Where Seldom Is Heard A Familiar Word

GEORG "dialectic German Style" HEGEL

 

I’ve done dialects.  I’ve dabbled in dialectics.     For idle entertainment I diddle with freestanding words from a dictionary.  But what really gets me going is to take some seemingly random words, especially if they’re alliterative and look akin, and hook them up like Lego pieces, and – abracadabra! – another gnarly essay.  Thus this one on “Dialectic And Dialect.”  It was as much fun to write as riding a spotted pony but as tough to keep under control as a cantankerous bronco.

Everybody has a pretty good definition of “dialect,” but would rather say "accent."  But what the blazes does “dialectic” mean?  And why an essay about it just because it alliterates with “dialect”?

  “Dialectic” is beyond most mortals, even PhDs, who might guess that it must have something to do with philosophy, familiar enough to seem plain enough.  Or with metaphysics?  That’s deep vapor, too deep.  Whether something is merely philosophical or magnificently metaphysical, is in the eye of the beholder, and lots of luck, beholder.  As to why this about “dialectics”?   To the degree possible, the denouement will unravel that.  That's what that d-word is for.

Famous for his chair-bound emanations of a storm of sesquipedalian words, like dialectic, didactic, diuretic, hermetic, emetic, and metaphysics, and, O yes, hermeneutics, old Plato was the putative father of philosophy and dialectic, and metaphysics to boot.

I’ve played around with Plato, and as near as I can tell, his emanations were magnificently abstract and formless (e.g. “Form,” his deliberately nebulous substitute for, in his opinion, an all too tangible God), good only for PhD undefendable theses rather than tools for everyday use.  I’d put the Bible kind of spiritual word against Plato's vapor.  Against Plato's "Form," I' d put Christ any day, and twice on the 7th day.  Though presented in novel terms ("never a man spake like this man"), the Son of Man's message was so utterly crystal clear, like the Milky Way on a desert night, that to many it simply could not be accepted.  They clamped their eyes and ears shut, and worse.

Plato left "dialectic" as vague as "Form," but if you spend hours holed up in a library, minutes with Google, you could stumble upon a definition that does at first glance seem more fleshed out than Plato left it: to wit, dialectic is that method, some references call it an art (I’d call it prestidigitation), of argumentative exchange between absolute contradictions whereby – abracadabra! -- truth is arrived at.  After a few more glances  fleshed-out "dialectic" turns out to be shadows and special effects lip-synced with double talk.  Which is OK because Postmodernism proclaims there is really no such thing as truth anyway.   Obviously dialectic is nothing if not intellectuality incarnate.

This supra-Platonic virtual truth-searching definition is thanks to a trio of exotic Germans.   Karl Marx almost singlehandedly made the word "dialectic" famous.  He's more identified with "dialectic" than anybody.  But to try riding Marx right now would throw me clean off the bucking bronco that this essay already is.   As I see it, Marxism doesn't have much to do with philosophy and less with truth, so why Marx should the patron saint of the didactic methodology beats me.  I herewith de-canonize him.  More obviously  philosophers, even of pure and rarefied philosophy, the other authors of the definition, Immanuel Kant and Georg Hegel, are both famously incomprehensible to normal people and thus personifications of dialectic.   May I venture that whereas the process is supposed to yield “truth,” in truth befuddlement is where it ends up, with luck.  Obviously, the thing needs more work.

I apologize for wasting so much time on this string of obscure and obscurer d-words,  but since I embarked on such a pop-doctoral undertaking as this, I figured I’d better go through the motions of defining certain most relevant d's on this d-horizon.  Should I have included "Diatribe"?   “Diabetes” is too far off-road.

 Dialectic seem natural for Germans, but Americans?  It wasn’t, not at the beginning.  Our famous founders, intellectuals like Jefferson and Franklin, those depicted in famous oil paintings, were hellbent mainly on throwing off European imposed taxes and founding their own nation in the New World.  I’d like to think they were more attracted to self-evident truth than dialectically devised truth.  The rest of the population, even in old Boston if not New York, were determined to ditch all discredited European philosophies, even the whole idea of intellectuality.  Broken loose from Europe and liberated of haute talk and tangled and entangling dogmas, America was a wide open New World of straight-talking and straight-shooting upstanding people naturally possessed of native common sense and dead sure of simple absolute truth.  If in old Europe courts and cities were the centers of wisdom while the hinterlands were for yokels and hicks, over here it was the 1-horse town and the wide open spaces from which earthy wisdom rose like petrichor.  Mercifully, the Declaration of Independence liberated us from all dialectic.

 Or so it was boasted, especially to Europe, in divers New World accents, the earliest being Ben Franklin's which was genuine Philadelphian.   The essence of the fresh New World was, I think, most famously proclaimed in the uniquely American cowpoke dialect that would emerge when the littoral population wagoned itself all the way West.

 But it remained for Hollywood to make it work.  Hollywood, way far west in the land of sagebrush, by popular vote at the box office has become the capitol of America, beating out Washington DC.  The virtual capitol of the planet, Hollywood has aced out New York and the UN and Brussels and the EU, and forever changed the meaning of reality, certainly of the Old West, if it ever was real.  Not only did Hollywood rewrite reality but also everything associated with it, including philosophy and, of course, dialectic, beating out Harvard and Andrews Seminary, rendering it dialectic American style aka dialectic lite.   What Karl Marx did for German dialectic, the Marx Brothers did for ours.  Though slimmed and virtualized, however, dialectic still needed a rewrite.  Dialectic needed, of all things, exegesis.

What Hollywood did to dialectic was, I suppose, unintended, sort of collateral damage.  Had Sam Goldwyn even heard of the term "dialectic"?   But the way Hollywood made Western dialect as fake as a western movie set of a saloon, was deliberate.  It bought the rights to cow talk and, as is its wont, altered the original, drastically.

A Hollywood pioneer, Will Rogers had the dialect.  A genuine Okie-Cherokee, his accent was genuine.  And he was, in his day, the epitome of the wise, sly, wry aw-shucks West.  Also he was the poster boy of homespun philosophy.  He was as famous for that as his lasso.  And for my purposes Rogers is my cowpoke dialect and dialectic-lite poster boy.

But his accent was too genuine for virtual Hollywood.   For the accent Hollywood needed it unleasehed a stampede of a stylized, mass-produced Western movies feat’rin’ gun-slingin’ hombres like Johnny Wayne ‘n Clinty Eastwood, more famous than Wyatt Earp, drawlin’ sech lines as, “Dyin' ain't much of a livin’, boy..."; "Ah say all thet big talk's not worth a hill a beans!" “Young fella, if you’re a-lookin’ fer to be dead I’ll accommo-date ya.” “Wull, kid, I guess he had it comin...  We all got it comin.'” "Ah want yer blood. An’ ah want yer soul. An’ ah want ‘em both, racht noooow..."  "Smile when ya say thut, good pard."

After those varmits were done with it, Hollywood’s award-winning cow-talk is anything but authentic.   A goulash of Southern accents, it can sound like L’il Abner, or Rick O’Shay, or Jose Wales, or Don Knotts, with hints of sea-shanty, Yiddish, Gaucho Spanish, even some Al Jolson black-face thrown in.  It's even less structured than dialectic itself.   American cowpoke dialect is as magnificently chaotic as Chaucer's pre-dictionary English.

Wull now, I've sorta taken a shine to that thar ersatz ole West syntax, deef old me bein' from old North Hollywood when there was nothing there but tumble weeds and the hills separating us from Hollywood.   Considerable of that dialect has already slipped into this essay.   And you've probably caught me, in the spirit of liberated dialect syntax, using either the singular form, “dialectic,” or plural, “dialectics” (both take the singular verb) depending only on which falls most trippingly from my tongue into any given sentence.

Just between you and me, when it's all been twanged and drawled, Hollywood Western talk sounds a whole lot like baby talk.  To amuse my then very young children I should have tried a dose of Ole West on them instead of my ersatz Golden Age Radio comedic Mexican (“Me nombre eet ees Paaadro”) or Americanized Saturday Evening Post Wodehouse Edwardianese (“Aaaahm Jymzz the Bawt-laah”).  That didn't work.  I didn't think cow-talk would.  My little darlings seemed too mature.

It wasn’t till I was an octogenarian and long of tooth that I found myself actually talking cow-talk, to a grown man, probably an overeducated professor of Hegelian dialectic.  And that was thanks to a blog -- a blog focused, of all things, on Adventist theology, exercising learned seminary dialectics and hermeneutics -- and diatribe.   A big tent blog, open to all comers, even agnostics, notably Charlie Cowlick, his nom de blog, who sashayed onto what he proclaimed as theological badlands. Spoutin’ cowtalk, exuding down-home bonhomie and well-honed missionary concern for Adventists, Cowlick was a-shootin contradictions and categorical imperatives all over the landscape, bang-bang-bang, willy-nilly, raising holy hell.   Good ole Cowlick cowpoke, the nay-sayin’ gunslinger.

Dodderin’ old North Hollywood Boy, I took a shine to him and his dialectic cow-talk.  So him and me, we two hit it off real good, contradictions and dialectics -- make that dialectics lite --  and dialect and all.  But the regulars paid us scant attention and just kept blogging away as if we weren't in the room, to their credit.   Us odd couple ain’t stopped a-palaverin’ since, me in cane and hearing aids and him in Hegelian chaps and spurs and unholstered Kant revolver.

To my surprise, and the surprise of seminarians, whom I doubt have given much thought to the matter, cow talk, what with its, hokey simplicity and humble-snobbishness and country cynicism coupled with  a certain built-in earthy wisdom that even American-Hollywood special effects can’t completely hide, cow talk turns out to be a curiously effective dialect for blogging.  Seems just the ticket, like in them a-ward-winnin’ Hollywood movies whar the wise ole gun-slinger he reckons thar’s nuttin on this earth but life ‘n death n’dust. For nuggets of allegory spilled all over the ground just waiting to be scooped up, and bottomless mines of metaphors and lodes of tropes, and ready-made sparkle-studded saddles, cow talk beats dry hermeneutics any day. Somehow when a man with a day job as a professor takes to bloggin’ cow talk he suddenly becomes endowed with overridin' sagebrush sagacity.

But the first thing sagacity requires is that a caveat be plugged in.   Cowpoke lingo, with its simplicity and curious frankness and a commensurate dearth of empathy, can go where learned polemics cannot, but cannot go beyond the shoot-out, which leaves all parties rather devoid of life. Something else – what? — is necessary to take us where we so long to go. With that in mind, Gentlemen, start your blogs:


           From: Cowlick
December 25 at 1:00AM

To: Everbody

Howdy, neighbors!  Murry Xmas y’all.   Ah’ll introduce maself, iffen I may.  Ahm Charlie Cowlick, yer friendly masked egg-nostickater.  Or ya cun call me the hooded a-theeest.  Up here in the high plain whar men 'r men, the diffrence's piddlin'.  Either way, ah gallop all over this here ontological badlands rescuin’ sech as yew fine folks.  No offense, neighbors, but yew sho nuff need a heapa help!  Ah was jess ridin’ by yer iddy-biddy SDA corral, and seen y’all all cooped up a-quiverin’.  Racht tearful sight, ah’d say. No offense, y’all.  Leastwise let’s make yer iddy-biddy corral big nuff to handle the whole bellowin', ruttin' herd.  When ahm done with ya, yer corral’ll be a rip-roarin’ rodeo 'r a three-ring circus. Here, neighbors, have a swig of egg-nogsik.  It’s got a kick, jess whut y’all need!”

 

From: Long O Tooth December 25 at 12:00 AM.

To: Cowlick

Wull curl ma moustache n’ shiver ma timbers if tain’t that famous egg-nostick slinger, Cowlick.  Racht neighborly of ya, young feller.  Gotta say, pard, yer zeal fer egg-nosticism plum takes the cake!  Usn’s jess snoozin' compared.  But thankie anyway.  We not a-needin’ no yer egg-nostik help, much less a-theisticated help.  Whut we, and y'all too, a-needin’ is a heap more o God.  Here, hava bite o’ the victuals o’ Life, pard!

 

From: Cowlick January 1 at 12:01 AM

To: Long O Tooth

Who dat Gawd o’ yers, pard?  Prove ‘im!

 

From: Long O Tooth  January 1 at 12:02 AM

To: Cowlick

 Thar ya go agin. Yew eggnostics 'r wanabe gun slingers in Western Movies, always shootin' at the ground us Christians 'r standin' on, 'n  gleefully commandin', “Dance!”  Wull now, pard, take this -- like ah always say, ever time we go round like this, YEW prove He ain’t.  Dance!

 

From: Cowlick  January 1 at 12:03 AM

To: Long O Tooth

Hold yer hosses, yew toothless ole grampop!  Ya got thet plum butt-backwards.  Ain't no law out here 'cept one 'n yew jess broke it to smithereens. Us egg-nostics do the demandin', not yew churchies.  Ah otta fill yew with holes!

 

From: Long O Tooth March 28 at 3:31 PM

To: Cowlick

Wull now, yew ole egg-nostifier, that's what ya always say, ever time.  Like I always say, put yer cards on the table.  Betcha' annythang yew can't prove He ain't.

 

From: Cowlick  March 28 at 2:32 AM

To: Long O Tooth

Wull, iffn ya put it thet way, it's easy’s hell, pard.  Ahm lookin’ real hard but ah cain’t see no Gawd.  Nuttin but a dang mirage.  Science cun tell ya everthin' 'bout mirages, but Gawd?  Naaaw.  Don't be re-dicerlus.  No offense, good pard.

 

From: Long O Tooth March 28 at 3:30 PM

To: Cowlick

Son, yew better warsh yer mouth out, ya better, again.  Jess open yer eyes, kid – they’s clamped as tight shut as a coal mine shut plum up by the durned EPA.  Open ‘em eyes o yern, can’t ya see Him?  He's there in that backlit cloud, in the nighttime milky way up thar.  If He didn't make 'em, nobody did.  But there they are, up thar!

 

From: Cowlick May 13 at 6:30 PM

TO: Long O Tooth

Mighty fine talk, thar, yew deef ole anteek.  Gotta bead on that thar cloud, whut’s to see?  Everbody knows that yer cloud and yer milky way got made from nuttin and by nuttin, like ah always am a-saying.  Ahm so ontological savvy thet I believe in nuttin, nuttin.  Not never goin' to.  So reckon I’ll jess sit here stradlin' the fence, strummin' ma geetar, a-watchin’ y’all hog-tied by caboodles o’ co-man-mints, ‘n branded racht down to yer tikker by thet Gawd o’yern.  No offense.

 

From: Long O Tooth September 21 at 7:33 PM

To: Cowlick

Why, no offense ‘tall, yew young whippersnapper.  Glad ya noticed!  Ah reckon bein’ safe in the God Bar-All Corral ‘n lettin’ God take charge o ma tikker’s a helluva lot better off ‘n bein’ stuck in yer egg-nostic rut goin’ in circles, ole pard.

 

From: Cowlick  January 13 at 11:33 PM

To: Long O Tooth

Smile when ya say that, yew de-lapidated ole swayback!

 

From: Long O Tooth  February 3 at 9:03 AM

To: Cowlick

Ahm a-smilin’  Ya need a uTube me smiling?  Anutha one?  Yew goin’ in circle’s bad ‘nuff, but yew got us’n both ridin' roun' in them dialectic circles, all the live long day, chasin’ affer same ole tumble weed.

 

From: Cowlick  July 23 at 11:30 PM

To: Long O Tooth

Wull now, good pard, ahm gonna tell y'all a l'il ole secret.  Circlin', thet's jess ‘zactly what dialectic’s built fo ‘n the fust place!  Goin’ circular, thet’s all ole Circlin’-Hegel’s good fer, not truth, un-luss circlin’ roun it ‘till gone plum dizzy.  Hermeneutics same deal.  And that’s Kant’s own truth, ah sware!

 

From: Long O Tooth  July 24 at 10:08 AM

To: Cowlick

WHUT!   Y'all put me into shock, ole pard.  Do y'all rachtly unnerstan' whut y'all jess done?  Yew done the impossible!  Y'all jess made dialectic unnerstanable, at last, when Plato, Hegel, Kant, Rogers cunn't!.  Yew done treat dialectic to exegesis!  Ah’ll be jiggered iffn y’all hain’t came through whar even Hollywood jess pawed the ground!  As a gun slinger yew ain’t worth a hoot, no offence, pard, but fer fancy footwork 'n dancin' in circles yer better'n Fred Astaire.  Thanks to yew, everbody knows that didactic ain't good fer nuttin ‘cept goin’ in circles.   Dialectic truth turns out to be jess a rut, best way to ‘scape God yet, jess what ole Plato was a-tryin' to do 'bout three mer-llenniums ago.  Hey! Who knew?  Ole Darwin war a dialectician, same's ole Karl Marx.   But, ma dear pard, circlin’ roun and roun out here’n the pet-ri-fied dialectic desert ain't gettin’ us no closer to home, not ‘till we a-llow God to lasso ‘n lead us are we gonna get anna closer.  An’ it better be pretty quick now cause the storm to end ‘em all’s a-comin!   Don't smile when ah say that!

 

And so as the sun sets slowly in the West and the milky way begins to blaze clean and gleaming, we bid a fond farewell to dialect.  But dialectic, finally seen for what it is, fancy talk for circling around and getting nowhere, with hermeneutics tagging along, it’ll dog us from now to kingdom come.

 

 

WILL "dialectic American Style" ROGERS

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