'Scholarship', 'Research' and 'The Pursuit of Truth'

My title is about as misleading as it could be.  That it could be misleading is typical of the way language works.  In a company as austere and learned as this I doubt whether I would have the temerity to discourse gravely upon the subject my title seems to point to.  What in fact I want to talk about is the words contained in the title, and what trying to talk about such words involves.  The address might have been called “Notes towards the Definition of some Vectorial Functions of Language” but that wouldn’t have helped much either.

A couple of years ago, when I was helping to prepare a brief addressed to the Commission on the Universities and Government, I was amazed to find how pervasive the word “research” was in the documents we were examining and in the discussions that followed.  Everybody seemed to use the word very confidently but nobody seemed sure how to make it cover, for the sciences, social sciences, and humanities, the sorts of things that the government might be persuaded to spend money on.[1]  Did “research” refer to all the various kinds of sustained and careful inquiry that can be carried out at a desk or in a laboratory?  If the word meant “investigation, inquiry into things” or “the act of searching (closely or carefully) for or after a specified thing or person,” would Proust have been eligible for a grant to write A la recherche du temps perdu?  We were not confident that government would make a research award without first asking “What things are to be researched?  and to what socio-economic end?”

Probably the question about what the word “research” meant would not have arisen if the humanists in the company had not noticed how the word has, in recent years, quietly taken on a colour and aura that troubles the humanist and probably troubles the “pure scientist” just as much.  (I must admit, however, that it is some time since I last heard the phrase “the romance of research” used seriously.)  We noted the following over-tones.  (a) Research is the apotheosis of the experimental method.  (b) Research typically produces “results,” which are then published as “a contribution to knowledge” and under certain conditions will win acclaim and be awarded prizes.  (c) The product of the experimental method is at least “knowledge,” and at best “truth”; and the more strenuous and minute the research the greater the truth.  (d) “Research” (=the experimental method?) is the only way of arriving at reliable “results.”  All other procedures are, by implication, either airborne speculations, or – if not entirely futile – productive of “results” as ill-adapted to modern uses as a mediaeval Latin gloss on an Arabic version of Aristotle’s Metaphysics or a treatise on the fortification of cities by Uncle Toby Shandy.  These conclusions – not uncoloured themselves by parodistic distortion and certain twinges of envy – irritated us humanists because we could not see how it was that if a scholar needed money to get his work done he had a much better chance of getting it if he could persuade his benefactors that he was engaged in “research” as sketched out above.  It seemed that the word “research” could canonize any subject – no matter how trifling or cheerless.  By this time we were getting into a rather uncharitable frame of mind, and were tempted to observe that certain studies that might be expected to be “humane” because they were getting into a rather uncharitable frame of mind, and were tempted to observe that certain studies that might be expected to be “humane” because they were concerned largely with human beings – psychology, political science, and that curious hybrid sociology – seemed to be edging with Gadarene haste in the direction of parascientific “research” through the device of “quantification,” possibly to the neglect of the philosophical and synthesizing way of mind.

Our minds, thus cast in a gloomy enough mould, then turned to wonder whether, if inquiry were limited to a single technique, the concept of method might itself be undermined and eventually destroyed – “method” being the way of thinking things through, getting things done, arriving at some conclusion by means established by the matter under inquiry.  We knew that “method” was an important term for both Bacon and Coleridge; we knew that Coleridge in one of his masks regarded himself as Heraclitus redivivus; we recalled a fragment of Heraclitus we had read at the beginning of The Dry Savages – “the way up and the way down are one and the same.”  We glossed this a little and came to the tentative conclusion that discovery, or getting to know, is an activity in which the starting point(s) and conclusion (whether actually conceived or only glimpsed beforehand) act reciprocally upon each other; and we felt confident that the study of literature would support such a proposition, and probably also a study of the way things get discovered in the sciences.  If – as humanists – we were to nourish the function that Bacon hoped his novum organum would serve, we must “equip the intellect for passing beyond.”  So we attempted a formula in the latest jargon: “Beware the method-oriented problem: seek out the problem-oriented method.”  We thought of some instances where this maxim had been defied – behavioural linguistics, for example.  We then considered the possibility of constructing a fifth-generation computer on the analogy of language instead of mathematical logic, but decided that that might take a little time because, among other things, it would have to be a machine for wool-gathering with.

When our heads had cleared a little, we found that what made us bridle most at the word “research,” as defined, was that sometimes we certainly did some research and couldn’t well get along without it, but that the central, guiding, and most fruitful activities in humanistic studies were not much like that.  “Research,” we felt, provides building blocks but not much architecture.  So we introduced into the report the old words “scholarship” and “inquiry” to try to break up the monolithic and unlovely figure of “research” that kept crossing our line of sight.  (We left the word “research” in our text out of vague deference, but reserved the right – if the occasion arose – to point out that the experimental method perhaps did not spring into birth like Venus Anadyomene with Francis Bacon and the founding of the Royal Society; for this we were confident of presenting learned evidence.)

Our proposed solution was too simple-minded to work.  “Inquiry” is really quite a nice clean word, and rather grand if expanded into something like “the inquiring mind”; we could see some future for that.  But the most we thought about “scholarship,” dignified and impressive though the word is (and the conception), the most desperate it looked.  It trails clouds all right, but not all of them glorious.

Bald heads forgetful of their sins,

Old, learned, respectable bald heads

Edit and annotate the lines

That young men, tossing on their beds,

Rhymed out in love’s despair

To flatter beauty’s ignorant ear.

So William Butler Yeats, though he was to give thanks to Grierson for his learned edition of John Donne’s poems.  Or witness what Robert Burton saith in his Anatomy of Melancholy.

Fernelius ... puts study, contemplation, and continual meditation, as an especial cause of madness: ... Levinus Lemnius [saith] “Many men come to this malady [i.e. melancholy] by continual study, and night-waking, and, of all other men, scholars are most subject to it:”  ... severe, sad, dry, tetrick, are common epithets to scholars: and Patricius therefore, in the Institution of Princes, would not have them [i.e. princes] to be great students.  For (as Machiavel holds) study weakens their bodies, dulls their spirits, abates their strength and courage; and good scholars are never good soldiers, ...

   Two main reasons may be given of it, why students should be more subject to this malady than others.  The one is, they live a sedentary, solitary life, ... free from bodily exercise, and those ordinary disports which other men use: and many times, if discontent and idleness concur with it, which is too frequent, they are precipitated into this gulf [of melancholy] on a sudden: but the common cause is overmuch study; ...

The traditional view of the scholar is not attractive.  I know that these days not all scholars renounce the “ordinary disports which other men use,” and that many scholars well past the middle age are yet well protected with hair.  Nevertheless, “How doth the old instinct bring back the old names” – scholar, grammarian, pedant – at best condescending, and at worst terms of abuse almost as terrible as “critic.”

The difficulty was not to find the right name for a known category, but to find a term – or set of terms – that would define (and defend) an ill-defined activity.  “Inquiry” may lack focus but is preferable to Burton’s word “study”: at least it suggests that one might be looking forward rather than backward (important though the purity of tradition may be).  Even if we could clean up the word “scholarship” it would not serve simply to associate “scholarship” with the humanities and “research” with the sciences: that did not match our experience, and might even help to endorse that barren – but for Charles Snow not unproductive – fantasy of the Two Cultures.

We noticed also that, since Poincaré, some eminent scientists (stung perhaps by veiled hints of intellectual barbarity) have pointed out (with fascinating evidence to support it) that in “pure” science the act of discovery is near enough the same as the artist’s act of discovery: that it is a feat of imagination, that it takes the same daring leap into the unknown, that it induces the same frisson of delight and exaltation.  The word “creative” is often introduced to strengthen the sense that what happens in the act of discovery is rather special: hence “creative science,” “creative research,” “creative writing,” “creative imagination,” even “creative scholarship.”  Fastidious and god-fearing writers are wary of the word “creative”; yet the use of it is symptomatic of a need to assert that what happens at the top or at the fringes of mental activity is not much like anything else.

But the humanist and scientist are no sooner caught in a single identifying glance than they shift out of focus into some sort of difference.[2]  Is it not curious, for example, that scholars are commonly called pedants, but scientists are not?  Now pedantry is not necessarily to be found in the insistent use of hard words; rather it is “the use of words unsuitable to the time, place, and company.”[3]  A good case can be made for special terms, and even for jargon if only as a temporary expedient.  But some scientists and most practitioners in parasciences carry their jargon into pubic almost as a mark of superiority – the sort of thing the old grammarians were supposed to do: hence the grotesque currency, in a democratic age, of misapplied jargon among people unlearned and inexpert.  And apart from the way of speaking, scientists now seem to bear the physical marks that tradition ascribes to the scholar.  They are as industrious as bees, these scientists; they are no less farouche in aspect than any humanist, no less given to “a sweet disorder in the dress,” no less careful to cultivate the absent-minded mannerisms that are one of the few lovable features of the totally preoccupied man.  Perhaps, after all, these are not marks of the pedant, but gauges of an elite; the scientists have simply changed hats with the humanists.

These lucubrations occurred a couple of years ago; not very conclusive.  Then I read Professor Wynne-Edwards’s report on “The Current Status of Science Policy” in the last Transactions of this Society, and my feelings of uneasiness turned to alarm, and my attention shifted from the use of individual words to the use of language altogether.

Social historians of technology tell us that we have now passed into the second phase of the Industrial Revolution; that the central concern is no longer energy but control.  Evidence for this is seen in the spread of computers and automation, and in the way governments have been sizing up autonomous activities and institutions with a view to taking them over.  Hence the Commission on the Universities and Government; hence also the Science Council and the proposal that all scientific effort be directed by government (by means not yet completely formulated) towards the end of “social development and economic growth.”  According to Professor Wynne-Edwards’s summary, the Science Council proposes a classification of “research” into two categories: (1) basic research, defined as “curiosity-motivated,” the pursuit of new knowledge for the sake of that knowledge; (2) applied research, defined as “mission-oriented,” seeking to meet a particular problem – by definition the only acceptable ends in this scheme being “social and economic.”[4]  In tracing out “the technological steps from an initial discovery to a marketable product or process,” three steps are prescribed: (a) discovery, the acquisition of new knowledge; (b) invention, the application of this knowledge to the solution of the practical problem; (c) innovation, the assembling of resources to exploit the invention.     

This is much worse than what Professor Wynne-Edwards calls “a curious jargon.”  It discloses a terrifying, because confident, assumption of unexamined analogies bizarre in their parodistic inexactness.  When the jargon invokes inappropriate, and therefore blinding, analogies, the jargon must not be accepted.  Talking back in the same jargon will not clear the air and may do much worse harm by establishing or stimulating the mental disarray that lurks beneath the jargon.  Serious scientists, confronted with statements so spicily modern, so blandly axiomatic, so eerily irrelevant to what actually occurs in the scientific field, feel as though they had their backs to the wall.  How can this be attacked except with language?  and how attacked successfully if, by default, “the enemy” are allowed to establish the rules of language?  Yet the “pure scientists,” those gentle, magical people who (for so we affectionately think of them) scarcely know what to say when they go to pick up their Nobel prizes, are inclined to feel, and to say, that language is not their field and may not even be their business.  It is true that Sprat said in his History of the Royal Society that natural philosophers should make their point “not, by a glorious pomp of Words; but by the silent, effectual, and unanswerable Arguments of real Productions.”  But that seems not to have happened.  “Productions” enough there have been, God knows, since Sprat; and their silence has not brought “effectual Arguments.”  Sprat recommended a clean, unadorned prose style for reporting experiments and the results of experiments – observations, discoveries.  He gave no instructions about how to describe or report the nature of acts of discovery.  Major discoveries have often been widely separated from any conceivable social or economic use.  It is now of paramount importance that the nature of discovery not be misunderstood.  Language must somehow preclude misunderstanding.  Perhaps humanists can muster for our fellow inquirers, at a crucial juncture, what we know about the chinks in the armour of language.  For a start it could be pointed out that some of the most damaging misunderstandings arise from a ruthless determination to understand – a fact that one had hoped a civilized education would have established long ago, humility and wonder being important functions in fertile mental process.

Coming to my title – there is something disagreeable and pretentious about it, as there is about the Science Council classification: it is a string of free-floating abstract nouns behind each of which stand, or could stand, a variety of premisses, some of them conflicting or misleading.  There are three objections to using abstract nouns as instruments of careful thinking (even though we can’t get along without them): (1) It is hard to prevent an abstract noun from seeming to refer to some thing, something definite and definable; yet many abstract nouns do not refer to anything very definite, some of them refer to nothing beyond figments (an ancient philosophical question), and most of them will drift off into confusion or deceit unless firmly prevented from doing so.  (2) Nouns are static: that is, they do not impart energy or movement to an utterance.  If abstract nouns are the main elements in a sentence – as usually happens in over-cautious or defensive writing – the sentence will lack muscle.  Only verbs have driving force.  (3) Many an abstract noun can look rather like an algebraic symbol (more or less arbitrary) to which only one meaning, or a select cluster of meanings, can legitimately be assigned.  Although we know that the syntax of language is quite different from the syntax of mathematical notation, and although we know that (except for a few special, technical, and little-used words) no word has more than limited stability, nevertheless we are very inclined to assume that the same word used two or three times in the same sentence or paragraph is being used in the same sense.  Hence concealed equivocation.  The variable meanings of words are best limited and defined by the activity of a dynamic context.  What we need now is not a new vocabulary (though we could use some of that too) but sound principles of muscular usage.

Anybody who has seriously tried to come to grips with language knows that language has to some extent a life of its own, that it has its own principles of coherence which we do well not to disregard.  Words have lives of their own too.  Yet behind every utterance there is a person.  It is not simply the words that mean; it is a person who means; and what the person means, intends to convey or declare or conceal and for what reason, is physically imprinted into the structure and texture of his language, unless he is using language very badly.  The “imprint” of intention is not seldom at variance with the content of the words; to the perceptive ear an utterance becomes not only a declaration by the writer but also a disclosure of the writer.

Every successful utterance is a reconciliation between the needs of the speaker and the demands of language.  Language is no mere instrument; and if an instrument at all, the instrument plays on the musician as much as the musician plays on the instrument.  Perhaps it is, as much as anything else, the tough and intricate resistance that language interposes that draws from us the enormous scope and variety of our linguistic competence; we need only remind ourselves of the power and virtuosity of some illiterate persons – persons, that is, who can neither read nor write.  An academy or a dictionary can do something to standardize conventional usage, and so save us from getting deflected in directions we don’t want to go, or save us from getting suspended in a fog; but a dictionary can do little or nothing to prescribe the dynamic shapes of utterances that are by their nature innovative, discoveries in our own minds at work.  How do I know what I mean till I say it?  Everybody is caught in the hazards of language; we are all responsible for language, for its good health, for the way we use it, for the effect our use of language has, for the effect we allow other people’s use of language to have on us.  To accept the proposition that no utterance means other than the sum of the lexical meanings of its component words is to renounce one of our gravest responsibilities and to betray our birthright of living language.  Surely we must recognize that in some cases the meaning is much more than the sum of the lexical meanings – and very often much less; and that language is often used to preclude communication.

In studying highly developed pieces of writing – poems, say – we find that a necessary first step is to find some way of projecting the mind, by a sort of quantum jump, to an appropriate level of response, so that the mind will grasp the lexical meaning while it is not held entirely at the lexical level.  At the lexical level a poem does not function as a poem.[5]  I do not attempt here to define poetry, but affirm only that under the condition of poetry single words can have multiple meanings, that words and clusters of words can have manifold functions, and that in the best writing these are finely ordered and can be controlled with an exquisite precision.  At low levels of activity in language – in much discursive and expository writing, and in everyday referential usage – the manifold functioning of language is not very active, may be little needed, and so may seem not to be functioning at all.  Hence presumably the curious notion that “simple language” is the basic form of language, in which single words have single meanings.  We need only notice how suddenly, and without preparation, an unexpected word-order or an unusual choice of a word will release the energy of language; words are like little time-bombs with a very quiet tick.

The meanings of words depend much less upon lexical prescription and convention than upon actual usage.  A word can shift its meaning, or even be established in an incorrect meaning, in the same way that a mispronunciation is established as standard (for example, ēgo or pōlio or lōgos) – by sheer repetition.  (The “correct” pronunciation or use can then sound “pedantic.”)  Words, in varying degrees, have intrinsic meanings that depend upon their source and history; but specific meaning depends upon how words are actually used, and upon who uses them, and in what contexts, and why.  Any word can erode rapidly, usually through careless or cult repetition; but any eroded word can be restored – that depends on the user too.  If a word is clear to the person using it, the word is clear in that context no matter how it may be elsewhere.  Dictionaries help to stabilize meaning, not only by offering “definitions” but also by recording varieties of usage; and they can enlarge our sense of language by recording the origins of words and the history of the uses that have been, and are being, made of them.  To know the origin and history of a word strengthens the identity of that word in one’s mind; when we have a strong feeling of the traces of meaning in the root of a word, the word will not blur as easily as a word that feels like an arbitrary symbol, and it will tend to function with appropriate vigour.  The durability of words – whatever it is that preserves words against erosion – depends more upon the verbal sensibility of the user than upon the words themselves; yet words from Greek roots seem to be particularly tough survivors, less given to erosion and much less abstractive (for example) than English words formed on Latin roots, even though a knowledge of Greek is now a pretty rare accomplishment.[6]  Poets, because of their highly cultivated verbal sensibility, tend to be purifiers and renewers of language – or simply good users of language.

We recognize further that precision in using language comes in the way words define or clarify themselves in actual contexts.  Certain possible shades of meaning are endorsed, others precluded or made peripheral.  The clarifying activity of language, however, seems to be less a function of single words than a matter of dynamics, of the energetic shaping of a whole utterance.  If words are to define themselves accurately in use, the usage must be energetic enough to impart defining activity.  Hence my suspicion about using abstract nouns as key terms.[7]

The study of literature shows clearly, even if there were no evidence for this elsewhere, that even seeing is qualitative: for example, a freshman and I may see the same printed marks on the page but we do not see the same poem.  The quality of our individual seeing is a direct function of what a gestalt psychologist calls “set” – the way the mind is habitually directed or is capable of being directed by shifts of intention, what it knows and remembers, what it does not know, what in the mind reverberates to the presence of what.  Like taste, “set” is closely related to what we know selectively, what we are concerned to know and what we choose not to know (not-knowing being the matrix of knowing).[8]  The knowing that occurs when we “know a poem” is different in kind from knowing (say) that Tennyson wrote the poem; and that too affects our “set.”  Oversimplified theories of language arise, not because they derive from evidence less complex than the evidence considered in a richer theory, but because a limited response to language prevents the reader from seeing any evidence above the level of a limited linguistic sensibility.           

The recognitions that lead to literary discrimination and judgment cannot occur unless a person can respond justly to the work he is reading; literary perception is shaped by what is being perceived, and fineness of perception depends upon the capacity of the mind to be so shaped.  Successive stages of inquiry are guided by a series of value judgments (recognitions of what “matters”); otherwise there is no way of knowing what to pay particular attention to.  These activities are carried out with the attention somewhat suspended, to some degree renouncing sharp concentration until valuable foci of concentration have been identified.  “There is,” as Coleridge said, “a period of aimless activity and unregulated accumulation ... There is a period of orderliness, of circumspection, of discipline, in which we purify, separate, define, select, arrange” – which must sound as familiar to an inquiring scientist as it does to a literary scholar.  And this activity is carried out over something that moves through time and can therefore never be apprehended at a glance simply as a concrete “thing.”  What is known at the end is the poem, something made, self-contained and self-declarative, single though disposed across time.  It may not be an “expression” of the poet, though in fact we know that the poet said it; it is not primarily a “communication” from the poet, though in fact it conveys something from the poet and may even bring us into his presence; it is uttered in a language which we all use, yet in a mode – it may be – that is seldom if ever found anywhere else; though it usually arises from “experience” it seldom describes an experience and is usually constructed on highly stylized principles; it may use the most highly developed resources of language, yet it speaks so directly that often a child or an unsophisticated person can respond directly to it.  To get comfortably into such an area of interrelated paradoxes and to stay there long enough to get to know a profound poem (not quite the same as a difficult or obscure poem) takes a state of mind that is not very biddable, even with discipline and experience.  Not everybody is capable of such a sustained critical activity; not everybody needs to be capable of it.  Yet we are all, being endowed with imagination and inheritors of language, capable of responding directly to highly developed language; and it is well that we should have that ability, because it is only in the developed uses of language that we can find the radical of language.

The mark of true poetry, of language in its finest use, is “unity in multeity” – a highly complex simplicity, an intensely simple complexity – which is what a mathematician calls “elegance”; and when we grasp language in that order we see what Einstein called “harmony” – the sudden, just, inevitable fitting together of a host of details in a breathtakingly simple pattern.  Unless we grasp the radical of language, we shall not be aware how directly and finely we can – all of us – criticize (that is, get to know) the intention that lies behind writing of the middle order that would otherwise deceive or disarm us.  “Official” and political writing, earnest and impersonal in tone and of modest literary accomplishment, may seem to be assailable only in its “ideas” and logical connections.  Yet, couched in language, it must be criticized and analysed in terms of the way we know language functions, confident that we can see why it was written in that way and not otherwise.  To be able so to criticize statements, proposals, arguments is the responsibility of every civilized person, no matter how low a value he may place on his own achievement as speaker or writer.

Now, at last, for certain vectorial functions in language.[9]  A vector, I take it, indicates direction and magnitude; in physics this can be represented by an arrow pointing in a certain direction, with a length indicating magnitude.  In the study of language we can use this concept figuratively but precisely: figuratively, in the sense that the directions are drawn out in “psychic space” and the magnitudes cannot be measured (though they can be compared); precisely, in the sense that it allows us to recognize goings-on that we might otherwise miss.  The notion is introduced here, not to provide a calculus for language, but to heighten our awareness of the dynamic functions of language.

In any use of language there are always semantic vectors are work: single words reach out towards their “meanings” (whether thought of as in a lexicon or in one’s head), towards our personal associations with the word, and towards each other in the impulse to complete an unfolding meaningful structure.  (This last I think of as “the drama of syntax,” the scheme of action that puts words together.)  The semantic vectors are not of uniform magnitude in a vigorous sentence; if they are too uniform or low in magnitude the sentence will feel static, almost like an algebraic expression that we have to express in some other notation before we can see what it means.  In general a noun has a weak or negligible vector unless it is a metaphor or functions in a perceptual mode; transitive verbs have strong vectors; intransitive and impersonal verbs have weak vectors; passive verbs and the verb “to be” are weakest of all.  The magnitude (force) of a semantic vector depends upon the user, not simply upon the word.  If the writing is entirely impersonal and the terms (as far as possible) un-metaphorical, the magnitude of the semantic vectors is almost indistinguishable – we simply read the meaning.  As soon as both speaker and reader are aware of a word as metaphor, the magnitude of its vector increases and commands the hearer’s attention.[10]  Our habit of grasping things as meaningful is so strong that when we read a line of gibberish:

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

   Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogroves,

   And the mome raths outgrabe.

semantic vectors are noticeably at work even though they can have no lexical terminus.  Where only semantic vectors are functioning, the level of language is “low” – that is, very little linguistic capacity is at work; the sentences in a patent brief would be an extreme example.  The vectors, if noticed at all, feel horizontal and the usage “linear”; the words have no resonance, having no upper partials standing over them.  Sound and rhythm are of negligible importance.  Language in this state – either so written, or so read (whether written that way or not) – has tempted many to suppose (mistakenly) that language is a conventional quasi-mathematical notation in which we point to objects, state propositions, give commands, and announce affliction, and into which we can translate “thoughts” or “ideas.”[11]  At a “low” level, the word is the irreducible element; at higher levels the utterance is the irreducible element, its powerful and complex vector supervening upon the integrity of single words.

At the highest level, the level of poetry, two other kinds of vectors appear which can be noted only briefly here.  (a) As single words function in a manifold way, they reverberate with, or reach out towards, other complex functions.  These are often contained (as it were) within the compass of the poem; but sometimes involve other contexts which are in the poet’s mind but not “in” the poem: for example, the word Hebrides in Wordsworth’s “Solitary Reaper” evokes Milton’s Lycidas (not as “source” but as essential functioning element).  (b) The vectorial activity of words, images, phrases can comprise – if coherent enough – the whole drama of a poem.  By drama I mean simply action traced out, the “movement of mind” through psychic or imaginative space eventually coming to rest where it had to come to rest, the movement being towards an end that will not be surely recognized until it has been reached.  We should not be far wrong in saying until it has been reached.  We should not be far wrong in saying that the drama traces out thinking.[12]  This happens, for example, in Wordsworth’s “Solitary Reaper” and in his Immortality Ode, and very markedly in Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale”; and in a different way, in “The Exstasie,” in which Donne traces out an “argument” that leads us ineluctably from A to B by a series of connections which are not primarily logical.  This function is not peculiar to any style or period; indeed it would not be extravagant to say that it is at work in every substantial poem.  If we ask what, at the end of such proceedings, we know the question is difficult to answer, unless we are prepared to accept as a characteristic conclusion the close of Yeats’s “The Second Coming”:

And now I know that twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle.

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

(There are lots of vectors of various kinds to trace there too.)

So far by way of illustration.  Let me put it this way.  In highly accomplished poetry (which may be verse or prose) we find language working with a precision and manifold activity far beyond the requirements of reference, logic, or description.  For one thing, sound and rhythm become elements of outstanding semantic, vectorial, and shaping importance.  Some call this process “symbolizing” and draw a sharp distinction between “symbolizing” and “describing.”  Poets are forced into symbolizing as an act of discovery and of making, encouraged and guided by their sense of the living principles of the language they use.  A poet makes a poem – that’s what the word “poet” means if it means anything – and the making stands for something like a vision or glimpse of (what in despair we are usually forced to call) “reality.”  And that, in a great wealth of variations for which there may be no actual precedent, is what language is for; not only in poetry but at the most humble, straightforward, and referential level (because there is an infinity of “realities”).  We notice that the “higher” level of language encompasses, but does not supersede, the function of the “lower” level, in the same way that Einsteinian physics encompasses and goes beyond Newtonian physics but does not supersede it.  Levels of language cannot be absolutely separated except by the writer’s intention; all levels are capable of interweaving, and do constantly interinanimate each other.  And the metaphorical function of language includes but need not destroy or supersede the logical function.

Unfortunately not all uses of language can be divided into “high” use (? good) and “low” (? modest or limited).  There are discreditable uses: some that defy logic when they purport to be logical, some that slyly conceal their intention, some that assail the nature of language itself.  These are the sort of uses I want to discuss next.  But first, a word on precision and imprecision generally.  In 1786-98 John Horne Tooke published a philological book called Epea pteroenta – a Homeric phrase meaning “winged words”: that is, words like arrows with feathers to them.  (Tooke’s book has not lasted, but his successful self-defence against a charge of treason, for which his enemies never forgave him, suggests that he knew a thing or two about the use of language).  The title is suggestive.  The good use of words – the sort of use that keeps language vigorous and a delight to listen to and handle – is a matter of marksmanship.  But marksmanship of a special sort: the missile must not only hit the target in the right place, it must be of the right size and shape (as it were) to fit an odd-shaped hole in the target - that is, the precise function it needs to serve when it gets there.  The objection to clichés, vague terms, and cult terms is not simply that other people use them too much, but that they show poor marksmanship; they are blanket-terms, large woolly patches that can cover a host of different-sized holes; they are too compliant, too easy to use, requiring no skill, distasteful to the keen marksman.  In terms of marksmanship there is no virtue in hitting a barn-door with a blunder-buss at short range – particularly if, as is too often the case, you are shooting at a bee at long range with the hope of changing the flavour of his honey.  The standards for verbal marksmanship can be expected to be rather high, because bad marksmanship encourages imprecise thinking and a blurred perception of what one is unravelling in this thinking.[13]

The objection to loose and imprecise terms is not simply that they give too blurry an effect (though they certainly do that) or that they fall below some hypothetical standard of descriptive fidelity.  The objection is much more serious.  Bad usage can induce a breakdown in the energetic, shaping, and clarifying functions of language itself; bad usage attacks language in its central nervous system, and can turn us into linguistic cretins or paraplegics.  The breakdown can occur, not only in single pieces of speech and writing, but more pervasively it can spread (by habit or fashion) through a whole range of the possible uses of language.  The widespread use, as we have it now, of ill-constructed words, hybrids, arbitrarily compounded locutions, rootless abstractions, uncouth acronyms of no self-evident reference, verbs used as nouns, nouns yoked ambiguously together, the shamelessly anthropomorphic coinages of the computer people – these are all well enough for merriment, or for the dialectal specification of clubs, classes, and in-groups, or even sometimes as desperate but temporary expedients in tight corners.  Used uncritically and as a matter of habit and form, however, they rapidly destroy the verbal sense, the sense that discerns and keeps alive the distinct identities of words, the clear and direct vigour of utterance, the confidence that the manifold activities of language do in fact place at our disposal a rich variety of mental resources that have been nourished and fertilized by language for centuries.  T. S. Eliot in a memorable passage reminds us how far the sense of language is a matter of the ear, engaging a very wide and active response: “What I call the ‘auditory imagination’ is the feeling for syllable and rhythm, penetrating far below the conscious levels of thought and feeling, invigorating every word; sinking to the most primitive and forgotten, returning to the origin and bringing something back, seeking the beginning and the end.  It works through meanings, certainly, or not without meanings in the ordinary sense, and fuses the old and obliterated and the trite, the current, and the new and surprising, the most ancient and the most civilised mentality.”[14]  Verbal imagination of the order Eliot describes is not needed all the time perhaps, except by poets.  But when it is needed – as in our present situation – it is badly needed.  Poets can be expected to have a highly cultivated verbal sense.  But we can all be expected to show a fair degree or cultivation, considering how much time and attention we devote as children to mastering language; and it would seem no less than our duty to be so cultivated if Chomsky is correct – as I think he is – in seeing “linguistic competence,” our infinitely innovative use of language, as the distinctive human achievement, the mark of man.  There can be no doubt that historically our minds have been shaped and patterned by the ways we use language.  Language is constantly changing, and must change constantly.  There can be no doubt that our minds are at this instant being shaped by the way we use language, and can be shaped by the way others would persuade us to use our words and accept their use of words.  An uncritical acceptance of usages that, if we saw them clearly, we would certainly deplore, can make the difference between civilization and barbarism; and if “civilization,” it will determine what kind of civilization.

Back to vectors.  Let me consider two that occur commonly in the “middle” level of language: (a) emotive, and (b) slanting.

(a) Emotive words are words that arouse strong emotion: love, beauty, death, grief, freedom, fulfilment, hope, joy – words that point to the central experiences and to our most persistent desires.  By “emotion” I mean a state of feeling stable enough and personal enough to be identified by name, such as “joy,” “sorrow,” “anger,” “hatred.”  (And by “feeling” I mean simply a charge of psychic energy.)  The big emotive words often occur in poetry because poetry deals largely with our central concerns of value; and it is the business of poetry to handle such themes, not in an emotional way, but in intricately patterned constructions of feeling.  When the rendering of feeling is imprecise and emotional we call the writing “sentimental” – one of the most derogatory terms in literary criticism.  Emotive poems are, by definition, bad poems; sentimental writing calls up emotion that is not controlled by the writing itself.  The place to look for examples of the emotive use of language is in advertising copy, in the words of popular songs, in the words of sentimental hymns (if anybody sings them any more), and in political rhetoric.  Characteristically, the emotive vector is strong, and detaches itself from its origin – the emotion loses track of what it was about, floats free, and grows into a personally centred reverie.  When emotive language is used deliberately (rather than through incapacity), its purpose is to arouse strong unfocused emotion.  But our emotive responses to words can be very subtle: even an experienced and scrupulous critic cannot always be certain whether he is being deflected from the poem he is examining by his feeling for something that has happened to him in the past.

(b) Slanted words are, as the name implies, more obviously vectorial than emotive words; and it is difficult sometimes to be sure whether a use is emotive or slanted, or – as is often the case – both.  Slanted words are phrases normally point toward an undefined area of good/bad, acceptable/unacceptable, praiseworthy/contemptible.  The slanting use, with its implied and often collusive reference to an undefined area of approval or contempt, is a little like the emotive use, and slating is often used to arouse emotion; but slanting is different inasmuch as, instead of pointing to an area of universally accessible emotion, it points to some proposition as axiomatic or widely accepted; and this allows slanting to fit into assertive utterances with the appearance of argument.  The slanting vector is, in a way, a special instance of the semantic vector: it points to a meaning, but the meaning is illicit.  The usage is slanted, not the word; and a term that is commonly slanted (freedom, democracy, right, representation) can be used in an unslanted manner – though it will take a little time for the words “Fascist” and “pig” to return to neutral usage.  Student activists are very fond of slanting, and of the equivocations (apparently logical) that slanting readily produces.  We notice how an illicit argument can be disarmed, and how the temperature drops, if we agree to refer to “required courses” rather than “compulsory courses,” and to “rational self-government” rather than “participatory democracy.”  Not all slanting is as obvious as this.  The statement “Language is communication” would reward close analysis; and so would the slippery declaration that “The medium is the message.”  We notice that in both cases the trouble crystallizes around the word is – so slack-kneed a copulative that it gives no better show of strength than the stiff upper lip of a shadowy equals-sign.  The words “problem” (especially when pronounced with the b silent), “media” (especially when used as a singular noun), and “information,” and the cant phrases “information explosion” and “communications revolution” would all repay separate scrutiny.  And so would all those phrases like “the language of music,” “the language of film,” “the language of TV” (which the notions of “syntax” and “dialect” would help to clarify).  A “computer language” is, of course, not a language at all (all of which could be clarified by using the terms “syntax” and “dialect”).

If we take a step back from slanting as a use of language and see it as a complex rhetorical mode of pseudo-logic, we see how easily the emotion aroused by slanting can obliterate our sense of logical relation.  From habits developed in my study of the classics I assume that if an argument is conducted with scrupulous logic it is irrefutable – except in its premisses.  One principal use of slanting is to conceal premisses.  From habits developed in studying the only language I know at all well, I have learned that the reason for saying something imparts structure to what is said, and that therefore, if one is not seriously to misunderstand what is said, it is always profitable to ask “Why was it said that way and not otherwise?” – and not to be put off with too easy an answer.  I have noticed also that even logical exposition is a sort of game or convention by which we proceed from premisses to conclusion as though we were giving an account of the way we reached the conclusion – a dramatic device, no doubt, to make new things plausible.  Yet we know that to come upon a new thing is a pure act, a leap, no matter what analytic or purifying preparation may have made it possible; and that the act of mind is the same whether the “new thing” is big or very small.  Once out of the area of logical demonstration, there is a much more intimate relation between conclusion and premisses than logic can account for: the conclusion comes first to the mind; premisses and conclusion are reciprocally adjusted, and where the thinking is weak or disorderly the premisses are often a back-formation from a desired conclusion.  When premisses and conclusion are finely correlated we feel the inevitability or elegance of the relation; when not justly correlated, we feel uneasy.  Altogether, I think we are most of us much better at spotting a fishy connection, by direct insight, than we are at seeing a logical inconsistency.  With thinking, as with language, most people are capable of sharper discrimination than they are aware of.

Let us look at a few sentences from a recent authoritative statement on “Literary Studies and the Media.”  It is worth noticing that slanting depends to some extent on the pace with which a term is approached and the assurance with which it is left behind; and that slanting works most effectively when language seems to be functioning at the referential or semantic level.

We must now accept recordings, tapes, films, and multi-media events as documentsa – statements which communicateb – with great speed,c and in a non-linear way.d ... We face a new kind of person in our universities and high schoolse – a person who has more information about the worldf than his parents had in middle age.g ... What he needs is training in how to find answers to the questions he is able to askh; ... the old academic procedures ... no longer serve their needs; and the comprehension of electronic media, and expertise in their use, have not yet penetrated the universities ... But what of the professor of literature in this new atmosphere of instant information, this vast mosaic of signals that come at us (indeed bombard us) from all directions?i ... the professor or teacher will have to reveal the forms and structures of all the languages of communication;j and, since he cannot be a polymath,k he must instruct students in how to get at the information they need.l

A few comments may be made:

a / “must now accept”: As long as there have been recordings, tapes, films, they have been used, when available, for whatever purpose they seemed capable of serving.  “as documents”: The underlining gives the slant, but does not define the direction.  In the radical sense a “document” is something that imparts learning; usually these days it means something written down or recorded, and reliable unless otherwise indicated.  The author is trying as hard as he can to undermine the primacy of writing, so perhaps his underlining points to something like “records that should be taken as seriously as people used to take writing.”  Of course they always have been so taken as far as that it possible.  If you want to hear a symphony and haven’t an orchestra around and can’t read a full score, you play a recording; if you want to remind yourself of the cut of somebody’s jib you look at his picture; if you want to see him in motion, and he lived recently enough, you look at film.  In each case you still have to decide about the quality of the evidence presented; the fact that the symphony is recorded on magnetic tape does not establish whether the recording is technically good or the performance artistically sound.  The next word after “documents” is “statements,” an emphatic word which, with the underlining, establishes an equivocation corresponding to the proposition that the camera never lies.  Instead of “statements” he might have said “information,” but that is a bit neutral for this context and is reserved for honorific treatment later.  An important educational consideration is being dodged here: to the trained perception, evidence (“statements,” “information”) is potentially meaningful against an informed “set”; of an untrained perception evidence is multitudinous, neutral, and confusing.  The dual purpose of education is to encourage an energetic “set” and to sharpen perception: this is the basis for “imparting knowledge.”  It is important to notice how often major original theories have arisen from a study of subtle and minute anomalies.  In a fog of unordered minutiae the fruitful anomaly cannot be discerned.

b / “communicate”: It would take too long to go into this sacred cult-word.  Here it is both emotive and slanted.  Why not say “are capable of being presented to us”?

c / “with great speed”: Sleight of hand.  Radio and TV signals and telephone and telegraph messages can indeed be transmitted “at great speed” – about the speed of light.  This makes “information” accessible at long distance in short intervals of time.  But this has no bearing upon the speed of acquiring or “reading” the “information”; and if what is being conveyed is not “pieces of information” a plausible analogy begins to crumble.  It takes much longer to listen to a recording of a symphony than to read the full score; a poem, even by a sow reader, can be read more rapidly in print than it can be listened to on a recording; film and TV are not particularly economical of time, unless the material is graphical.  Each method of presentation has its peculiar characteristics; as far as speed and flexibility is concerned the book – particularly if illustrated – takes a lot of beating.  In any case, a book, unlike tape, film, or recordings, is not committed to a single speed of presentation.

d / “in a non-linear way”: A vector towards McLuhan who apparently would like to convince us that language is always, and nothing but, “linear.”  I have already shown that language is linear only when read exclusively at the semantic level.  Tape, film, recordings, etc. are in fact more linear than the printed word, in the sense that they are run through at a certain speed.  Whether the effect is linear or not depends on the perceiver, not the method of recording and presentation.  In any medium the presentation must secure “that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment that constitutes poetic faith,” otherwise the response will be mostly linear – that is, at the semantic level.  The imaginative use of language (by which I mean the radical use of language) passes through time as does any kind of coherent presentation – even an explosion – but words carry envelopes and upper partials of meaning and reference (in short, are vectorial).  To print utterances in parallel lines does not make the utterances linear.  Habitual rapid reading can reduce almost any writing to the semantic level, and on the whole our school training does not get us very accustomed to the “higher” levels of language.  Certainly we need all the means we can get to dislodge us from a self-paralysing semantic habit, and film, tape, and TV may – from their relative unfamiliarity – be useful for that purpose.  But to call language “linear” is a misleading way of making that point.  And dangerous.  To allow ourselves to be persuaded that language is “linear” – that is, not language at all – is to renounce the civilized use of language; and I cannot see any obvious gain in that.

e / “a new kind of person”: Emotive and slanted towards the current and questionable cult of “youth.”  Every generation provides “a new kind of person” in a sense that means either a great deal or nothing at all.  This smacks of coloured supplements, advertisements aimed at the teen-ager, the “generation gap,” and the Two Cultures.

f / “who has more information about the world”: Or has access to more information?  about what?  of what quality?  Does the amount of information matter?  “Knowledge is infinite, truth is one.”  I am sure that both Robert Southey and John Wilson Croker had more “information” than Samuel Taylor Coleridge had; I can imagine that Vergil of Toulouse and Jan Gruter both knew more things than Einstein.  Does anybody now actually possess more “information” than Erasmus or any of the great mediaeval polymaths?  What matters is not the amount of information available of acquired, but the quality of the information and the quality with which it is known and related.

g / “than his parents had in middle age”: Isn’t that speeding up the generation gap a bit, and shoving the over-thirties off the mortal coil rather peremptorily?  Parents of children now aged 20 are usually entering or are in their middle age and all of them have grown up within “the electronic revolution.”

h / “answers to the questions he is able to ask”: Why “is able to ask”?  Is he, by virtue of his place in time, able to ask many questions that have not been asked before?  or that persons 20 or 30 or 40 or 60 years older are not capable of asking?  Enlightened school and university training has always been strong on training people in finding relevant information.  Finding answers is a bit more difficult.  If the questions can be answered, the answers are often quite easy to come by.  The most fruitful questions are the ones that cannot be answered but won’t let us stop asking them; for these there are no classes for beginners.

i / Surely “in this new atmosphere of instant information, [with] this vast mosaic of signals that come at us (indeed bombard us) from all directions” we are obliged to be much more selective then before.  We don’t have to be indiscriminate; to the despair of the advertising industry, we all choose what to take in and what not; a prime function of the human mind is selection and arrangement, and traditional education has been strong in cultivating that function.  There is no evidence to suggest that the capacity to know well is any different now than it ever has been (except that our capacity for language develops our ability to know well); nor is there evidence that the amount of “information” retained by any individual depends upon anything except his individual capacity to retain “information.”  What matters is not what he retains as much as what he does with what he retains.

j / “all the languages of communication”: This loose metaphor, particularly when slanted with the word “communication,” needs to be examined very closely to see whether there is in fact any detailed similarity between the dynamics, syntax, precision, and semantics of language and the ways film, music, etc. put things coherently together: in short whether there is any language except language.

k / “polymath”: The strong slanting impulse seems to have pushed the author into misuse of the word.  A polymath is a person learned in various fields.  There have always been such persons, there are now, and presumably there always will be.  The misuse of the word betrays an interesting and biased assumption: the professor cannot know everything (a statement that can be truly made of anybody), and he will probably not know what the student wants to know (the generation-gap and the professor as old fogey), and being a professor he will be familiar only with a very narrow field, and now he’ll have to smarten up and show his students how to find “information” that he himself never thought worth ferreting out and using himself.

l / “how to get at the information they need”: See also h above.  The last word is interestingly slanted: what students “need” is “information” of a kind that is being withheld (deliberately?  through indolence?  through insensitiveness to the “needs” of youth?); conversely, the “information” that professors do give to students is implicitly what they do not “need” (useless?  misleading?  “irrelevant”?).  Professors these days cannot be expected to have any idea what students “need,” this implies; but this “new kind of person” knows, with an implacable and hungry certainty.

These notes only scratch the surface, but enough to see that the burden of the song is: “Books are finished; professors are finished.  Pay attention to film, TV, records, tape – they are (or will be) important [in life?  in education?  in society?].  And have lots of multi-media happenings.”  Some of what the author is getting at needs to be got at; but the author, by being less shrill and shifty, might well have engaged our interest and concern; he might even have set our minds fruitfully thinking.

Now we come back to the Science Council categories: discovery, invention, innovation.  The distinction between discovery and invention is a fine one – two figures so close together as almost to make a pun.  Did the Science Council know that Coleridge had used this distinction in an ironic note of self-accusation almost 170 years ago: “Into a discoverer I have sunk from an inventor”?  In terms of the implied image, Coleridge evidently found “invent” (to come upon) sharper and “higher” than “discover.”[15]  But the word “invent” has now drifted irreversibly to mean putting together gadgets and gizmoes on well-established principles – telephones, radar, television, jet engines.  The use is acceptable because clear and established; and that leaves “discovery” now as the top term in a sequence.  But “innovation” looks rather odd at the end of a sequence that was supposed to have its fons et origo in “new things.”  Can the word be slanted?  implying that the novelty is somehow illegitimate unless introduced to (or brought to bear upon) “society” and unless it affects “economic growth”?  Perhaps the whole sequence of technological development here is slanted by seeming to limit discovery to “new things.”  Often the new thing is a relation seen between old things, or between old and new things.  As in the case of the Boolean algebra there can be a long interval between the discovery of the “new thing” and any notion of a conceivable application.  We might not suspect slanting if we did not notice that the proposed classification takes the emphasis off discovery, off the source – and sure enough, as the document unfolds, it is the discovery-people who will lose their money to the innovators.

Professor Wynne-Edwards detected something “a little derisive” in the description of “basic research” as “curiosity-motivated.”  The phrase is indeed derisive, and no doubt is intended to be.  What happens if we turn the derision through 180°?  If somebody walked into Rutherford’s laboratory, or Dirac’s, or surprised Einstein or Bohr at his chalk-board, or came on Sherrington reading Jean Fernel’s De abditis rerum causis (1548), and asked any one of them what they were doing, I doubt whether the answer would be: “I am presently engaged in curiosity-motivated research.”  They would be much more likely to say: “I’m looking – I don’t know what for – yet.”  We sadly need a philosophy of heuristics – a study of the ways we hunt for and find out things when we aren’t certain what we are looking for.[16]  Is there indeed (coming back to abstract nouns) any such thing as curiosity, except by back-formation from the fact that some people have a nagging habit of looking intently and asking questions about what they see?  And is there such a thing as a motive, except as a hypothetical fulcrum in a causal account of the way people act?  The distortion is of the order of parody, and the insult grievous.  What we really need now is a second Erasmus to write us another Moriae encomium – in praise of folly – and a second Holbein to illustrate it.

Somehow there would have to be a section on “The Pursuit of Knowledge” and “The Pursuit of Truth.”  These phrases, recurring in convocation addresses and in expressions of goodwill from groups whose aspect is otherwise menacing, are difficult to utter any more with the required gravity.  When these phrases are used, something important no doubt is being invoked; but the image is incongruous.  If knowledge is infinite, and truth is one, and if (as Bacon held) “knowledge is the image of existence,” is “pursuit” the right word for our way of coming at any or all of these?  Matthew Arnold declared, working from the Greek, that “excellence dwells among rocks hardly accessible, and a man must almost wear his heart out before he can reach her.”  Can we pursue under these conditions?  And when we are told that students and professors are the same because both are “learners,” both engaged in “the pursuit of knowledge,” I think (once I have recovered from the shameless equivocation) of badger-hounds vigorously scouring the countryside, happy and a little brainless, and of ferrets with their long pointed noses; and am comforted to think how far that puts me out in front of the field; and wonder whether there may after all have been something in the doctrine of some early nineteenth century phrenologist that you could measure a man’s intelligence by the length of his neck – the longer the neck, the lower the intelligence.  I cannot recall his name, and my information-retrieval system has failed me, not being coded either for “neck” or “intelligence.”  Yet there, surely, was a new thing.

The Science Council has adopted as an axiom “That the value of any scientific enterprise to a society is determined by the social, cultural, and economic goals that that society seeks.”  (“Seeking” is a rather odd verb to use with “goals”?).  I don’t know how a circle can be slanted, but that one is.  Is the future good of society always definable in terms of “goals”?  Is society capable of defining goals?  And are all “cultural and economic goals” necessarily for the good of society?  There is plenty of evidence to show how the unfastidious use of language in positions of power can work cumulatively towards barbarity, suspension of acute criticism, linguistic apathy.  This is very agitating to a person who – like myself – had always believed that the “armed vision” would one day come into its own.  I am no longer so sure.  Much of what can be done will have to be done in language.  When the issue is so critical and the trouble pervasive and baffling, one can only speak obliquely, as I have done; to propose policies and “goals” is only to reinforce what we deplore and what we would see disarmed and discredited.  But who to speak to?  When I learned that by 1932 – more than thirty years ago – the Royal Society of Canada had already “made representations to the Dominion Government at various times again pollution of Canadian waterways by sewage, and as to the dangerous qualities of certain matches and illuminating gases,” I realized that the Royal Society of Canada must be an action-organization.  Perhaps, I thought, I should speak to them.  And I have.


[1] The now-standard threefold division of university departments and “research” allocations into science, social sciences, and humanities (with mathematics hovering somewhere overhead and geography somewhere underfoot) – how did this scheme get established, and why is it not vigorously challenged?  A scheme based on discipline and method rather than on subject-matter and intended sphere of influence would certainly invigorate learning and might help to draw discovery into a specifically human (rather than social and economic) dimension.

[2] The crude trade-classification into “scientist” and “humanist” has the serious disadvantage of separating two groups who are primarily concerned with imaginative activity, and of allowing the “pure” scientist to be mistaken for a technologist.  Could a less tendentious scheme be based upon the “ways of mind” which, though engaged by everybody, occur with varying prominence in various kinds of study and activity?  To delineate the “ways of mind” would be a matter for a study called heuristics, a conceivable branch of epistemology which has so far received little systematic attention.  (See also note 16 below).  Psychological studies of “creativity” seem to be limited by their reluctance to gather appropriately complex evidence.

[3] S. T. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, ed. J. Shawcross (Oxford, 1907 &c), I, 107.  It would follow from this proposition that the only way to be pedantic in such learned company as the Royal Society of Canada would be to talk at a very trivial level.

[4] Spokesmen for the government of Ontario recently (May 1970) announced that the investment in undergraduate education had proved “unproductive,” and the investment in graduate education “counterproductive.”

[5] I have used the word “poem” several times here as standing for “highly developed writing.”  The language of the best prose is often more highly developed than the language of much verse (see, for example, Sir Charles Sherrington’s Man on His Nature [Cambridge, 1946]); and some of the best verse is strikingly translucent and direct rather than obscure and difficult.  Poetry is the only way of saying certain kinds of things; the difficulty is to let the mind grasp what poetry is saying in its own very direct way.

[6] Greek is particularly well provided with processive nouns that have almost the force of verbs.  Mimesis is such a noun, prominent in Aristotle’s Poetics.  When it is translated as imitation the energy and processive inflection have gone from the word.  Even a person who knows neither Greek nor Latin seems able to sense the static quality of the noun “imitation” – as though he could tell directly that a noun formed from a past participle could hardly imply process.  Existential philosophy and phenomenology have encouraged philosophers to turn away from abstract nouns (static “ideas” or “absolutes”) in order to secure suitable verbal form for their thinking.  Modern translations of Aristotle use a direct unlatinistic English that would have seemed uncouth or improper to philosophers less than a century ago.

[7] In poetry, however, a word that is normally abstract can become vivid and concrete in the hands of a particular writer.  Wordsworth’s use of “things” and the verb “to be” deserve close study; but only a person who looked at the world the way he did could get such an effect.

[8] Surely Keats’s thinking – remarkably vigorous, original, and fearless – bespeaks a mind uncluttered by most of the furniture of advanced formal education.  It took such a man to say: “I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the heart’s affections and the truth of imagination.”  Yeats’s invincible sense of the integrity of words and verbal rhythms similarly was grounded in his insensitiveness to music.

[9] In Poetic Process (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1953; Cleveland & New York: Meridian Books, 1967) I used the word “vector” in discussing language, thinking the image was new.  I am now informed that one or two contemporary American writers have (or had) also used it as a suggestive analogy.  The coincidence is reassuring.

[10] For example, I am so acutely aware that the word “poetry” comes from the Greek verb poiein (to make) that I cannot refrain from pronouncing it “poi-ētry.”  A listener, whether or not aware of the Greek reasons for this, will hear the pronunciation as odd or pedantic; to a person aware of the reason for the pronunciation, however, a complex point is made instantly.

[11] In my view language is radically metaphorical, its structure not logical but paratactic – words being placed side by side, or rather face to face, and allowed to work out their relation without the identities of words being destroyed.  Logical or propositional structure has supervened upon metaphorical structure but need not be allowed to supersede it; yet educational emphasis since the eighteenth century has tended to damage, and even obliterate, the metaphorical sense.  In highly developed language the logical and metaphorical principles are usually in strong, but not destructive, tension.

[12] Cf. a marginal note of Coleridge in Tetens’s Philosophische Versuche (Leipzig, 1777): “What are my motives but my impelling thoughts – and what is a Thought but another word for ‘I thinking’?”

[13] A single utterance may usefully be regarded as a “trajectory,” a complex vectorial function implying an end and amplitude as well as direction.  The internal structure of such a trajectory consists of the vectors of words and phrases, sounds, variations in accent, pitch, and duration – a rhythm energetic and shapely enough to impart, imply, and satisfy the feeling of just completion.  The trajectory of human utterance is like the trajectory of a physical missile in the sense that it declares energy released in a certain direction; it is unlike a physical trajectory in two senses: (a) in an utterance there is no missile to trace the trajectory, unless we infer an abstract “meaning” or “intention” that is inseparable from all the components of the flight, and anyway the missile makes itself as it goes; (b) the fight is not determined simply by the aim taken and the energy released – it can be, and usually is, modified from moment to moment “in flight” and will not necessarily fall on an expected target.  One of the fascinations of listening to language is the tension between expectation and realization, the interplay of remembering, immediately perceiving, and anticipating which can provide not only in the end a sense of the utterance as a whole but an exquisite appreciation of the way things get said.  The imaginative use of language encourages us so to enter into the life of language.  Listening to language, like listening to music, is enriched by an informed intelligence.

[14] The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (London, 1933), 118-19.

[15] The Notebooks of S. T. Coleridge, ed. Kathleen Coburn (New York and London, 1957, 1961), I, 950; early 1801.  What seems to us an inversion of terms was probably intentional since the note shows signs of being thoughtfully written; it confirms my feeling that “invent” produces a more vivid image than “discover.”  Later Coleridge takes “discover” as the higher term, probably reflecting current usage.  In 1802 he noted: “We imagine ourselves discoverers & that we have struck a Light, when in reality we have only snuffed a Candle” (I, 1315); and more than ten years later: “To invent [as distinguished] from to discovery – H. Invents the Time Piece – A. discovers the Longitude” (III, 4181).

[16] Unfortunately English has no verb to match the Greek heuriskein – a busy, seeking word for which “pursue” is no substitute and of which “research” give no inkling.  Coleridge catches well the heuristic spirit not only by his description but by the way he writes.  “There is no way of arriving at any sciential End but by finding it at every step.  The End is in the Means: or the Adequacy of each Mean is already its End.  Southey once said to me: You are nosing every nettle along the Hedge, while the Greyhound (meaning himself, I presume) wants only to get sight of the Hare, and Flash – strait as a line!  he has it in his mouth!  – Even so, I replied, might a Cannibal say to an Anatomist, whom he had watched dissecting a body.  But the fact is – I do not care to pence for the Hare; but I value most highly the excellencies of scent, patience, discrimination, free Activity; and find a Hare in every Nettle I make myself acquainted with.  I follow the Chamois-Hunters, and seem to set out with the same Object.  But I am no Hunter of that Chamois Goat; but avail myself of the Chace in order to a nobler purpose – that of making a road across the Mountain in which Common Sense may hereafter pass backward and forward, without desperate Leaps or Balloons that soar indeed but do not improve the chance of getting onward.”  (BM MS Egerton 2801, f 126; printed in Inquiring Spirit, ed. Kathleen Coburn [London, 1951], 143-4.)  Southey and the Greyhound sound rather like the Science Council’s notion of a curiosity-motivated researcher.