaper and magazine criticism of both;

(3) a controlling concern should be our desire to use the widest range of media to appreciate the full spectrum of arts not only the print forms of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama but also their visual and electronic variations in film, broadcasting, photojournalism, and graphics, as well as the arts systematically neglected in formal education before the rise of four-color printing, such as painting, sculpture, and architecture (In other words, mass communication in all its richness now makes possible a full and comprehensive instruction in the humanities for the first time); and

(4) the key to individual maturity in all these activities is careful attention to the skills of reading and writing, observation and analysis. No matter how much the rise of widely popular (and thus at first vulgar) media complicates our task, nor how much more we potentially can do through intelligent exploitation of the miracles of four-color printing, LP recordings, and television, the traditional goals endure: linguistic mastery and esthetic sensibility-two processes that can be mutually reinforcing under the counsel of a sound and inspiring teacher.

Source: The English Journal, Vol. 49, No. 9 (Dec., 1960), pp. 646-648
Published by: National Council of Teachers of English

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Teaching English in a Mass Society

Pastoral Landscape, 1861, Asher B. Durand

If there is to be an American revolution in quality as pervasive as that in quantity which we have nearly achieved, we shall have to give our dreams and ideals a going over. A powerful motive for bringing us as far as we have come has been our belief that we were God's chosen people. To the Puritans, it was the concept of a new Zion; to Jefferson, the notion of a natural aristocracy fulfilling the promises of a fresh start for man; to Lincoln, the idea of America as the last, best hope on earth; to the first Roosevelt, a New Nationalism; to Wilson, a New Freedom; to Franklin Roosevelt, a New Deal.

This has been the history of American idealism, a constant renewal. R.W.B. Lewis in his brilliant book, The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century (Chicago, 1955), examines the ironies and ambiguities of what Hector De Crevecoeur called "this new man, the American." Freed from the burden of time, the new man could flourish without the frustrations of established church, aristocratic class barriers, the "useless" baggage of history.

We know now that although this was a myth, it was still a powerful ideal that spurred our development, just as the myth of the Great Garden of the West described by Henry Nash Smith in Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth (Vintage, 1957) was a mixture of illusion and truth that greatly accelerated the conquest of a great continent. Professor Smith has shown too that the myth of agrarian innocence, enduring inappropriately into an urban milieu, has tended to inhibit our understanding of, and adjustment to, an industrial society. We have come to know now that a culture cannot deny history with impunity. And the first step in any renaissance in American idealism is an honest facing of the disparity between our innocence of history and what we have actually done with the unique stewardship the past offered our nation.

If we look with honesty at our record, we cannot be complacent about how well we stand before the bar of history. Improvident of our future, we squandered irreplaceable assets: denuded virgin stands of timber, created dust bowls, piled up the huge moral and intellectual deficits symbolized by the inhumanity of our great cities; these are all tokens reminding us that a country which lives immaturely in its immediate present has too little to leave the future, almost too much to forget or make reparation for. To recover from our innocence, then, we must first of all achieve a real contact with our past, not the near hysteria of some patriotic societies, nor the obsessions of covered bridge addicts and Civil War buffs, but the sane and sober reckoning of a people proud of what they have done nobly and ashamed of what they have failed to do in spite of opportunities unparalleled in the history of man.

This is not to ask for a national melancholia, but rather for a mature reassessment of how well we have used our talents. The parable of the talents should give us humility and compassion, "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind," not the childish enthusiasm of an advertising executive who recently described America as "the all-time number one hit on humanity's hit parade." This I take it is the meaning of the post-Sputnik debate on the national purpose which reached an apogee in the Life magazine-New York Times series in the spring of 1960. (This series is available in paperback form from Holt-Rinehart Winston, and deserves widespread use in English classrooms.)

The crisis over excellence, to put it succinctly, is a historic one because it asks us for perhaps the last time whether or not America has been as prodigal in squandering its intellectual and moral resources as it has been in wasting its natural ones. The question that concerns us is whether or not we have left enough energy and conviction to renew our purposes to make our culture a great one as distinct from a merely good or tolerable one. No issue is more central to the major tasks of the English teacher-the pursuit of excellence in literacy and in taste. That is why it is so essential, before getting down to cases on the role of mass communication in teaching English, to consider the problem of excellence or maturity in the widest historical and cultural contexts.

John W. Gardner, president of the Carnegie Corporation, has put the matter of "creeping mediocrity" in American culture very plainly in the Life series. He believes that we should not give in to our "cult of easiness" but must prove our capacity to achieve excellence.

"Every free man, in his work and in his family life, in his public behavior and in the secret places of his heart, should see himself as a builder and maintainer of the ideals of his society. Individual Americans-truck drivers and editors, grocers and senators, beauty operators and ballplayers-can contribute to the greatness and strength of a free society, or they can help it die. How does one contribute to the greatness and strength of a free society? That is a question to which there are many true answers.

One answer is-pursue excellence! Those who are most devoted to a democratic society must be precisely the ones who insist that free men are capable of the highest standard of performance, that a free society can be a great society in the richest sense of that phrase. The idea for which this nation stands will not survive if the highest goal free men can set themselves is an amiable mediocrity. At the simplest level, the pursuit of excellence means an increased concern for competence on the part of the individual. Keeping a free society free-and vital and strong-is no job for the half-educated and the slovenly. In a society of free men competence is a primary duty. The man who does his job well tones up the whole society.

And the man who does a slovenly job-whether he is a janitor or a judge, a surgeon or a technician-lowers the tone of the society. So do the chiselers of high and low degree, the sleight-of-hand artists who know how to gain an advantage without honest work. They are the regrettable burdens of a free society. But excellence implies more than competence. It implies a striving for the highest standards in every phase of life. We need individual excellence in all its forms, in every kind of creative endeavor, in political life, in education, in industry-in short, universally."

This, Dr. Gardner contends, cannot be achieved by "aimless or listless men." Happiness is not to be found in ease, diversion, and tranquility, but in striving toward meaningful goals. The English classroom, dedicated as it is to the consideration of great art and the painful mastery of the language, is the natural arena for such a confrontation of excellence with mediocrity.

In the same important series of essays, Cornell's Clinton Rossiter claims that "we stand at one of those rare points in history when a nation must choose consciously between greatness and mediocrity," and that to make the right choice we need a "profound, inspiring, benevolent sense of mission." We can regain our youthful idealism if we honestly face up to "a tangle of four separate yet curiously related crises: the crisis in race relations, the crisis in culture, the crisis of the community, and the crisis of peace and war-all of which are growing in intensity with each passing year." Two of these crises-those of culture and community-are particularly germane to the special interests of the English teacher:

The crisis in American culture [Professor Rossiter writes] is perhaps more obvious to the schoolteacher than to the housewife, to the artist than to the salesman. . . . we lack a widespread popular respect for the fruits of art and learning and for those who produce them, and we have much too short a supply of first class artists and intellectuals. More than that, no people in history has ever had to put up with so much vulgarity, bad taste and ugliness in its surroundings. History has flung us an exciting challenge by making us the first of all nations in which men of every rank could display a measure of taste, and we have responded by displaying bad taste on a massive scale. Let us be honest about it: we have the wealth and leisure and techniques to make a great culture an essential part of our lives, an inspiration to the world and a monument for future generations-and we have not even come close to it.

The crisis of community is of more recent date, a kind of final reckoning with generations of our thoughtless prodigality. This is the widely observed and growing gap between "the richness of our private lives and the poverty of our public services, between a standard of living inside our homes that is the highest in the world and a standard of living outside them that is fast becoming a national disgrace." His litany of decay is a disheartening one: ".. . the blight of our cities, the shortage of water and power, the disappearance of open space, the inadequacy of education, the need for recreational facilities, the high incidence of crime and delinquency, the crowding of our roads, the decay of the railroads, the ugliness of the sullied landscape, the pollution of the very air we breathe."

If we do not rise to the challenge of excellence, we will, in the judgment of Walter Lippmann, "slowly deteriorate and fall part, having lost our great energies because we did not exercise them, having lost our daring because everything was so warm and so comfortable and so cozy." The great question before us is the one William Faulkner asked in the two-page ad in Life magazine that announced the series on the national purpose: "What has happened to the American Dream? We dozed, slept and it abandoned us. There no longer sounds a unifying voice speaking our mutual hope and will."

Teachers, close as they are each day to the hope and newness that are the young, can never acquiesce in such despair. But it would be foolhardy to think that, in the good old American way, everything will work itself out in the end. The new factor in the American equation is the possibility, even the imminence, of failure. In our roles as mediators between the heritage of the past and the free men of the future, in our responsibility of acting as catalysts in the chemistry of aspiration, it will not be easy for us to transform the base ore of a complacent mass society into a metal more enduring and more attractive to sensibility and mind. Our best hope, however, is simply to look carefully at our system of mass communication and see how we can make it serve the twin purposes of English teaching: esthetic sensitivity, linguistic mastery.

Source: The English Journal, Vol. 49, No. 6 (Sept., 1960), pp. 431-434
Published by: National Council of Teachers of English

Monday, 9 November 2009

What Linguists Can Learn from the Movies

Last time we discussed the need to integrate the later languages man has devised to share his consciousness with the traditional concerns of rhetoric and the new findings of linguistics. This time it may help to consider how the newer media or languages are being used to disseminate the findings of linguistics. For it is my contention that this process of integration will be mutually advantageous. If the newer languages must be submitted to the same rigorous scrutiny the linguists have bestowed on oral languages and that the rhetoricians have given to style in writing, so must the earlier disciplines be satisfied with nothing less than the best use of the newer media.

To illustrate what I mean I want to use as examples five films being distributed by Teaching Films Custodians (25 W. 43rd Street, New York 36, New York). The five half-hour films set out to establish the principles for teaching a foreign language. On the level of information they are truly remarkable. And at a few points they are also eloquent in the way they use the language of motion pictures. But the skill of presentation is not anywhere nearly as impressive as the content is important. I do not mean to imply at all that these films will be useless to teachers trying to understand the fundamentals of teaching a foreign language.

Far from it. I choose these films to talk about precisely because I believe they are valuable treatments of an important subject. They simply don't use the newer medium of movies superlatively. They succumb to a besetting sin of American education: unexceptionable subject matter deadened to greater or lesser degree by insufficient skill with the newer languages. We didn't create this problem, but we must learn to overcome it. Our students are constantly being exposed to just the opposite in most commercial uses of the newer languages, i.e., insufficiently (for our predicament) complex information presented with superlative technique. This is an aspect of the private splendor/public squalor dichotomy John Kenneth Galbraith first brought to wide attention. This imbalance partly explains why we don't seem to catch up with our educational agenda.

To speak directly, then, to the contents of these films, the series reveals with considerable force what one needs to know to apply what linguistics has discovered about the problems of teaching a foreign language. We see contrasting vignettes, for example, of mothers starting small children to learn to speak by songs and repetitive games in French and English. German and Japanese families add to the further sense of diversity a linguist must establish to develop his concepts about relativity.

There are also superlative movie sequences in which international passengers (French, Japanese, and Russian) consecutively ask the same series of questions at old Idlewild's Pan Am Desk: where is Flight 633, may I carry hand luggage aboard, and is dinner served aboard? The camera wonderfully records the mutual dismay of passenger and agent as the former stumbles in an English too heavily patterned by French, Japanese, and Russian. After the problem is established, a simplified animation technique shows visually how the intonation pattern of one language has been superimposed on another, impeding communication.

Other superb uses of film are the closeups of Puerto Ricans drilling away the phonemic patterns of Spanish as they learn to discriminate between "wash" and "watch"; and American students at the University of Minnesota high school shedding English habits as talented teachers drill them in French or Spanish. In fact the camera work in these sequences is so sure and eloquent that it makes the inferior graphics of the "near" movie sequences in these films doubly disturbing.

For example, one well-thought-out sequence establishes the relativity of grammar by showing the bewildering range of differences in so simple a locution as "it rains" as presented in several languages besides English. As the statement is made in French, there is a slide of the Eiffel Tower; in Hindi, of the Taj Mahal; in Japanese, Mt. Fujiyama; and so on. The trouble is that superimposed on these "stills" is a rainmaking image as contrived as to make the attempt at illusion silly. If one can't afford stock film footage of these varied rains, then either find a very, very wet looking image (a half hour at the New York Library Picture Collection) or don't try for the illusion.

Project XX has also shown how to simulate motion with still pictures using a TV camera (actually NBC films them but economically hard-pressed educational TV uses electronic cameras). There is also a sequence in which the bewilderingly varied number of words an African language has for "walking" (walking slowly, rapidly, etc., etc.) is illustrated by a hapless little animated figure changing in clumsy animation against the backdrop of an unchangingly stylized jungle. Every episode of Jetsons further conditions us to reject such far from eloquent craftsmanship. The information is fine, the language clumsy. We bluepencil our students about shifts in tone, inappropriate diction. These are filmic counterparts of those venial sins of the first mass media, language.

Now I hope I have made it clear that I am not snooting these films. I learned a lot from them and highly recommend them, not only to those preparing to teach a foreign language but also to future English teachers (who may in despair early in their careers often decide it is a foreign language to their students). My point about rhetoric, linguistics, and later languages is that all of us can learn from each other.

In fact, a subsidiary benefit from scheduling these films would be to have your classes look at them filmicly. How does the fuzzy flannelboard kind of graphics compare with, say, the work of Saul Bass (Otto Preminger's man with a golden arm)? Would the sequence on an American couple trying to say goodnight in rather pathetically unidiomatic French to a French couple be improved by a cutting that brought into better focus through closeup the hard try of the Americans and the bewilderment of the French? Is it wise to mix media the way they are here, presumably in the interests of economy? The parts of the film that are closer to soundfilmstrips might better be disengaged from the movies. Would expertly edited color slides plus synchronized sound cost less and do more than these black and white films?

I do not mean to endorse a kind of galloping amateurism here in instructional materials. It has just been my impression that the fastest way to heighten the ordinary sensibility to a problem of technique as it reveals the truth is to ask the amateur to try to understand, however dimly, the professional's problems.

The basic issue is to get said what needs to be said in our society forcefully enough so that those who need to hear will hear. That's after all what rhetoric, linguistics, and mass communication boil down to. Saying significant things eloquently. So much needs to be said and there is so little eloquence administering to our needs that we need to raise questions like those I have raised here as an act of gratitude for the films themselves.

Source: The English Journal, Vol. 52, No. 7 (Oct., 1963), pp. 536-538
Published by: National Council of Teachers of English