Sunday, January 24, 2010

parataxis is unAmerican

Donald Davidson, from "Grammar and Rhetoric: The Teacher's Problem" (1953):

In our time, the conjunction and has too often been the mark of a timid evasiveness in which I do not mean to indulge: "He was an old man who fished alone...," writes Ernest Hemingway, "and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish." The philosophy of Hemingway, as man and writer, is latent in that characteristic conjunction and. It bothers Mr. Hemingway to think that there may be some relationship between objects other than a simple coupling. "A" and "B" are there. The inescapable act of vision tells him so. But Hemingway rarely ventures, through grammar and rhetoric, to go beyond saying that "A" and "B" are just there, together. Similiarly, our diplomats and Far Eastern Experts long had a habit of declaring that there was a Red Russia and a Red China, with the tender implication that such a conjunction was entirely innocent. Political theories for nearly two centuries have coordinated liberty and equality, but have too often failed to tell us, as history clearly shows, that liberty and equality are much more hostile than they are mutually friendly; that the prevalence of liberty may very well require some subordination of the principle of equality; or, on the other hand, that enforcement of equality by legal and governmental devices may be quite destuctive to the principle of liberty.

The Quarterly Journal of Speech 39, 4 (December 1953), p. 425.

Here are a few responses (my own is last). Click on the image for a larger view:

"Yes," I wrote in response to Matt, "one way to read this is as an expression of anger and frustration about the easy modernist "and" - early Hemingway, G. Stein, the Williams/Pound kind of juxtaposition. So it's plain 1950s-era antimodernism. But he's also connecting (seemingly with rigor, but I'd say very loosely) two things he hates: he hates modernist juxtaposition/collage (the seemingly easy conjunction of A and B) and he hates the left-learning/'commie' mostly academic China experts whose "modernism" (in this sense) 'lost' us China in '49. He's right about the historical choice ('choice') liberal and conservative polities have had to make when preferring equality over liberty (the former) or liberty over equality (the latter) and he's clearly implying that for him liberty is more important than equality. But Hemingway (and Stein...and others) all would make the same choice as a matter of thought, but not in the written line where they sought to mess with the supposedly inevitable 'choice' aforementioned."