ISBN is

978-0-316-57506-5 / 9780316575065

Less Than Words Can Say: The Underground Grammarian

by

Publisher:Little, Brown

Edition:Hardcover

Language:English

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About the book:

A colleague sent me a questionnaire. It was about my goals in teaching, and it asked me to assign values to a number of beautiful and inspiring goals. I was told that the goals were pretty widely shared by professors all around the country. Many years earlier I had returned a similar questionnaire, because the man who sent it had promised, in writing, to ``analize'' my ``input.'' That seemed appropriate, so I put it in. But he didn't do as he had promised, and I had lost all interest in questionnaires. This one intrigued me, however, because it was lofty. It spoke of a basic appreciation of the liberal arts, a critical evaluation of society, emotional development, creative capacities, students' self-understanding, moral character, interpersonal relations and group participation, and general insight into the knowledge of a discipline. Unexceptionable goals, every one. Yet it seemed to me, on reflection, that they were none of my damned business. It seemed possible, even likely, that some of those things might flow from the study of language and literature, which is my damned business, but they also might not. Some very well-read people lack moral character and show no creative capacities at all, to say nothing of self-understanding or a basic appreciation of the liberal arts. So, instead of answering the questionnaire, I paid attention to its language; and I began by asking myself how ``interpersonal relations'' were different from ``relations.'' Surely, I thought, our relations with domestic animals and edible plants were not at issue here; why specify them as ``interpersonal''? And how else can we ``participate'' but in groups? I couldn't answer. I asked further how a ``basic'' appreciation was to be distinguished from some other kind of appreciation. I recalled that some of my colleagues were in the business of teaching appreciation. It seemed all too possible that they would have specialized their labors, some of them teaching elementary appreciation and others intermediate appreciation, leaving to the most exalted members of the department the senior seminars in advanced appreciation, but even that didn't help with basic appreciation. It made about as much sense as blue appreciation.

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