Sunday, December 24, 2006

Seven types of intellectual?

Intellectual of Ambiguity
(Image from Wikipedia)

Dennis Mangan, scientist, intellectual, and vegetarian kook (just kidding about the "kook" thing), has recently read a "most interesting sentence" written by Robin Moroney, which Dennis likes for its "neat dichotomy":
Twentieth-century intellectuals can be defined by two extremes: the Paul Valery types who made their discoveries in the abstract laboratory of their minds and the Graham Greene and Ernest Hemingway types who made their discoveries while drunk in brothels in countries where the president had just been shot.
He finds this in Moroney's article "'Seven Types of Ambiguity' And a One-of-a-Kind Critic," written for the Wall Street Journal, to which I have no subscription since I'm too poor but which is apparently about the poet and literary critic William Empson, for the article begins:
As a poet and critic, William Empson upset the British literary world of the 1930s with the force and abruptness of a scientific discovery. His poetry -- devoted to the ordinary, unashamed of its cleverness -- was the opposite of W.H. Auden's. Empson didn't praise a longed-for revolution or write lines like "We must love each other or die." With jagged phrases, erudite allusions and complex rhyming schemes, he wrote about the fermentation process, buildings under construction, German horror movies, even about the odd beauty that your property rights acquire as they extend below your house and far above it ...
Nice opening. Makes me want to run out really fast and get a subscription just to read the rest -- except that it'd be an expense of excess spirit in a waste of penurial shame over my suddenly recalled poverty. If only I'd listened to Dennis's financial advice...

But I know a little about Empson. He had a gift not merely for literature but also for mathematics, which he loved but abandoned for the literary muse, studying in the 1920s under the literature critic I. A. Richards and producing a work of genius, Seven Types of Ambiguity, by the age of 22, publishing it by 24. You'd think, "obvious tenure-track material," and he did go on to publish a great deal, including an attack on Christian theology in the guise of a literary analysis of Paradise Lost in Milton's God.

Empson, however, was a bit of an intellectual adventurer, a wild spirit that carried over into his personal and professional lives, for he was ejected from Cambridge despite his brilliance when condoms were discovered in his room, circumstantial evidence that he'd not only had sex but had actually intended and even planned to have sex, and he accepted academic posts in the 1930s teaching English literature in Japan initially and then in China, where he discovered himself endangered by the Japanese invasion and consequently spent his time there teaching on the run without benefit of books.

But you can get that and more -- so long as you don't really trust it -- from Wikipedia, which (by the way) provided me a synchronic moment this morning by quoting the exact Shakespearean line that I alluded to above ... after I had already alluded to it! Now what could the excessively mysterious, spiritual forces of the universe have meant by that? It'd be a waste of shame if this coincidence were mere coincidence.

But to return to the Moroney line quoted by Dennis...

Lacking the context as I do, I see the dichotomy in its naked abstraction, but assuming that I'm an intellectual -- rather a stretch, I admit -- then of what sort am I?

When I introspect, I find no abstract Dexter's Laboratory of the mind wherein I make my intellectual discoveries, so I'm not the Paul Valery type. I'm probably closer to the Graham Greene and Ernest Hemingway type though I've avoided brothels and countries where presidents get shot ... although President Park Chung Hee did get shot here in Korea back in 1979, but that was long before my time.

And where would Empson himself fit?

His personal improprieties with uncondoned condoms and his professional path through a disoriented orient might suggest that he was the sort to make his intellectual discoveries in the brothels of unsettled countries. But that wouldn't have him "pinned and wriggling on the wall," for Empson discovered his seven types of ambiguity as a student gifted with a mathematically abstract laboratory of the mind.

So, perhaps a dichotomy is the wrong analysis here. Might we need rather an Empson to set up a heptachotomy for classifying seven types of intellectual?

I'm no Empson, but I'd split the Greene-Hemingway type into three distinct types (and we're talking extremes here): the drinking, the promiscuting, and the politicking intellectuals, such as William Faulkner, D. H. Lawrence, and George Orwell, respectively. That gives us four if we retain the abstracting intellectual, like Dexter Tartakovsky. We need three more. Let's see ... there's the brawling intellectual like Norman Mailer, the quipping intellectual like Bonne Motts (whose name reminds me of Don Knotts), and the mysticating intellectual like G. K. Chesterton.

That's seven ... sort of.

Then there's that extra category of pseudointellectuals who like to make up words, but I can't, offhand, think of any names.

10 Comments:

At 9:16 AM, Blogger Sperwer said...

Try this url:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB116684602244158478-search.html?KEYWORDS=empson&COLLECTION=wsjie/6month

 
At 9:50 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Sperwer, but it took me to the same place that I'd linked to. I guess that they've got a pretty smart software program to catch freeloading intellectuals like me.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas, Jeffery.

 
At 5:00 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Nomad. Same to you, of course -- and thanks again for getting me started on blogging.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:52 AM, Blogger Sperwer said...

I guess they've upgraded; before I was able to use the "insider's url" to pass things along.

 
At 6:09 PM, Blogger Sperwer said...

Maybe I've sorted it out. Try this one:

http://online.wsj.com/article_print/SB116684602244158478.html

It's the version formatted for printing, which I don't think is cookie-protected

 
At 7:01 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sperwer, thanks for trying, but I meet with the same problem (or was part of the address cut off?).

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:07 PM, Blogger Sperwer said...

Yeah, I think it was:

http://online.wsj.com/article_print/SB116684602244158478.html

But I also cannot double-check the operability from my machine, because I do have the necessary cookie, so whatever page @ WSJ I try to open, will

 
At 8:10 PM, Blogger Sperwer said...

Well, it looks like it may have been truncated again, but to fix it, just add a period followed by "html" after the "8" that's partially visible.

 
At 9:58 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

That got me to the same place as your very first link, so I think that the WSJ has figured out a way to beat the freeloaders like me.

Don't trouble youself any further on this, Sperwer. I appreciate the attempt to help me, but you've tried enough.

Jeffery Hodges

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