Sunday, September 18, 2005

It's all about management, friends

You might not think so, but in fact I've been contemplating this metaphor for blogging (or essaying, as Jeff suggests) and wondering how to make sense of A.S. Hill, (the progenitor of required first-year comp at Harvard) in the last half of the nineteenth century, worrying over "onanism" and the wasting of words (see Charles Paine's The Resistant Writer, p. 213). That is, does Hill (and what has come to be called "current-traditional" composition: though I find that term un-useful in the extreme, I'm nonetheless using it here for shorthand) represent a discontinuity, a shift from laissez-faire to better watch yourself (or someone will be glad to watch over you)?

The thing is, watching oneself seems to have been a pretty central message in Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, published first in 1759 and then in five more editions through 1790 (the year Smith died):

Nothing is so mortifying as to be obliged to expose our distress to the view of the public, and to feel, that though our situation is open to the eyes of all mankind, no mortal conceives for us the half of what we suffer. Nay, it is chiefly from this regard to the sentiments of mankind, that we pursue riches and avoid poverty. (Section III, Ch. 2)
Of course, this is a different kind of watching oneself: this is a matter of what Smith will call "vanity," which is nonetheless important to the capitalism that Smith would later write a whopping big book about. But vanity is essential to the work of the Invisible Hand that keeps everything, market and society, harmonious and productive.

By the time A. S. Hill gets to Harvard, though,managed corporations are emerging as dominant economic powers. Hill (and other elites) were critical of corporations: what they wanted were manly-men who could manage themselves.

And so it goes. Just some thoughts as I'm thinking about that chapter of mine alongside Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, the topic of my grad seminar tomorrow.

Some more: Because, see, Tom Miller says that the bellestristic essay was all about propriety. It was hardly an essai in the French sense. So maybe changing that i to a y at the end signals a more profound change? Here's Miller:

As with Blair and other belletrists, Smith's stylistic criticisms of the personal sentiments that motivated essayists such as Addison reduced the essay to a univocal instrument for instilling sensibility and divorced it from the heteroglossia of the periodical press . . . . In this way, the essay was taught as a means for instilling polite proprieties rather than as a
self-reflective genre that had the potential for social critique. This pedagogy was consistent with Smith's concern for the internalization for prevailing norms and with his lack of concern for the political purposes of rhetoric. (The Formation of College English 192)
But it isn't all so neat, of course, and Charles Paine does a nice job of complicating the history of composition in his book. Still, one hears in A. S. Hill, a century later, a similar concern for propriety and stylistic hygiene, lamenting that "editorial articles" in newspapers "though far from being models of good English, suit, nevertheless, the intelligence and taste of their public, . . . written in language that would make Addison turn in his grave, containing the facts which people want to know, and stating them in such a fashion that a hasty reader understands them at once" (qtd. in Paine 138). (And that last bit--doesn't it sound reminiscent of what some say about blogs?)

CATEGORIES: managerial


jeff said...

Those are some good connections. Isn't Paine's reading of Hill that Hill was "protecting" students from popular culture (or at least the newspaper, late '80s media for pop culture)?

Kitzhaber does the same thing in Themes, Theories, and Therapy, discounting the influence of the media on student wriing - in fact - warning against it.

I like the French Connection you establish here - one which sees the essay as less belles lettres and more something self-revealing. The shift in what is proper might also be found in the rise of deconstruction/post-structuralism; no wonder it comes out of France and not the U.S. (which is then - 1966- just getting to Britton's version of expressivism - safe self-revelation, a more proper breakdown of identity than differance-related thinking).

Donna said...

Right, the fear of the mass media is pretty intense, even in someone "progressive" like Fred Newton Scott. I haven't really worked that into my thinking about the management thing, however...Except I suppose that "mass" writing is considered to be improperly managed? Certainly that's the fear behind some people's negative reactions to blogs: they aren't peer reviewed; they aren't subject to editorial review, etc. But seems like something else was going on with the late 19th century/early 20th century fear. There was the whole "purity" thing: that language needed to be "hygenic," which is, of course, another kind of management: the management of "types" of people.