MUSEE DES PEEVOLOGIES.

John McIntyre of You Don’t Say wants to start a collection of the historical representations of peevology. He provides some samples:

In 1962 — 1962, one of the last of the Good Years, which the echoes of the Fifties sounded in all ears — Dwight Macdonald published Against the American Grain: Essays on the Effects of Mass Culture. My crumbling paperback copy includes “Updating the Bible,” a jeremiad about the Revised Standard Version of the English Bible of 1952; “The String Untuned,” an examination of the descriptivist wickedness of the third edition of Webster’s New International Dictionary (Unabridged); and “The Decline and Fall of English,” a fusillade at the wanton perversity of linguists and pedagogues.
Not on the shelves but in the garage with the other books from my former office at The Sun, is The State of the Language, an anthology edited thirty or so years ago by Christopher Ricks. You may recall some of the menaces of the Seventies — hopefully used as a sentence adverb, and the Episcopal Church’s carelessness in revising the Book of Common Prayer into texts comprehensible to worshipers.
All of these works grow increasingly quaint with the passage of time. More to the point, all illustrate components of the peevologist personality, a subject to which I plan to return in a future post. For now, as it occurs to you what exhibits you would like to see displayed in the museé, by all means suggest them.

I remember that Ricks book, which at the time (so young and foolish was I) I actually wanted to own. And I look forward to the future post.

Comments

  1. rootlesscosmo says:

    I remember (though I can’t put my hand on it) a rant by Thurber in the New Yorker against what he saw as “degeneration” of English usage. And was it Swift or Jonathan Steele who objected to “mob” as an ignorant clipping of mobile vulgus? I suppose what makes peevology perennial is that time will insist on passing, and change will insist on happening, as the changing targets of peevology themselves illustrate. Well, I’m not getting any younger myself.

  2. a rant by Thurber
    Well, when Ben Zimmer interviewed John McIntyre on the VT site, much of the discussion was of Thurber’s satirical “Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Guide to Modern English Usage.”

  3. One Thurber piece, maybe the same one, is called “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Ear Muffs”. It is mostly about pronunciation, but ends with some examples of irritating new transitive uses of verbs, including the imagined sentence “We can sleep twenty people in this house in a pinch, but we can only eat twelve.”

  4. McIntyre envisages a collection of “historical” representations of peevology. Historical usually means dead and gone, and carries with it an implicit suggestion that some kind of progress has relieved us of the collected items. In fact, though, almost all the exhibition candidates he lists are recidivist phenomena. One of my pet peeves is the notion of progress. So I don’t think the addition of a wing housing a Museum of Modern Peeves would be an improvement.
    A doctor once told me that every 10-15 years there is a mild flare-up of scabies cases in the populations of Western countries. He said it was due to the fact that new generations of young doctors fail to recognize the symptoms immediately, since they know scabies only from textbooks. In the time it takes them to realize what’s going on and start dealing with it properly, it has spread.
    Sloterdijk’s newest book, Du mußt dein Leben ändern, opens with the observation that it is now fashionable to claim that religion is back, and needs to be taken respectfully. Everywhere the red carpet is being rolled out with pompous ceremony, if we disregard for a moment

    the 2007 summer offensive of the godless, to which we owe two of the most superficial pamphlets of recent intellectual history, signed: Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.

    The book is an attempt to get penetrate both kinds of guff, and come out the other side with something worthwhile.
    Instead of yet another regroupment into us (progress) and them (history), I find more appealing the temple-museums that Feodorov wrote about in “The Museum: its meaning and purpose”, and in the “Philosophy of the Common Cause” (some bio here and here). Here is an excerpt from “Common Cause”:

    The museum is not a collection of things, but a gathering [sobor] of people; its work consists not in the accumulation of dead things, but in the resurrection to life of the remains of those who have died, in the restoration of the dead.

  5. Although it’s uncool to jump the gun in literate company, I have a nagging sense that some prophylaxis would not be amiss here. I mentioned Fyodorov and also Tsiolkovsky once before, several months ago. I wrote that it was from the Russian philosopher/art-theorist Boris Groys

    that I know about Nikolai Fyodorov, Obshee delo, Tsiolkovsky and the resurrection of the dead to pack them off into outer space as astronauts

    Despite the weirdness of that, I got exactly one response from Crown. Or was it because of the weirdness? Of course there is no blogging rule prescribing that every contribution must elicit a response, especially ones that seem to come from beyond the pale of normalcy. Hat himself did a piece on Fyodorov’s origin-of-language ideas in 2007, where he concludes
    I don’t know why, but I have an unreasonable fondness for these unaffiliated crackpots, burrowing away at their obsessive analyses of Life, God, and Meaning, glaring with half-seeing eyes at the world around them and scribbling, scribbling, scribbling. If his project for mass resurrection gets underway, I look forward to having a chat with Nikolai Fedorovich.
    That got only five comments. Fyodorov is of course a crackpot in one way or another, but I see his writings in a different light. There is a PTA-approved procedure for dealing profitably with writings that seem to be crazy – you relabel them allegory, then restart your grey cells.
    I recalled Fyodorov this weekend when thinking about something Crown said in his “Naziware” blog. By a not-too-circuitous route, I came to the conclusion that I have always overlooked something in my standard scorn for the old Catholic tradition of preserving body bits of saints as holy relics. Aren’t they more substantial mementos than photographs? In any case, what do I concretely know about that tradition? Zilch.
    Schlafes Bruder (sleep’s brother), i.e. death. The nations wake up every day to go to work. Is that not a mass resurrection? It’s a mass something, that’s for sure. Is sleep something people could in principle do without? The Bible enjoins us to have no thought for the morrow. Are we not supposed to think about yesterday either? Would that get in the way of progress? Etc. etc.

  6. John Emerson says:

    I just wandered into Icelandic Facebook. I could friend hundreds of -dóttirs and -ssons. Eventually I could friend the whole island. But I suppose I’m othering the exoticrotten-fish-eating Icelanders again.

  7. John Emerson says:

    One thing led to another and I ended up buying Dwight MacDonalds book of parodies. Better than his cultural criticism, for sure.

  8. Morris Kline wrote several peevish classics in the 70′s about how mathematics had gone irretrievably abstract and incomprehensible to right-thinking people.
    The problem was not so much that Kline was wrong as that he insisted that the way to fix the situation was to go back to the good old days– which, of course, was never an option.

  9. John Emerson says:

    I think that Benoit Mandelbrot and maybe Rene Thom said much the same thing.
    Not so much here, but in other venues I am a master of peevishness and worse — but not a prescriptivist. (And perhaps at times Hat’s anti-prescriptivism becomes…. no, I won’t say it.)

  10. Stu’s grumbling about how people left his comment dangling months ago had me feebly reaching for puns about threads — some end and some get woven in — some become yarns — I had to look up which is weft and which is warp, thought of warp drive and the resurrected astronauts, learned that the word “warp” is related to “werfen” and other words of throwing as well as turning. Also looked up “phylactery” while I was thinking of prophylaxis, and found that it’s from a word meaning “reliquary”. One way to make progress (that can’t be the right word, though, can it?) in museum or shrine design — or at least to make the holy-relic tradition more concrete — might be to start carrying the dead around on your person in little boxes, boxes of dead-but-not-dead words or dead-but-not-dead bones (I’m sure we could think of other options, too) according to preference. This could be a use for a hat. Maybe it already is.
    Where the hell is Noetica when we need him? Is he all right?

  11. at times Hat’s anti-prescriptivism becomes…. no, I won’t say it.
    You’ll pry my anti-prescriptivist rants out of my cold, dead laptop.

  12. Are the peevologies only in English? In 1924, Lenin wrote an essay, “On the Cleansing of the Russian Language” where he bemoaned much of what Orwell complained about in “Politics and the English Language”: the use of political jargon, the perceived loss of clarity, and language loss to foreign words. He concluded, “Is it not time to declare war on the corruption of the Russian language?” This lead to various policies that enforced “approved” vocabulary, much like the type of regulation that Orwell objected to in “1984″.

  13. No, it’s an international sport, though of course the peeves differ from language to language.

  14. J.W. Brewer says:

    A good subject for study might be how and why some peeves (like that of A. Bierce mentioned a few posts back) soon disappear without a trace and are not defended or carried forward by the peeved of the next generation, whereas others may have been originally misbegotten centuries ago by Dryden or Bishop Lowth or whomever, yet stalk the earth wreaking havoc even unto this day.

  15. Isn’t the singular of “peevology” “peevologie”?

  16. In 1962 — 1962, one of the last of the Good Years, which the echoes of the Fifties sounded in all ears.
    I found it impossible to parse this parenthesis. You quoted it correctly, but there seems to be something wrong: maybe “which” should be “when”?
    Are the peevologies only in English?
    No, they are alive and well in Spanish. When my wife makes one of her periodical complaints that the language is going to the dogs I tend to take the cowardly route of keeping my non-prescriptivist views to myself.

  17. I found it impossible to parse this parenthesis. You quoted it correctly, but there seems to be something wrong
    Yes, I had a problem with it too. I wonder what he meant?

  18. David Marjanović says:

    To stay just a bit too much on topic…

    For now, as it occurs to you what exhibits you would like to see displayed in the museé

    Musée.
    (With the notable exception of the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle.)

  19. GS: the old Catholic tradition of preserving body bits of saints as holy relics. Aren’t they more substantial mementos than photographs?
    Stu, I’ve never heard you grumble about Walter Benjamin. Surely he’s worth a mention now and again? And when are you going to start a good translation of Sloterdijk?

  20. What’s this about Benjamin? Go ahead and mention! I’ve never read him, apart from (decades ago) that bit about the Angel of History flying backwards into the future. I remember thinking he must have got his pinions in a terrible tangle.

  21. I stand corrected. Last year I read his essay Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit. I wasn’t bowled over by it, although I did fidget slightly in my chair. I have never understood the concept of “art”, nor of “symbol” – to name but two of several dozen widely-bandied words that I never use outside of scare-quotes.

  22. Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit.
    That’s the one! From Wiki:

    Benjamin used the word “aura” to refer to the sense of awe and reverence one presumably experienced in the presence of unique works of art. [...] “For the first time in world history,” Benjamin wrote, “mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual.”

    (This because you said: I came to the conclusion that I have always overlooked something in my standard scorn for the old Catholic tradition of preserving body bits of saints as holy relics. Aren’t they more substantial mementos than photographs?)

  23. Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit.
    That’s the one! From Wiki:

    Benjamin used the word “aura” to refer to the sense of awe and reverence one presumably experienced in the presence of unique works of art. [...] “For the first time in world history,” Benjamin wrote, “mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual.”

    (This because you said: I came to the conclusion that I have always overlooked something in my standard scorn for the old Catholic tradition of preserving body bits of saints as holy relics. Aren’t they more substantial mementos than photographs?)

  24. That’s a rather brilliant connection, Crown! I suppose the blank that I draw when I encounter the wort “art” obscured certain implications of the passage when I read it.
    I now see that it fits in with my kitchen-cupboard theory of knowledge acquisition – a homegrown variant of Goethe’s “erwirb es, um es zu besitzen” (loosely: if you want it, work for it).

  25. It also fits in with Sloterdijk’s Leben ändern, which I am rereading. I guess I could make a stab at translating (parts of) the section on Wittgenstein, in recognizance of Crown’s interest, and put them on my site.
    The best approach would be a joint venture. I would need someone familiar with current philosophers who write intelligible English, i.e. the output end. I am too close to the German. It is all to easy to render Sloterdijk into post-modernist artsy-fartsy English. Checking his website, I find that he has finally taken down the godawful, so embarassing English blurb-shite that once was there. I hope this is a good sign, indicating that there are more people than me who want to make Sloterdijk more accessible in English. I have a suspicion that Sloterdijk himself is no judge of English philosophical styles, but perhaps I’m wrong.
    What I want to avoid is this kind of thing, typos and all:

    In my contribution, I adopt Sloterdijk’s analysis of globalization as the megalomaneous or “hyperpolitical” installing of a total work of art (Gesamtkunstwerk). I rephrase his threefold (energetical, informational, and epistemological) “explicitatiori’ of marl s radical immersion in his own media as “radical mediocrity” and argue that this has become our first nature. But then, what is the political potential of Sloterdijk’s merger of aesthetics with politics as based on the Bataillan principle of excess rather than lack and scarcity? Should we not differentiate between miserabilist and affirmative critique? This distinction is all but self-evident, because every new …

    I currently expect that I will have to do some logoplastic surgery. The German will have to be ground back a bit, and the English will have to be custom-fitted in several places. I am taking nothing for granted. That is one hell of an undertaking, but it’s the only route left. That’s why I’m dragging my feet.

  26. I hope this is a good sign, indicating that there are more people than me who want to make Sloterdijk more accessible in English.
    Yes, the person who introduced me to his work sometime in the late ‘eighties said exactly the same thing, that he was much more easy to read & funnier in German. I agree it’s an undertaking & I think you’re right to drag your feet; since he seems to understand English (viz. the Dawkins & Hitchins remark) I don’t see why he doesn’t do something about his English translation himself. Maybe lobbying him would be less work than actually doing (unpaid) translation.

  27. In my contribution, I adopt Sloterdijk’s analysis of globalization as the megalomaneous or “hyperpolitical” installing of a total work of art (Gesamtkunstwerk). I rephrase his threefold (energetical, informational, and epistemological) “explicitatiori’ of marl s radical immersion in his own media
    By that point, my eyes have irretrievably glazed over. If somebody was writing like that, it wouldn’t matter if somewhere in there was information that would save my life—I literally couldn’t read/understand it.

  28. John McIntyre says:

    The comment:
    In 1962 — 1962, one of the last of the Good Years, which the echoes of the Fifties sounded in all ears.
    I found it impossible to parse this parenthesis.
    The answer:
    I left out the “in” before “which” and did not catch it before posting. Thanks for pointing out the problem.

  29. my eyes have irretrievably glazed over
    Yes, Mr. Hat, that’s the point! The other point is that Sloterdijk doesn’t write like that, but you can easily make it sound like he does.
    This is an old, familiar issue. Consider the Bengali poem:
    Let us go then, you and I,
    When the evening is spread out against the sky
    Like a patient etherised upon a table;
    Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
    The muttering retreats
    Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
    And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
    Streets that follow like a tedious argument
    Of insidious intent
    To lead you to an overwhelming question …
    Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
    Let us go and make our visit.

    Here is a translation by a well-meaning Mumbai journalist for the Indian Times:
    Allow us to proceed then, you and I,
    While the light still streams across the sky
    Like a patient knocked out on the operating area;
    Allow us to proceed, through doubtless semi-arid streets,
    The grumbling withdrawals
    Of insomniac nights in night-by-night hotels
    And circus restaurants strewn with oyster shells:
    Streets that track you like a tiresome argument
    Of crafty goals
    To bring you to a crushing question …
    Oh, do not question “What is it?”
    Let us proceed and visit.

    The choice of words can screw up any possibility of understanding what’s going on – and may even stop you from trying. Someone may retort: “But that’s poetry! Philosophy is different – or if it isn’t, then it shouldn’t be called philosophy”. My answer will be: “You’re wrong”.

  30. Maybe lobbying him would be less work than actually doing (unpaid) translation
    Sloterdijk knows English of course. What I meant was that I’m not sure whether he would be the best judge of English renditions of his prose.
    And who said anything about unpaid? All I’m doing here is practice-preening for the big one – when I approach the man himself with my proposals. I’ve got to have more in hand than a theoretical position on how hard it would be. Do you think my eye-shadow is too harsh?

  31. I remember reading a review of the English translation of Critique of Cynical Reason (which I guess is getting on 20 years old; I have it, but have not finished it). The reviewer wanted the editor to shorten it drastically and the translator to similarly tighten up the prose. I suspect that would be wrong in the other direction. IIRC, and relevant to this post, I believe the reviewer also objected to “different from” in the translation as ungrammatical, when it is, I believe, acceptable in just the same register of English as Sloterdijk’s German.

  32. Oh no, that’s a great idea.
    There are plenty of people who write philosophy well, people like AC Grayling & Jerry Fodor, although I don’t know of anyone in the Continental tradition who writes well. That’s part of the problem, as we know.

  33. Oh no, that’s a great idea.
    There are plenty of people who write philosophy well, people like AC Grayling & Jerry Fodor, although I don’t know of anyone in the Continental tradition who writes well. That’s part of the problem, as we know.

  34. Oops, I meant “different than,” instead of “different from.”

  35. MMcM: that’s very interesting about the reviewer and translator of the Critique. But viewed from the present day, it can be seen as a mere skirmish in the Anglophone foot-hills. I fear I have omitted to give people an idea of just how prominent Sloterdijk is in Germany. One of the numerous prestigious prizes awarded to Sloterdijk for his work is the Sigmund Freud Prize for Scientific Prose. Some previous recipients who should be familiar to English speakers are Arendt, Heisenberg, Bloch, Habermas, Gadamer and Dahrendorf.
    Another is the Ernst Robert Curtius Essay Prize, also awarded to Dürrenmatt, Enzensberger, Safranski and Küng.
    The Financial Times Deutschland distinguished his Im Weltinnenraum des Kapitals as the Best Economics Book of 2005 in the category “the crisis of capitalism”. Weltinnenraum is another bit from Rilke, like Du mußt dein Leben ändern. It is often mentioned in one breath with Hopkin’s “inscape”. The title is a sarcastic twist of the Rilke, and might be rendered as “The air-conditioned heart of capitalism”.
    Crown: this year Sloterdijk was awarded the Architectural Criticism Prize by the Bund Deutscher Architekten (Association of German Architects).
    I think I’m developing a case of the culture-divide heebie-jeebies. I see problems everywhere that can’t be ascribed to “the language” – it’s “the cultures” which are so different. On the Wikipedia page describing the Sigmund Freud Prize, someone has written “… Sigmund Freud, dem Meister gelehrter Prosa“. I don’t know why gelehrter Prosa (genitive case) is italicized, but how is that to be translated into English? It is an unexceptionable thing to say or write in Germany, and translates quite simply as “learned prose”, or even “academic prose”. But you would be laughed to scorn for that in America, wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you have to hide it behind something like “distinguished prose”?

  36. Hopkins’ “inscape”

  37. Stu: To me there would be a difference between “learned prose” and “academic prose”.
    In my contribution, I adopt Sloterdijk’s analysis of globalization as the megalomaneous or “hyperpolitical” installing …
    (1) The passage above is an example of bad academic prose.
    (2) A master of academic prose would never write anything like it.
    In (2) I could change “academic” to “learned”. In (1) I could not. The adjective “learned” confers respect. It might raise eyebrows, being a little dusty with age, but not scornful laughs. The adjective “academic” does not automatically confer respect; it can carry negative views of intellectuals or of the professorial world, and is tainted by expressions like “the question is a purely academic one”.
    I imagine that some such heebie-jeebies or whim-whams or (I didn’t know this one until just now) screaming habdabs as you describe are an occupational hazard of the translation biz. (By which I do not mean to dismiss your own particular heebie-jeebies at all.)

  38. I’ve got Critique of Cynical Reason and I didn’t finish it either.
    I didn’t know Rüdi Safranski was really famous in Tyskland. They ought to write it on the book jacket, because he never shows up on those ‘famous’ programs on the telly. I think I knew that Ralf Dahrendorf had a reputation there as big as it was/is in England.

  39. [Safranski] never shows up on those ‘famous’ programs on the telly
    Sloterdijk and Safranski have been moderating “In the glasshouse: A philosophical quartet” as a team on German television since 2002. They’re old buddies. It was through Sloterdijk that I discovered Safranski, in particular his philosophical biographies of Schopenhauer, Heidegger and Nietzsche. The Heidegger work is cunningly entitled “Ein Meister aus Deutschland”. One is allowed to remember Celan’s line “Der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland” from “Die Todesfuge”.

  40. I think I knew that Ralf Dahrendorf had a reputation there as big as it was/is in England.
    Dahrendorf was German with dual citizenship, the British part dating only from 1988. He got his doctorate in philosophy and classics at the University of Hamburg in 1952. Then he studied at the LSE etc. He was originally in the SPD, then switched to the FDP (the “liberals”). He was elected to the Bundestag in 1969 for the FDP, but didn’t stay long usw. He had public debates with people from the “far left”, such as Rudi Dutschke, that raised the hackles of right-thinking German folks. He died just 3 months ago here in Cologne.
    The German Wikipedia article contains all these details. The English one, in comparison, is stingier on his political and academic involvement in Germany.

  41. “In the glasshouse: A philosophical quartet”
    Goodness, what fabulous programs you get on ZDF!
    The Heidegger work is cunningly entitled …
    That’s interesting, as is his broadcasting. I’d only heard of Rüdi because of his Nietzsche volume, which I thought was kind of boring in comparison to some other works on Nietzsche (I admit I’m very superficial in my reading about philosophy).
    “Professor Sir Ralf” Dahrendorf got famous in England in 1970-ish, by giving the Reith Lectures on BBC radio. He was head of the LSE at that time and I think for many years after. Little did we know then that he had another secret life.

  42. John Emerson says:

    Their TV has philosophers, ours has ……..
    I don’t want to finish the sentence, but am willing to agree — that’s a difference between cultures, all right.
    I also think that I’d like either German philosopher better than almost any American philosopher.

  43. Didn’t you like Rorty? Or the fat guy from Columbia who writes about art in The Nation? His name has escaped me. Or what about the aforementioned Jerry Fodor? And what about Stu’s subway pal from Columbia who died, I bet he had better jokes. I like American philosophers, especially the ones who only died recently.

  44. John Emerson says:

    Rorty: less so now thn a year ago. He was really much more into pluralist liberalism than I thought.
    Danto? Not especially.
    The subway joker: inacessible because dead and didn’t publish much.
    Fodor: I’ve liked bits of his stuff. Too much philosophy of mind.

  45. I think we’re into an Arthur Danto backlash period. Of course I haven’t read anything by him for about fifteen years, maybe he writes for the New Criterion now instead.

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