Reviews

Playing Pointless Games

Lanham is certainly ambitious enough. He proposes to resolve "three overlapping perplexities":

a literacy crisis so widespread it has shaken our national self-esteem as an educated democracy; a school and college curriculum that no longer knows what subjects should be studied or when; and a humanism so directionless, unreasoned, and sentimental that it seems almost to quest for Senator Proxmire's Golden Fleece.

Lanham's solutions, however, require that we give up the Judeo-Christian (and Platonic) view of man—as having a preexistent or God-given "self," with its own intrinsic drive to purposeful behavior—and accept in its place "Post-Darwinian Humanism." That is Lanham's term for a scientistic view of man who uses language—especially in its stylistic playfulness—as an evolutionary adaptation that maintains "social reality" but provides no access to truth.

For more than a decade Lanham has tried to demonstrate that the Western humanist tradition, because of the "stupidity" of Aristotle and Thomas More, has left play and game and conscious stylistics out of its sense of human motive. Thus, the only salvation for any of us is to make style the subject of freshman composition courses, then gradually of all the curriculum, and finally the center of civilized activity. Lanham is driven by a messianic determination...

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