Spoor of Desire: Selected Poems
is available for $16.00 from FootHills Publishing, P.O. Box 68, Kanona NY 14856 or see www.foothillspublishing.com.

Tourist Snapshots is available for $8.95 from Randy Fingland, CC Marimbo, P.O. Box 933, Berkeley CA 94701 or see www.ccmarimbo.com.

Dada Poetry: An Introduction was published by Nirala Publications. It may be ordered on Amazon.com for $25 plus shipping. American buyers may order a copy from me for $23 including shipping.

The other books are also available from the author William Seaton. Write seaton@frontiernet.net.

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Friday, April 1, 2011

St. Joseph's Day at the Laguna Pueblo

The Laguna Pueblo, located in New Mexico’s high desert, is a poor town. For every intact adobe home one or two are half collapsed. Stiff winds blow clouds of sandy dust. The mission church of St. Joseph built in 1699 (just after the Spaniards’ reconquest) is the most prominent building. When we arrived on the saint’s feast day mass had just begun. The floor of the long narrow church is pounded earth and straw. The side walls are decorated with geometric motifs signifying graves – here and there a small bird appears with a head of ripe grain. Supporting the roof are the massive vigas carried from a stand of ponderosa pine thirty-five miles away. We were told that if one were dropped on the way, it was abandoned and a new one cut. Between the beams branches of different colors are laid in a herringbone pattern. On the right wall a large and frightening painting represents purgatory. To the left of the altar hangs a representation of St. Joseph said to date from the church’s founding and behind the altar one could see the Trinity, St. Barbara, and others in Spanish/native style.
The French missionary priest Father Hilaire served mass in vestments ornamented with an eagle dancer, speaking mostly Keresan to the accompaniment of tribal drums. At the conclusion of the service he distributed freshly blessed scepters of office to tribal leaders (including young men holding the position of war chiefs). One of the elder officials welcomed people to the feast, saying “if no one else offers you hospitality, you are welcome at my house. Everyone knows where it is, on the south side of the village.”

The priest handed a statue of St. Joseph to these men who then led a procession by a circuitous route to the dancing ground where it was installed in a pavilion ornamented with deer (or elk?) heads and bedecked with evergreen boughs. A few minutes later the dancers and musicians arrived. As a party of male drummers took up a position in the center, a long line of dancers circled the plaza led by two older men and followed by several hundred people, men and women, old and young. At the end came many children. Everyone participating in the ceremony had hands painted white, and all wore traditional clothing: the men and boys had fox (or coyote) skins hanging from their sashes behind, the females for the most part had their legs wrapped as we had seen in old photographs. Many dancers were shaking gourd rattles, and all carried sprigs of vegetation in each hand. They danced around the plaza again and again for perhaps forty-five minutes to drumbeats and song. Four or five senior men holding white painted branches kept everyone in the correct pace and place. At times the procession would pause and everyone would turn about where he or she stood.
Patricia was sitting next to a local woman who said that this first dance was a reenactment of the Pueblo peoples’ first migration to their present home territory. As the day wore on, we saw an eagle dance (with men wearing bird masks and great broad wings), buffalo dance (two men with bodies blackened and dark bison headdresses with horns, one white buffalo as well), deer dance (men in antlers, women in elaborate feather arrangements over their heads), and others, but we lost our original informant and asked no questions. At the start there had been far more dancers than spectators and very few outsiders. As the day progressed, at intervals there were in fact very few people simply watching, but the dances continued, one following another, always with drumming and singing in Keresan, no master of ceremonies, never a word, no applause. It was truly a community event.

Nearby vendors had set up booths selling crafts but also baseball caps and teeshirts (“Rez Hoops”) as well as food – tamales and burritos, fry bread and “Indian tacos” (fry bread with beans, onions, chiles, meat, etc.), lamb (“20,000 coyotes can’t be wrong”), the almost spherical loaves of the local bread cooked in the dome-like outdoor hornos we saw in some dusty yards. No alcohol anywhere, not even in the hands of those who stood at their doors watching; surely it was forbidden.

Though the day had started fair and clear, storm clouds arrived with a terrific wind that blew sandy dust into our eyes and obliged the vendors to hold the aluminum poles supporting their booths to keep them from blowing down. Rain fell as did the temperature. Route 40, the big east-west interstate by which we had come, was closed for miles in the snowstorm that followed.

Before we headed out, we took refuge from the rain (it had not yet cooled enough for snow) in the church where we came upon a nice fellow named Albert who played the flute, at the end pointing out where one might make donations to the church and adding, as he grinned and turned an embarrassed gaze toward the ground, in a barely discernable voice, “and I don’t mind taking a little tip myself.”

I can't seem to get this on in the comment section, so I am adding it to the end of the piece. I do want to respond to my critic below.
Thank you for your comments. I don’t doubt that you are quite right. My sketch was the impression of a passerby who spent only a memorable few hours in St. Joseph.
I don’t regard “poor” as an insult, but the fact is that the official poverty rate on reservations in America is twice the national average.
Further, symbolic hints and mythic associations have informed the travel writing I like best and the relation of description to reality is always complex.
Still, I regret having offended. I received a pleasant and civil reception in Laguna and hope to visit there again.

Transformation of Convention in Early Minnesang

Convention has been often misunderstood as a static and reductive device; thus, highly conventional works are thought to lack originality or imagination. In fact, in my experience, convention simply increases the potential for semiotic density and precision. The aesthetic text is particularly useful for the articulation of oppositions, tensions, and problematic contradictions not unlike those Levi-Strauss found to underlie myth. Because it is more conflicted and ambiguous, this aesthetic exposition is more precise than other discourses, more true to lived experience.

The poetic convention always implies its opposite and a host of other variations. By creating expectations in the reader which then may be fulfilled or disappointed the author adds another level of significance and complexity. Convention can effectively summarize known meanings and then play with them, rendering art ever more efficient and exact, especially once a whole tradition has accumulated around a usage.
The debates over the status of what continue to be called by the useful name of courtly love have raged for decades. Why would such a privileging of the feminine have arisen in a patriarchal society? Do the texts reflect actual behavior at all? If not, what did it mean to voice sentiments at odds with accepted social practice?
Aller wîbe wünne” by der von Kürenberc seems a wholly “courtly” lyric. The poet expresses extravagant praise for his beloved (as in the opening words “most beautiful of women”); he follows the codified behavior prescribed for genteel lovers (such as communicating through love notes); and he expresses a seemly doubt about his own worthiness.

In the same author’s “Ich stuont mir nehtint spâte” the first reversal of expectations one encounters is the feminine voice. Then the persona reflects back on the text itself as she hears the knight sing “in Kürenberges wise” [style]. What could he be singing but her praises? And her response is “er muoz mir diu land rumen,/ ald ich geniete mich sîn” ["He has to leave this land before I bring him to his knees"} He must depart, frustrating love, in order to achieve it. The knights’ reaction is instant compliance. He heads off to crusade or some other war, declaring that his leaving is due to the beloved. He understands that her demand arises from the fact that he is attractive to her (“hold”), though the consequence is that she must do without his love.

In other words, the poet’s adopting the woman’s perspective generates a flood of self-consciousness and the conclusion that the way to exalt their love is to prevent its being realized in the flesh, an idea similar to Jaufré’s amor de lonh. He provides a proof that his devotion is altogether free of self-interest and thus of the very highest quality, but at the sacrifice of the muddier business of actual physical love.

Kürenberc’s intentions seem even more complex when juxtaposed to another poem of his small surviving oeuvre. “Jô stuont ich nehtint spâte” provides an inversion of convention in numerous ways, thus balancing the picture of love. Even in summary resume these four lines have more twists than a Hollywood thriller. The contemplative, slightly melancholy mood set by the opening line is deflated by the woman's sexual aggression, the power of religion is invoked not to hallow an uplifting affection, but to condemn the man for frustrating the woman’s lust, and the conventional poetic image of the falcon is replaced by the unexpected comparison of the woman to a boar, a figure generally associated with martial ferocity! Each of these tropes on convention adds to, without replacing, the courtly picture of love.

It is in the light of such structural reversals as these that one must read the medieval attitude toward love (and toward poetry). Apparent self-contradictions or mélanges such as Andreas Capellanus’ book four, Chaucer’s retraction, or the highly complicated picture of love that emerges from narrative compilations such as Confessio Amantis or Romance of the Rose are in fact integrated, albeit complex, structures of meaning at once more “true” to the dizzying variety of human experience, more poetic and more entertaining than any straightforward and simple formulation could possibly be. The psychologist would consider such ambivalence to be, not inconsistent and thus unlikely, but definitively human.
The contrast need hardly be so dramatic. In the texts associated with the name of Dietmar von Aist, similar contradictions are implied rather than foregrounded.

For instance, in “Uf der linden obene” the nature introduction sketches a scene of generative joy. The poet’s heart responds in kind, in an almost mystic elevation, he is uplifted to a place he had earlier reached, a place presumably of favor with the beloved. This transport, though, can only be understood to suggest a current loss.

The delicately oblique ending, though too discreet to be an overt complaint, can only be construed as a confession of loss, all the more eloquent for its Germanic understatement: “die manent mich der gedanke vil die ich him zeiner frouwen hân." ["which brings much to mind the thoughts that I have of a woman"]. What, then, is the poet's relation with the natural scene? Clearly one of subdued envy, of opposition rather than delight in the “prettiness” which seems to govern the poem's opening.

The image of the falcon which in der von Kürenberc’s “Wîp unde vederspil” conveys semantic elements of training, obedience, and dominance, reappears in an altogether different light in Dietmar’s “Ez stuont ein frouwe alleine” where the falcon is an image of the uncontrollable, where choice belongs to the bird alone (the choice of a roost, “einen boum der ir gevalle,” corresponding to a lover), but the persona’s worry is explicitly directed not over the bird's unpredictable flight, but over other women's influence on him
(“owê wan lânt si mir mîn lieb?”).
Thus the earlier associations for the falcon have not vanished, but have merely sunk into a significant background role. It is now others whom the poet fears are “training” the bird; its independence was illusory from the start.
In this way the poet’s vision accumulates, just as lived experiences does, by observing data, paying equal attention to repeated patterns (what in literature would be meters, tropes, conventions of all sorts) and to deviations from those patterns. Each conveys information, and the complex sum of countless observations generates the individual’s consciousness. Art alone can provide a record, and in this record, as in Indian mythology every deity is accompanied by its counterpart of the opposite gender, every convention brings its opposite.

If a woman is most beautiful, might she be also in certain moments a fearsome beast? Is not the power of her beauty what allows her to cause such torment? Perhaps the “wild boar” is itself erotic in a new way, but that reaction might itself be trivialized as male fantasy, which might then in turn be viewed as an elegant, affectionate satire of male-female relations . . . And thus the wheel of semiosis turns. The poet’s task is to note the relevant psychic pitches and tighten the string of contradiction tautly enough that his lyre might sing.


Growing up in a suburb, before involvement with civil rights, student movement, youth movement, SDS, labor union activism, and demonstrating a few weeks ago at a rally in solidarity with Wisconsin public workers, I used to seek out the funky low-rent offices of Old Left organizations in Chicago. At the height of the Cold War for me the pleasures of the urban environment included conversations with radical activists, perhaps more properly labeled radical thinkers, their movements were at the time so marginal.

People of my generation or a few years older were to define the New Left in distinction from these organizations, but anyone who knew American history realized that each of these groups had been influential at critical moments of America’s past. The Socialist Labor Party was the very first revolutionary labor organization; the Socialist Party built support for such proposals as Social Security and unemployment insurance when the Democrats wouldn’t touch them; Communists were instrumental in CIO organizing during the 30s; Socialist Workers led the Minneapolis general strike of 1934. And in the late 50s and early 60s, in spite of shaky finances were and tiny memberships, they all survived in Chicago including, in offices over the Assyrian-American restaurant at 2422 North Halstead, the international headquarters of the Industrial Workers of the World. While on the ground floor, old men with a language and culture unknown to most Midwesterners ate stewed lamb with rice and pickled cabbage or retired behind a curtain to gamble, in a suite of rooms above, among decades-old heaps of leaflets and stickers and books and pictures, were the remnants of the Wobblies, old men even then for the most part, who had fought the good fight for a truly just society.

I later knew people my own age who joined (as did some of our mentors such as David Dellinger and Noam Chomsky), but the hangers-on on Halstead Street were the original crew -- Carlos Cortez, the artist who had been born in 1923, stood out as the sole younger activist. Most of these guys had spent considerable time on the road, hopping boxcars and hitch-hiking in search of work. Most had spent time in jail as well, since the group was targeted by all levels of government from the day of its creation. Though they discussed their ailments and problems with social security (apart from being radicals, they tended to have irregular work histories), they also reminisced about the days when the workers’ commonwealth seemed on the horizon.

Most of the members of this revolutionary anarcho-syndicalist union, long featured on the Attorney General’s list of subversive organizations, were advanced in age, as the group’s numbers (and the repression directed against them) had peaked around the time of WWI, but they retained the apocalyptic vision of a time when, in the words of “The Internationale” “le soleil brillera toujours, c'est la lutte finale . . .l'internationale sera le genre humain.” Seeking, in the words of the Wobbly preamble “to build the new society within the shell of the old,” they imagined a community of love while fighting in the streets for their rights.

They stood out not only from their class enemies, but also from other unions and socialists in the acceptance, from the very start, of women, foreigners, and blacks. Whereas the AFL had taken the route of organizing the elite workers, those whose highly developed skills, made them most difficult to replace with scabs, the IWW invited all, with a special warmth for those on the very bottom: itinerant workers, farm laborers, lumberjacks. Most had spent time on the road and in jail.

Even more than the utopian purity of their vision, the Wobblies had my affection and that of many of my generation because of their art. Apart from their posters and the music written by Joe Hill, T-Bone Slim, Ralph Chaplin and other contributors to the The Little Red Songbook, the group pioneered street art with their encounters with the Salvation Army and their distinctive adhesive mini-posters with slogans like “for more of the good things of life” and “slow down.”

Their actual membership never reached much past 100,000, oddly, not far from the membership of the Communist Party in the 40s or of SDS just before its collapse as a mass organization. They won some hard-fought strikes such as the Pressed Steel Car strike of 1909 and the Lawrence textile strike in 1912, but found it difficult to deal with negotiating contracts and building a bureaucratic union. After all, in the words of the preamble “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common.”

May we remember the highest American traditions, those who worked for abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, labor unionism, and peace, and even earlier, the “levelers” who imagined equality and started the struggles that have allowed us to secure what comforts we have.

The Formation of a Christian Rhetoric

Surely one of the strongest of the historical categories that are employed, often with apologies, to organize a vision of the past is the opposition of the classical age to the medieval. While each interpenetrates the other with anticipations, vestiges, and continuities many of which are familiar, the moment of rupture retains a certain mystery. It is the purpose of this study to focus on the transmission of one important element of classical culture, the theory of rhetoric. St. Augustine, a pivotal figure in any account of European culture, set forth his ideas about rhetoric in a form at once undeniably derivative and definitely innovative. Since Augustine lived in a milieu only partially Christian, since he was educated along traditional classical lines and relished Latin drama, poetry, and oratory in his youth and yet developed into a bishop and one of the most important fathers of the church, his work is well-suited for a study of the processes by which the ancient world's culture became transformed into the medieval.

An examination of the reworking of Ciceronian rhetorical theory in Augustine's De Doctrina Christiana will specify the mode of appropriation of classical learning that Augustine practiced and which was to be decisively influential in the educational institutions of Europe for the next thousand years and beyond. Augustine by no means simply passed on the pagan precepts on eloquence as he had learned them. He correctly saw that, however technical, rhetorical teaching did not provide value-free aids that could equally serve any ideology. Nor, on the other hand, did he reject them altogether or simply overlay them with Christian coloring to make them acceptable. Rather he truly renewed and recast the concepts he had learned in his youth to make a genuinely Christian discipline.

Most typically, the process involves maintaining the Ciceronian categories while altering the value judgments associated with certain of them. While his changes are for the most part explicable in terms of the requirements of a Christian philosophical position, they also imply highly significant shifts in literary practice and criticism, and initiated trends in the writing and reading of literature that were to challenge and, in some instances, to supplant the older practices. Augustine's approach of “redeeming” the classics rather than writing them off as hopelessly corrupt must have been the result of a deliberate and difficult decision. An alternative reaction was readily available. Such writers as Tertullian, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory Nazianzen exemplify the unqualified rejection of non-Christian culture that contended with an attitude like Augustine’s in the early days of the church. [1]

Augustine's creative restoration of vitality to a system that had been regarded as decayed into a pitiable senility long before his own time did not come about without conflict and contradiction. Every reader of the Confessions is familiar with the young man's saturation in linguistic and rhetorical studies. His love of Latin literature led him to identify with the emotions of fictive characters almost to the exclusion of his own feelings. [2] His attachments to drama, philosophy, and oratory were no less deep. Indeed, for the young Augustine the Bible deserved condemnation on the grounds of style alone. [3] Even his devotion to absolute values which began the quest that was to be fulfilled in his conversion arose from his study of Cicero's Hortensius. [4] Whereas he had previously devoured “libros eloquentiae” with an eye to his own future eminence and thus became as ventosus (“puffed-up”) in pride as the language of the most Asiatic of stylists. [5]

When he happened on Cicero’s work, though, he changed the motives and the focus of his study, declaring that he turned then to God, though conscious of loving only philosophy. He says quite pointedly (and with a fine sense of antithesis) that Cicero is commonly loved for his tongue and not for his heart, while he himself was interested in content only, and not at all in language at this point. [6] Having earlier thought he loved Hierius whom he had never met due to his reputation for eloquence, [7] he is later indoctrinated in the details of Christianity by Ambrose whose method is equally “literary” and who corrected his original notion about the poverty of style in the Bible by explaining how to interpret the Old Testament figuratively. [8] He continues in his later writings to make copious reference to classical texts and ideas, [9] and, moreover, his own style continues to make use of the technical repertory of devices fostered in him by his training. [10]

The tension between classical and Christian culture that defines much of the movement of Augustine's life is part of the very structure of De Doctrina Christiana. While the first three books are basically concerned with setting forth a system for reading the Bible with understanding, [11] the fourth assumes the task of constructing a Christian rhetoric so that the truths available by the methods of the previous books may be effectively communicated to others. It was clearly a difficult piece of work for Augustine — he wrote the first three books about thirty years before adding the fourth — and he clearly marks it off from the rest with a separate introduction. Having repented of his early preference of Cicero to the Bible, he finally was able to face the grounds for that taste and to attempt to lend sufficient “dignitas” to the Christian style that others may not be similarly misled. The book is explicitly modeled after the teaching of Cicero whom he “saves” for posterity by correcting. [12]

One of the central organizing principles of classical rhetoric as set forth in Cicero is the concept of the three styles or levels of discourse. [13] For Cicero the use of the three is dictated by considerations of propriety and indeed all three are not merely admissible for different occasions, [14] but all may be used in a single speech. [15] For Cicero, though, propriety is not the sole index of value, and there is unquestionably a hierarchy of worth associated with the three levels. The genus submissum is good but not great, [16] while the genus sublime is princeps. The ideal orator can use any level he likes, while a mediocre speaker may master the low and medium style but will be unable to attain the high. [17] The middle style is described by Cicero as temperate, and moderate, [18] as one would expect, but it also includes the genos antheeron which is brilliant, florid, and polished. [19] He identifies Gorgias, Thrasymachus, and Theodorus as practitioners of the middle style and regards epideixis [20] as its method. Its end is to charm [21] while the low style is good for teaching [22] and the high for oratory proper.

Part of the reason for his relegation of extreme stylists to the middle level is that the moral foundation of his thinking would not permit him to equate a sensational verbal texture with the expression of serious content. [23] He stigmatizes those Asiaticos who are servientes numero and thinks of their goals (placare, delectare) as inferior to the true orator’s (persuadere, perturbare). It is only a lesser speaker for Cicero who will consider a statement that is elegant alone worth saying rather than one which is true or likely as well as comely. Still, the nobility of the high style was not wholly dependent on logical development and ambitious content, as the mention of perturbare along with persuadere indicated. The high style is acer and ardens as well as gravis [24], suggesting the necessity for all three elements: truth, a serious topic, and manipulation of emotion by artificial literary devices.

Augustine begins rather similarly, finding a place for all three levels in his system, but the function he assigns to each and the valorization do not correspond to Cicero. The low Biblical style was his original reason for dismissing Christianity; in retrospect he called himself “puffed-up.” Having learned to find things of value in what seems at first humble and mean in the stories of the Old Testament, he applies the same viewpoint to the data of experience and realizes that everything has multiple meanings, being susceptible to allegory, anagogy, and ethics, as well as to literal understanding. Thus nothing is really trivial. [25] There can be no distinction of levels on the basis of content since explicit content does not exhaust real content.

The fundamental principle for Augustinian division is, however, based in Cicero, in the specific functions associated with each level. He agrees with Cicero that the low style is best for teaching where clarity is most required, but for Augustine teaching is not a preparation for acting a citizen's part in society, but a means of aiding the soul on its way to salvation. The middle style he associates with epideixis as Cicero had done, but for Augustine the laudes and vituperationes were meant to move the listener not to awe and appreciation alone, but to right action.

Fond as he was of fine language and yet constrained from celebrating it for its own sake, he was able to characterize the middle style as “temperate” in the moral as well as the technical sense. The high style troubled Augustine, and he accepts Cicero's definition of its goal as persuasion -- only for Cicero this was a matter of forcibly presenting a moving, convincing case while for Augustine it is a special resource to bring to bear on recalcitrant souls obdurate to any other/appeal. [26] He agrees with Cicero that all levels may be mixed, [27] and he ridicules those who care only to elaborate their style to absurd extremes. [28]

The most important distinctive elements of Augustine's rhetoric are the institution of truth-value as the primary criterion of worth, the denial of any inherent hierarchy in levels of discourse, and the readiness to interpret actively to construct the meaning of the text rather than accepting its apparent meaning. Brief treatment of a second point of comparison will reinforce these ideas. Cicero expounded the traditional threefold officia oratoris. To teach, to delight, and to convince seem for him to be strictly parallel in theory, [29] though in practice they tend toward an ascending series just as the three levels did. Thus the function docere is associated with the preliminary groundwork of the narratio [30], and delectare is useful mainly inasmuch as it facilitates persuadere. For Cicero the whole complex is valued as the quintessential human activity, marking off man from beast and making civilization possible. [31] The pleasure derived from listening to skillful speech is neither questioned nor is it given absolute value.

For Augustine the problem was different. Given the Bible as the only source of truth [32] and the godhead as the only object one may properly enjoy, [33] there is a clear role for teaching and even for persuading (for hardened cases), but enjoyment is suspect indeed. The first time Augustine mentions the officia oratoris, he suppresses pleasure. [34] Later he includes it in the same sort of defensive role allowed persuasion, to aid in the ministry toward souls who must be seduced to listen to appeals that are really in their own interest. But while the image of eating that succeeds this discussion seems to concede some amusement as acceptable for mortal men, the image of the gold and wooden keys returns the priorities squarely to truth-value again so that the beauty of words is almost like a Platonic myth which cunningly uses deceit to lead people to good paths they would not select alone. Thus, though “sober ears” should be universal, there is a godly as well as a diabolical use for beauty.

The Ciceronian orator is moral and philosophical, the finest representative of humanity and his facility in deploying the skills of the rhetorician is properly something of which he is proud. For Augustine the implied goal is invariably to turn others to God, and for that the most useful “office” is to teach. An examination of the pictures
of the ideal orator sketched by both writers will complete the distinction I have been developing between them.
The character of the ideal orator as defined by Cicero is a lofty one. The marvelous picture in De Oratore (I, 8, 30) suggests that oratory is quite simply the most excellent thing and discusses language as the precondition for social intercourse, for binding men to each other, and allowing each to assume the challenge of the responsibility for action. This is a much more radical claim than the familiar one that rhetoric prospers in democracies and suffers under autocracies. Cicero’s claim is nothing less than that language is what makes man possible. The rarity of the great orator in Cicero is not just a matter of the fact that advanced expertise requires mastering so many difficult fields of study. Rather it seems a use of the decay of learning topos to symbolically emphasize the virtually unreachable grandeur of Cicero's ideal.

He frequently points out that the complete realization of the ideal does not exist, [38] but it is clearly a humanistic goal nonetheless. The rhetorician lays claim on realms of eternal value for Cicero because he is at once the highest sort of man (the most knowledgeable, the most artful, the most powerful), the source and protector of civilization (as a legislative and judicial functionary), and, in the capping argument, the orator has a special claim on the moral area of philosophy. [39] Cicero says, in fact, that this realm of judgment in the affairs of men, embracing both politics and ethics, is the only arena in which the orator may achieve real greatness. His preeminence in skills is a matter of degree (he must learn more than other people) except for this sole (but uniquely significant) qualitative distinction. His discipline is finest since it deals in values, and this is perhaps as close to a vision of the transcendence as Cicero can come.

The vocabulary that he uses to celebrate the high or sublime order of diction suggests that its place at the summit of his evaluative scheme relies on just that association with “the greatest of matters”: words like grandiloquent, [40] copiosus, amplus, and gravis [41] surely refer to the significant quality of the topics being discussed rather than to greater length or any specific stylistic features.

Far from entertaining such a glorified notion of the vocation of the orator, Augustine begins his treatise quite apologetically, with a defensive tone defining a defensive rhetoric. He justifies Book IV at its outset as a rhetoric that can protect against rhetoric, while still maintaining that he will not instruct in rhetoric per se, since it is not truth-oriented, but can equally serve truth and falsehood. He speaks in a condescending tone about the subject, commenting that anyone may rapidly learn the principles of the art, but he should not bother if he has any less trivial occupation. [42] At another point Augustine seems almost embarrassed by his professional ability to explicate rhetorical figures, [43] and he again defines his motive as wholly defensive.

God, of course, for Augustine replaces those social or moral ideals which informed Cicero's value system, but for Augustine God has a transfiguring effect on the rest of creation, for there can be no small matters to the man who views every earthly thing with reference to divinity and judgment. With the displacement of authority from the wise orator to the Bible, the speaker's role may seem to be demeaned since he is not himself originating truth. However, for Augustine the service of the most high is precisely what allows the speaker to attain true greatness rather than simply social approval. [44]

The model for this notion is the Biblical text which seems for the most part to use a low style, but which contains the most sacred revelations. Similarly the preacher may or may not appear to be a grand orator, but if he gain any success in his calling he will participate in a greatness of which Cicero had no idea. Thus, while the Christian orator may appear to fall below the standards set by others, in reality he rises above them.

The vocabulary I have used in reporting Augustine's ideas seems so specifically theistic that one should take care to recall that the moral absolute is implied as the ground of greatness in Cicero and that moral qualities have been regarded as an important element in the orator's training by writers such as Isocrates (though he is theoretically coy about this) and, most notably, Plato, whose language is often quite close to Augustine's and whose view of the absolute approaches the theistic. What is more novel in Augustine’s point of view is largely stylistic, though it has moral analogues. The celebration of the low style is a striking departure from classical standards and parallels Christianity's advocacy of virtues with the same names as the styles humilitas. the quality of being submissus. As a literary idea it has perhaps its fullest fruiting in practice with the realistic novel of the nineteenth century. [46] In a writer like Balzac, themes of the gravest nature were addressed with language and characters that strove to resemble the everyday. This would have been unthinkable to the ancients who, while they were willing to concede genre effects and satire to realism could not conceive of its supporting the greatest types of literature. [47]

The effects of Augustine's theory were no less revolutionary in terms of criticism. His hermeneutic method underlies most modern critical endeavors with their acceptance of multiple meanings and the willingness to infer apparently unlikely semantic implications in details of description or correspondences between texts. This, too/ had played little part in criticism before Augustine, but the ingenious medieval commentaries on Scripture that had seemed to some fantastically overwrought have been outdone by ever more aggressive uses of the text in recent criticism.
In accepting Cicero's categories and terminology but rejecting his value judgments associated with them, Augustine marked a radical philosophic discontinuity, but also defined new possibilities for literature the consequences of which have been far-reaching. Even without accepting Augustine as “godfather” to Flaubert and Balzac, say, it would be difficult to exaggerate the influence of his transformation of classical rhetoric. It was the single most important factor in assuring the role of the church as caretaker and, what is more, renewer of learning.

Without the implied imprimitur from Augustine it is questionable whether Priscian, Donatus, the Rhetorica ad Alexandrum, and the Rhetorica ad Herennium could have exercised the hegemony they did over medieval writers, critics, and educators. The very fact that works such as the De Rhetorica quae Supersunt [48] were attached to his name is testimony to his authority in questions of pedagogy and a correct approach to language. Furthermore, the style and ideas of his authentic works had prodigious progeny: Cassiodorus, Rabanus Maurus, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Hugh of St. Victor, and Peter Lombard are among those who refer directly to his rhetorical teachings, while his influence is implicit in nearly every treatise on poetics, rhetoric, education, and the arts of letter-writing and preaching throughout the Middle Ages. [49] In terms of curriculum and the eventual institution of universities with their emphasis, persisting virtually until this century, on Classical studies, Augustine is perhaps the most significant single figure in the history of education in Europe.

1. Another instructive example is Jerome whose great service in translating Scripture was possible due to a level of scholarship that made him liable to constant guilt and misgivings about his attachment to the charms of pagan authors.

2. Augustine, Confessions, edited by William Watts (London: Heinemann, 1912), Bk. I, Ch. 13.

3. Confessions, III, 5.

4. Confessions, III, 4.

5. See Lewis and Short, A Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966) entry under ventosus for a series of examples of its usage as applied to both language and character.

6. Confessions, III, 4.

7. Confessions, IV, 14.

8. Confessions, V, 14.

9. Harald Hagendahl, Augustine and the Latin Classics (Goteborg: University Press, 1967) provides encyclopedic evidence for Augustine’s classical learning and his constant reference to classical authors in his work.

10. Sister Inviolata Barry, St. Augustine, the Orator (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America, 1924) exhaustively documents Augustine's use of rhetorical figures in his Sermones ad Populum.

11. It is well here to bear in mind the etymology of the word “doctrine.”

12. Confessions, III, 5.

13. Auerbach's Mimesis (Princeton, 1953) views European literature as a whole as a working out of the problematic posed by the system of the three levels.

14. Cicero, De Oratore, translated by E. Sutton and H. Rackham (London: Heinemann, 1979), Book III, 55, 212.

15. De Oratore, III, 45, 177.

16. Cicero, Orator, edited by H.M. Hubbell (London: Heinemann, 1942), 28, 98-99. It is this conventional limitation, of course, that initially made Augustine discount the Bible.

17. Orator, 29, 101.

18. Orator, 28, 98.

19. Orator, 27, 96.

20. Orator, 12, 38

21. Orator, 26, 91

22. Orator, 29, 102. Cicero uses his own Pro Caecina as an example of a "teaching" text in the low style.

23. Orator, 19, 65. The phrases quoted immediately following are also from this passage.

24. Orator, 28, 99.

25. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine (Indianapolis: Bobbs, Merrill Co., 1976), p. 143.

26. Doctrine, p. 145.

27. Doctrine, p. 158.

28. Doctrine, p. 138-9. He surely has the excesses of specific contemporary speakers in mind here.

29. De Oratore, II, 27, 115; II 28, 121; and II 77, 310 are among the places where the three are enumerated as apparent equals.

30. De Oratore, I, 53. 229; II, 27, 115.

31. De Oratore, I, 8, 33.

32. Doctrine, p. 122.

33. Doctrine, p. 10.

34. Doctrine, p. 121.

35. Doctrine, p. 135.

36. Doctrine, p, 130.

37. One might think here of the unabashed pride Cicero takes in his own powers. The boasting that had been sanctioned for the hero of the heroic age is here turned toward intellectual accomplishments.

38. De Oratore, I, 18, 78-81 and Orator 2, 7-8, 29, 101.

39. De Oratore, I, 15, 67-69.

40. Orator, 5. 20.

41. Orator, 28, 97.

42. Doctrine, p. 119.

43. Doctrine, p. 128.

44. Doctrine (p. 143) insists that the reaction of one's audience is irrelevant to the evaluation of the orator. The same contempt for the opinion of the crowd is evident in Plato's Phaedrus.

45. Doctrine, p. 123.

46. Compare the “trivial” status of classical mimes and romances.

47. It surely could not support epic or tragedy in the old sense. For a theoretician of this point of view see pseudo-Longinus’ (On the Sublime).

48. See J. Miller, M. Prosser, T. Benson, Readings in Medieval Rhetoric (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, l973), p. 6 for the fraudulent character of the attribution.

49. Further information on the influence of Augustine’s rhetorical teachings is available in Doctrine, p. xii, in Therese Sullivan, Doctrina Christiana, Liber Quartus (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America, 1930), p. 41, and throughout Eugene Kevane's Augustine the Educator (Westminster [Maryland]: The Newman Press, 1964).

50. The fact that “rhetoric” is still taught as the basis of a liberal arts education (though the liberal arts themselves have precipitately declined) and that literature is still the primary object of its study are evidence for the continuing vitality of this tradition.


Even now, at the head of the page, I find the word most annoying. Though I went to San Francisco in the summer of 1967, though for some months I actually lived at the corner of Haight and Ashbury (in an apartment, though I would not be surprised to meet someone who lived in the actual intersection), though I sport beads and a Paisley vest handmade by my lover in my first passport picture, though I remain profoundly influenced by ideas of “hip,” I cannot stand that diminutive term. (The word passed into common usage after Herb Caen began using it in his column in the San Francisco Chronicle. Caen had also invented the equally obnoxious and derisive “beatnik.”)

Not that “hippie” has no place. In my own memory, before I saw the word in print, I heard it used to describe young teens who aspired to be hip and were just becoming acquainted with the scene, not so different from the sort of person who might have been labeled a “teenybopper” in the context of musical taste. As such the word had a useful niche, but failed to describe the counter-culture in general. Despite my distaste for “hippie,” I had no good alternative. In the sixties “hip” served for some uses, though sounding slightly broad and old-fashioned. I do recall both both “freak” and “head” (referring, naturally, to “pothead”) having some currency, but neither seems really adequate.

Born in 1946, I grew up reading the Beats, attending Paul Carroll’s poetry series at Second City, seeking out Old Leftists, and learning about Dada. In university I participated in the literary magazine and attended performance events and shows staged by friends. In spite of loose talk about “the sixties,” during my senior year at an institution with tens of thousands of students, I felt I knew the local counterculture: far-out intellectuals, dopers, artists, radicals, anarchists, yogis, sandal-makers, and singers. Virtually everything innovative seemed linked to this crowd. Forward-thinking professors and faculty artists made alliances with the hip youth. Just as Kenneth Kenniston’s studies indicated that, for the most part, student protesters were the very same who had been at the top of their high school classes, many of those participating in middle and late 60s youth culture struck me as unusually thoughtful and productive. Why, even LSD trips were assimilated only through hours of analysis based in part on Scientific American articles and anthropology studies seen in the light of esoteric Buddhism. I was taken aback just a few years later when I heard of people dropping acid to go to a concert or party.

Thinking I knew the scene in my major Midwestern university, I was surprised and I believe I recoiled when in the spring of 1967, a crew of slightly younger celebrants tripped across the university quadrangle, blowing soap bubbles in celebration of Buddha’s birthday.

These new folks seemed to be violating canons of cool, while on the national scene, it was obvious that Peter Max was instantly kitsch, Tim Leary at best an entertaining con man, and, late in the day, cooptation seemed fully accomplished when Hair premiered, claiming to be a “tribal, love-rock musical.” Its tunes can now be heard in elevators while the really radical grass-roots theater has vanished to limbo along with underground movies. In 1967 when I made it to the Haight, the kids who liked rock and roll and smoking pot, however genial, had little in common with the people I had known at college who preferred electronic music, Tibetan folksong, or, at any rate, down and dirty blues. Only a few months later the Diggers, who ought to have known, were to proclaim the death of hippie on Haight Street.

Still, it certainly seemed as though the movement, however vaguely defined, had something to say about every area of life: not merely art and politics, but also interpersonal relations, cuisine, and living room design. How many apartments did I enter with a huge cable spool for coffee table, beaded curtains, and Indian bedspreads? I remember a slightly older poet’s reminiscences of San Francisco only a few years before I (and a horde of my cohort) hit town. He described how he and his friends would often get stoned and eat “phony-burgers,” made with supermarket hamburger buns, ketchup, onions, mustard, pickles, everything but the meat. A few years later no one would have dreamed of eating Wonder buns; every kitchen held brown rice and vegetables.

I won’t aim here to define hip beyond a few sketchy outlines. Hip is a form of twentieth century Romanticism, celebrating the unconscious, the natural, the ecstatic while striking a counter-cultural pose with bohemian habits and left politics. Hip participates in the double vision DuBois analyzed in African-Americans, also evident in kitsch, camp, and other modern forms of irony. Susan Sontag located the essence of camp in her 1964 essay as occurring in the gap “between the thing as meaning something, anything, and the thing as pure artifice,” in other words, between signifier and signified.

Authentic hipness requires the pose at least of a vision sharper and more piercing than others’. That’s what makes it so annoyingly elitist. One can always take irony around yet another turn. In contrast to this off-putting and esoteric claim, hippie was accessible to all, its wardrobe available not in military surplus or Salvation Army stores, each individual his own invention, but in standardized sets at Sears.