In the early 1980s, I was watching an episode of Charles Kuralt’s Sunday Morning in which he chronicled the demise of an important family-owned newspaper. I’ll have to call it the Tribune because I have long since forgotten the newspaper and the family and the city that mourned their passing. However, I remember clearly the line that allowed me to articulate a belief that has been a central theme of the rest of my life. Narrating the personal story of one printing-press operator who was losing his job, Kuralt said, “He has seen the moment of the Tribune’s greatness flicker, and in short, he is afraid.”
Not only did I immediately recognize the line from “Prufrock” and the multitude of associations the allusion implied. I immediately understood that the value of a liberal arts education is the ability to make that kind of connection.
One of the many rejected titles for this blog was thus “Gonnegtions” (rejected only because someone already owned the domain name). Yes, I realize that the Gatsby-Meyer Wolfsheim connection as just as transparent as the Prufrock connection, but I hope that these help me bridge the chasm to the ones that are increasingly opaque to the students in my freshman composition classes and their peers.
I believe that language–a shared vocabulary as well as shared knowledge–is the key to connection. And the possible connections are legion: between past and present, between literature and life, between individual and individual.
Furthermore, I believe that language is a powerful tool for manipulation–that the intentional blurring of meaning by those in power works with the unintentional sloppiness of usage by those who don’t care to create a society of sheep. Therefore, I will frequently summon the aid of the best smiths I know, Orwell on language and Strunk and White on style, and spend what some might consider an inordinate amount of time writing about individual words and the politics of language.
Finally, I believe in language and in the continual effort to find le mot juste. Sadly, I also share Kundera’s contempt for “the irresistible proliferation of graphomania” that will usher in the “age of universal deafness and incomprehension.” However, both despite and because of that proliferation, I have decided to turn my own thoughts into words that tell. In doing so, I hope to find some likeminded purists, to convert some skeptics, and–always–to connect.