From the (London) Times Literary Supplement, John Barnard takes up this old question: did all the nasty critical press John Keats got during his short life hasten his physical decline? (Yes, educated people used to care intensely about what newspaper literary critics said.) For an older take on this conundrum, have a look at Shelley’s great elegy for Keats, “Adonais,” which makes claims similar to Barnard’s.
From the language wars, two interesting articles. In The American Conservative, Peter Wood reviews a somewhat skeptical new book on Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. This new study finds good old S & W to be a little stiff in some places, and uncharacteristically unclear about their principles in others. Meanwhile, Liam Julian takes an equally intelligent look at another classic writer’s guide, the re-released and newly edited Fowler’s English Usage (first published in 1926 and still indispensable for anyone who cares to write anything well in English). It’s very unhip–if you are an academic–to mention books like Fowler’s, because, faced with university students who can’t write grammatical sentences in the language they grew up speaking, the rulers of various campus Writing Programs would have teachers focus on, uh, not grammar or style. (Such topics are “conservative” and “old-fashioned” and supposedly of little use to today’s student–hence it’s much more kosher to teach things like Computer Literacy and blog design and interactive group projects). I wonder why our students continue getting clumsier and dumber? But it keeps writing professors and pedagogical “theorists” in business on many an elite campus, even if the kids at said campuses can’t tell the difference between a plural and a possessive noun (or just don’t care–they long ago got the message that that’s OK).
Christopher Hitchens on some of our nation’s current top-dog demagogue’s weirder connections and more glaring idiocies. Yes, yes, another article on why Sarah Palin is evil and dangerous to a democracy. The Hitch is still lucid at times, and when he’s on, it is great fun to read him.
LASTLY, an NPR piece on the relation between race, language, and nerdiness. The gist of it is that white nerds borrow slang from black English far less than their more socially popular Caucasian peers do. Not sure about that–I myself am a giant nerd who grew up listening to and (sometimes) parroting hip-hop language–but nonetheless it is fascinating. And you needn’t even read, because it was on the radio! (thanks to Mary Claire for this one).