Wednesday, June 06, 2007

In Defense of Elitism

Pretty Lady, being in a bit of a Mood yesterday, created somewhat of a furor over at poor dear Edward's blog. She must apologize to Edward, since he has been ever the gentleman; moreover, she is doing him the courtesy of moving her diatribe to her own space.

But move it she must. She cannot let people get away with such Philistinism.

For the fact is, people, Literacy Is Important. And Pretty Lady maintains her view that an illiterate person suffers under such a whopping big handicap in terms of ability to process and communicate issues of universal importance, that this person's opinion on such matters is innately suspect. As she controversially stated:

Judging by numbers in the 'Da Vinci Code' sense is a red herring, because we're dealing with factors other than the perception of Quality--availability, marketing, and the generally abysmal state of literacy in the U.S. these days. One glance at the blogosphere is enough to tell you that most people are unable to comprehend a basic sequence of logical causality, when presented in a coherent paragraph; are we then judging questions of literary style based on the perceptions of these people?

A more accurate test would be to take a group of people who have all proven themselves capable of explaining, in their own words and in complete sentences, the basic principles underlying our Constitution, the plot of Anna Karenina, and why a poem by e.e. cummings was radical for its time, but still holds up as literature in these degenerate days. Then you give this group a copy of 'The Da Vinci Code,' and 'Gaudy Night' by Dorothy L. Sayers, and ask them to assess the relative literary merits of each, providing support for their assertions.

I would stake my inheritance that Dorothy L. would win by a landslide.
The immediate reply to this screed was sadly predictable:
What is this elitist ethnocentric bullshit? If I haven't read Anna Karenina or e e cummings I'm not fit to discuss spirituality or transcendance with this "pretty lady"?
Even her dear friend David, who should know better, was skeptical:
PL, it sounds like a wonderful group of people to have over for dinner, but I seriously doubt they represent "the vast majority of people."
Pretty Lady hangs her head, and cries.

Because any literate member of Pretty Lady's friends will be able to spot the trick at once. That trick is, these questions are easy. Anybody who has ever BS'd their way through an examination after drinking beer in the parking lot till 3 AM instead of studying knows that.

But let Pretty Lady explain the answers, to those whose BS skills are as poor as those that Pretty Lady used on her grant application:

1) The Constitution is the basis for the U.S. government. We live in the U.S. Our basic rights as citizens are outlined in this document; therefore it behooves us to have a vague idea of what these rights are, and assert them, and defend them. These rights include things like freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, right to bear arms, and right to privacy.

For extra credit, one may mumble about 'checks and balances,' which were put in place to prevent, oh, the executive branch of government from launching foolish, unwinnable wars to satisfy private grudges and not-so-private Messianic complexes.


2) One need not have read Anna Karenina to have heard, somewhere, that it is about a Russian lady who has an extramarital affair, and jumps in front of a train as a result of it.

3) Similarly, one need not have a degree in English Literature to note that the poems of mr. cummings are unconventionally capitalized and punctuated; one need only read a few of them to perceive that they are rather spicy. They Hold Up, in Pretty Lady's opinion, because they are still sufficiently oblique to be Teasing, rather than hitting you over the head with a hammer.

Notice that Pretty Lady did not demand that anybody understand a poem by Wallace Stevens.

Pretty Lady does not consider that people who cannot summon up even a cursory, BS'd answer to these questions are necessarily unintelligent; she can say, and boldly, that they are disgracefully and dangerously ignorant. She understands that the state of public education in this country produced this state of affairs; she has even heard rumours that this was done deliberately, by the government, to make people easier to control.

Judging by the state of the country's affairs at the moment, it seems to be working.


Bob said...

How true, how true.

When wife and I go out in public, perhaps to the Black-Eyed Pea or Salt Grass, I am always amazed at the number of people who chew with their mouths open, talk with their mouths full, belch and pat their bellies, and generally act as if they never--once--were exposed to the most rudimentry form of manners.

We live in a nation that is continually lowering every standard of conduct that a lot of us hold near and dear.

It's like the zoo us growing daily... by leaps and bounds.

Anonymous said...

I thought cummings' Poetry was generally unconventionally uncapitalized. Kind of like he had some sort of bell hooks Fixation or Something. But, it's been a While and I'm a little hazy on the Subject.

Pretty Lady said...

DM, at the risk of rising to the bait twice in two days--bell hooks postdates cummings by several decades. As Aristotle does Plato. Have you become Loose in time?

Doom said...

Interesting. Some of those things offer views to be pondered.

But I must say, that is pretty loose with checks and balances. Who has let President Bush run, and funded, a war that at least half of us agree with and more to start it out? I think the balances work fine and are as essential as any other parts of the gig. Bush said this wouldn't be short or easy, little did he know how rude US citizens are, how easy they weary of even simple tasks, and how relatively light casualties make them poo-poo required sacrifices today.

In case anyone is curious, we are still in Clinton's "one year" thing in the former Yugoslavia. A place we truly had and have no reason to be, and helping Muslims in the area who are now supporting Al-Qaeda. Hmph.

Anonymous said...

relatively light casualties? tell that to the family members of dead soldiers on both sides and the thousands of dead iraqi civilians.

Anonymous said...

I must confess to being a champion BSer in high school and college. However, since leaving school I have kept from trying to spout bovine ejecta a questions of the sort posed. It only impresses the ignorant; the truly knowledgeable would be able to see through the charade at once.

The Constitution question is simple and a reasonable answer should be required before exercising the franchise. Since I haven't read Anna Karenina and am not likely to do so in the future, I have no comment on that, other than saying that almost nobody actually READS Russian novels.

And I find ee cummings vastly overrated, at least as overrated as Hemminway (and for similar reasons). If you want to discuss (more-or-less) modern poets, at least pick good ones. Gerard Manly Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, Robert Frost are all vastly more worthy of comment than that hack cummings.

Disclaimer: I'm not "literary" or an English major, nor do I play one on TV.

Anonymous said...

The previous anon. comment was mine. Sorry about not signing it.


Anonymous said...

Well, I guess I am illiterate and ignorant. By the way, when you need a computer, or control or a turbine to generate electricity, don't call me. Because I am ignorant. Call some dickweed who has read horseshit books that means diddly squat when the lights are out and you're scared.

Anonymous said...

Pretty Lady,

I was wrong about Plato/Aristotle. (I couldn't remember and so I did a little research on Wikipedia. It seemed although Plato was big on the Forms, Essence was part of Aristotle's schtik. And that's what I thought I remembered from my college daze.)

I was kidding about bell hooks.

I read e.e. cummings when I was in jr. high/high school in the early seventies and have only very recently heard of ms. hooks.

Chris Rywalt said...

I read recently that E.E. Cummings actually disliked having his name spelled in lowercase. He used unconventional styles in his poetry, and he wanted them to stay there. And I respect him even more for that.

Incidentally, anyone calling Cummings a hack while in the same sentence praising Robert Frost has clearly been smoking crack. I like Frost as much as any red-blooded American, but Cummings is so far out of his league they may as well be playing different sports. Might as well claim de Kooning's a hack while raving about Norman Rockwell.

Doom said...

anon, the first,

I am a 100% permanent and totally disabled vet. I took my chances and made my choices. And yes, light.

Beyond that, I would bet if you did a demographic comparison of the men in Iraq and the same demographic group of boys here, you would find it is safer in Iraq.

I can see why you went anon.

Crom said...

Exile be damned.

Starbuck, the point is that the Olde World gentleman knew all of these things and was expected to know these things to claim gentility.

I can build your computer, I can thread your barrel for a silencer, and add a smokestack with the proper draw to your cabin at the same time I am familiar with the majority of what passes for the basic knowledge set of the Western male.

PL is right - the basics have been forgotten in the crush of the new religion of Paris Hilton and The New Bohemians. If you don't know your history and identity it's easy to fill your head with whatever vapid nonsense passes muster at the moment and encourage you to parrot it with Chestnut Tree gin and clove gusto.

Anonymous said...

"Incidentally, anyone calling Cummings a hack while in the same sentence praising Robert Frost has clearly been smoking crack."

Nonsense. Cummings is all style and no substance. Frost has less style but actual depth to his poetry.


Anonymous said...

you only go around once. reach for all the clove gusto you can.

Pretty Lady said...

you only go around once.

How in the world do you know that?

Anonymous said...

"How in the world do you know that?"

Divine Inspiration.


Anonymous said...


It seems that PL was asking "How in the WORLD..."

That would seem to preclude the divine. Or do I presume too much?

Anonymous said...

it's from an old beer commercial. without the clove.

original gusto writer