A sensitive gentleman in one of Henry James's novels exclaims at the end, triumphantly, "Then there we are!" not because he and his fair companion have arrived at a solution of anything but because they have come upon an embraceable impasse.

The expression Embraceable Impasse might well become a part of the jargon of today's diplomacy, which so often seems content to settle for a phrase in place of a way out. One such phrase, Calculated Risk, has been going great guns among the politicans and statesmen.

Now I have made some study of the smoke-screen phrases of the political terminologists, and they have to be described rather than defined. Calculated Risk, then, goes like this: "We have every hope and assurance that the plan will be successful, but if it doesn't work out we knew all the time it wouldn't and said so.

 . . . To add to the unmeaningfulness of it all, there is the continual confusing contribution of the abbreviationists. Before long, I fear, Calculated Risk will become Cal-Ris, and then all the other celbrated phrases will be abbreviated, for the sake of making even less sense than before in front-page headlines. We shall have to have a special glossary.

Somewhere in my proposed lexicon I shall have to wedge in what a lady said to me when I told her I was writing a short piece about the time, if any, of Man on earth. She said, with a distressed sigh, "So much has already been written about everything that you can't find out anything about it."

 —James Thurber
("The New Vocabularism")
The Modern Stylists, Donald Hall, Ed. (The Free Press, NY, 1968).


Straight Shootin': Logical Relationships Among Sentences
by Tim Scannell

Though it is possible for sentences to follow one upon the other in a haphazard fashion, a better method is for subsequent sentences to follow the logic of predecessors (alternative). In short, inasmuch as there are but eighteen (18) logical relationships among sentences, the import of one sentence needs to push—sensibly—into the next (amplification).

Writers may object that this is too programmatic, too rigid for creative, probing thought (answer). But those who complain that any kind of 'design' is a straitjacket are conflating 'freedom' and 'responsibility,' suggesting that whatever is penned is conclusive, and thus denying the reader any right of explication as to meaning or value (cause). Such writers would stand before opaque windows telling their readers to "jump"—regardless that the drop may be a foot—but might be a thousand (comparison).

My view is that once a creation is written and handed to a reader, the writer should disappear altogether, not matter at all, and the reader alone should determine the sense, judge the value of the writing (contrast). The text, alone, is germane (definition). If not, the vagaries of a particular era, fad or jargon will becloud the issue (evaluation). If the text is poetry, let it speak through persona, tone and voice; if prose, let it speak through character, plot and theme; if non-fiction, through the success/failure of its notion (evidence).

Whether Mayan glyph or New York City 'rap' or Mayflower compact, the writing alone perfectly fills the parameters of its own sense, value and meaning (example). Any text—not to put too fine a point on it—will be covered with human fingerprints; one need not subdivide further to, say, contemporary Chilean, Minoan accountant, or other sociological pigeonhole (generalization). The attentive reader can then,from the bare bones text, arrive at all necessary conclusions as to substance and worth (inference).

We do not eviscerate a cow to discover the content of a can of Coca-Cola (parallel idea). In examining texts, why then waste valuable time weighing extraneous, diachronic, ephemera: the waxing and waning of sociology, psychology, ideology (question)? Such equivocations, of course, throttle with agendas which have nothing to do with the text qua text; viz., avoid the issue by an incessant begging of the question (related action).

As you write, adhere, respectively, to the plinth of poetry, prose and non-fiction: persona/tone/voice; character/plot/theme; idea (restatement). The outcome of such explication is obvious: Readers must join the issues by making only those statements which are textually demonstrable—the text alone both antecedent/referent—and also final arbiter (result). "The play's the thing / Wherein I'll catch…". No, no, no: "The text is the thing / From which both substance and real meaning spring (summary)!"

(Reviewer and essayist Tim Scannell is a regular contributor to the magazine. (Masthead) He lives in Washington State.)