Sunday, December 02, 2007

Saving the World With Classical Grammar


Some time ago, I tried an experiment and started a blog dedicated to issues of language, grammar and usage called The Incorruptible Grammarian. It was a good idea, I think, but the timing was bad for me. It fizzled as I became distracted with a personal disaster, as well as the press of politics and other worries. The end of the world and all that.

But I revisited it this morning and see that I may have been on to something.
Nietzsche said, "I am afraid we are not rid of God because we still have faith in grammar." If only Nietzsche had lived long enough to see the 1970's and the new education he would have rejoiced at the final triumph of the human will over God.

Section 125 of The Joyous Science (1882), "The Madman." (The madman is actually Nietzsche himself)

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!"...

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns?"

The Restoration is not only a matter of politics, or even education qua education. It is an essential re-construction of ruined thought. Imagine Western Civilization not as a set of buildings, or precious cultural artifacts like the Mass (if we may be somewhat impersonal and irreligious for a moment), or the Divine Office, or legally indissoluble natural marriage, or even any philosophical school. Imagine it is a larger thing than that; it is a framework for our thought, our creative efforts. Imagine it is the structure that makes something like Chartres or Salisbury Cathedral possible. The container for the idea of Chartres, without which no Chartres could be conceived.

Try to imagine this framework, for a moment, as a ruined castle that contains in its fabric, in the manner of its construction, a kind of key or code, that, if deciphered, will allow all the treasures of a dimly remembered quasi-legendary civilization to be brought back.

Now imagine that the people who live in the vicinity of the ruins are indeed the direct descendants of those who built it and they have in their cultural memory the means of deciphering the code. Their local language, their songs and stories about the life of their ancestors in and around the castle, are also part of the code. They know what the castle means.

Grammar is something that postmodernists hate (which is why it is very difficult to read their books). They fear its return because they know that you can use it to rebuild the castle.

Becoming a philologist in the traditional sense, then, is an act of subversion against the new regime, a means of preserving and rebuilding The Before. The revolutionaries knew what they were about with the abolition of grammar education. I caught the tail end of it by going to a Catholic parochial school in the mid-seventies. I was actually taught how to diagram sentences and I'm told that such things are now utterly extinct, even the memory of them is gone.

When I took a first year anthropology class...oo, these many long years ago, I was told that one of the main tasks of anthropologists was to find things that humans do and think that are universal. It's harder than you might think. Even things we think are really obvious like counting to ten on your fingers is not done by everyone in the world. There are people who go from one to five on one hand and then start counting other body parts and think we are terribly odd for moving onto the second set of five fingers. There are people who shake for 'yes' and nod for 'no'.

But grammar, the idea of having a set of linguistic rules governing the use of words to convey a meaning that everyone agrees upon, is one of those universals of culture. The idea that there are rules, that breaking the rules creates chaos and confusion, is universal...except for us. The Postmodern west has decided that this, along with everything else that helps us make sense of the universe, is too confining. That we must emancipate ourselves from grammar as we did from social mores. Grammar is oppression to the postmodern man.

The revolutionaries thought, "We cannot be free until we have killed God, the ultimate oppressor. To kill God, we must kill all order, all sense, all law governing thought." Grammar is the law of thought, the grammar of the West (Greek and Latin) will bring back the thought of the West which will make it possible for all the other things we love to be restored.