Friday, 14 August 2009

In which Stanley Hauerwas improves his grammar

Over at Halden’s blog, we’ve been discussing English grammar (in response to some silly sausage who disapproves of gender-neutral language). This led Halden to post the following anecdote about Hauerwas’ use of grammar:

Stanley Hauerwas was at Harvard to deliver a lecture and, being there early and still needing to do some preparation, he set out to find the library. Not finding it, he stopped a student and asked him, “Excuse me, where’s the library at?”

Incredulous, the student responded, “Sir, at Harvard we don’t end our sentences with a preposition.”

Stanley paused for a moment and then rephrased his question in a more grammatically appropriate manner: “Where’s the library at, asshole?”

26 Comments:

Terry Wright said...

It's amazing how this story gets around! This isn't the first time I've heard it. But it makes me chuckle every time.

kim fabricius said...

... kai oudeni ouden eipan, ephobounto gar, asshole.

The (slightly) longer ending of Mark (16:8), according to Hauerwas

myleswerntz said...

I think I've heard him say that this story is apocrypha.

Anonymous said...

Hope this doesn't take the fun had by all...his own comment on the story is as characteristic of him as the story itself:
"I have discovered that there exist stories about what I have said in this or that circumstance that are not true. For example. . . [insert Hauerwas' version of the above story]. I realize that this is the kind of story that seems so true it should be true, but in fact it did not happen. Of course 'did not happen' may be an inadequate way to understand 'true'."p133n24 in
"Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana: Schooling the Heart in the Heart of Texas" in The State of the University
Jeremy

Anonymous said...

If this story isn't true of Stanley, it's at least believable. But, a very similar scenario appears in the 1994 Brendan Frasier (sic) film WITH HONORS. Joe Pesci, a homeless man who attends lecture at Harvard with Frasier, crosses swords with a neoconservative political theorist. Pesci gets the better of him, so the professor resorts to ad hominem accusations of alcoholism. As Pesci storms out, a hero to the students who have cowered before the professor all term, he asks "Which door do I leave from?" The reply comes from the professor that at Harvard sentences do not end in prepositions. Pesci, as per the anecdote about Stanley, replies with the revised question that ends in the insult.

Craig said...

That made me laugh. It does sound like Hauerwas.

Chris Tilling said...

Brilliant, thanks for the chuckle

Pastor Joelle said...

Reminds me of a Designing Women episode...

"Where are ya'all from?"

"I'm from a place where we don't end our sentences with prepositions."

"Oh. Where are ya'all from...Bitch?"

Dave Belcher said...

A story I heard emerge from Ekklesia Project's annual meeting about 5 years ago is even funnier...and though I've recounted on this blog before, I've never been able to confirm its authenticity (maybe I'll ask Hauerwas now that we're down in Durham):

Hauerwas was preaching in some Methodist church, I believe, somewhere and said: So, I'm curious; how many of you support the Iraq war, just raise your hands...[as many folks began raising their hands Hauerwas commenced, pointing his finger at each one]: "Fuck you," "Fuck you," Fuck you," and so on.

Dave Belcher said...

Of course, in another sense, this story really isn't very funny at all....

Anonymous said...

I have been laughing since I read this. THANK YOU!

roger flyer said...

I get disturbed by the 'shock and awe' language tactics that theologians feel they need to use to objectify and belittle their adversaries.

'Fuck you', 'asshole', even Ben's 'silly little sausages' bear frustrated, violent weight that compromise the message...

Ben Myers said...

Fair enough, Roger: but in my own defence, I must protest that I never called any of those silly sausages "little".

Dave Belcher said...

Roger, what you wrote here is precisely what I meant by "in another sense, this story really isn't very funny at all."

roger flyer said...

Ben-
Hmmmm...I wonder why I inserted 'little' into it? My own biases are showing (Freudian?) Of course, in your defense, a fundamentalist silly sausage is nowhere near as pejorative as a fat silly sausage or a wienie silly sausage.
Dave-
Right...
I'm not a Hauerwas reader; and whether or not these stories are apochrypal or not, his reputation seems to be built as much on his inconoclastic style as it is on his (as I understand it) substantial theological muscle.

Anonymous said...

I took one class with Hauerwas while at Duke and observed two things: (1) the language ceased to be distracting, interesting, or offensive after about the third lecture; (2) several times per lecture, Hauerwas would be talking about something seemingly pointless or unrelated and would then say something so theologically profound or challening that my head would spin. Brilliant guy...I didn't much mind the cursing...

dave said...

One of my professors was a student of Hauerwas, so I have heard some pretty interesting stories. I've been trying to offer one up as a counterbalance here, but I have been unable to post. Hopefully this works, I think my troubles were related to my wordpress account which I hope I worked out.

Anyways, to offer something of a balance, apparently there was one time where Hauerwas was being interviewed for a national magazine. There was a group of people in the room where the interview took place, so Hauerwas was being his typical outgoing self. If you've seen him speak, etc, you know what I'm talking about (basically like the stories indicated here). Anyways, after the story came out, my professor told me that Hauerwas was horrified with how it turned out, with the kind of language and vulgarity (apparently this time it was beyond the norm). I think he said that since then, Hauerwas has tried to tone it back, but I don't remember.

Anyways, this is obviously hearsay, but I thought I would offer it up while we are swapping stories. I think stories like Ben's original (via Halden) and the one Dave talks about are pretty funny, but maybe they don't suggest the entire story about Hauerwas' personality (obviously nobody was suggesting that in the first place).

roger flyer said...

I still believe civility and unmerited grace extended toward those we perceive as ninnies, sausages or worse 'assholes' (i.e. trying to 'incarnate' (sorry) the message of Jesus) is a much more influential way to trot out our theologies...

Maybe Hauerwas looked in the mirror and saw the act getting old...

Watcher said...

I'm with Roger. Blunt instrument profanity serves only to let the steam out of the profaner. No one is benefited by it. Civil, kind and gracious teaching (if one has something to teach) is far more beneficial. If someone profanes me they instantly offer themselves as candidates for the set of mindless drunks, not smart, not clever, not insightful and not seeking to represent Christ in everyday life.

roger flyer said...

Watchers are watching.

The people who have most influenced me to be a follower of Jesus are people who have somehow been able to manifest humility, joy and grace to sausages of all kinds (especially) when it wasn't deserved.

"You must suffer fools gladly or suffer the fool painfully within yourself."

-Roger Flyer

Cynthia said...

I had Dr. Hauerwas in class and then ran into him several times at other events. I agree with the above poster who said that after a few days of class, either I was so intrigued by what he was saying I tuned out the profanity or else he wasn't using as much of it.

On the other hand, I'm not sure about his "outgoing personality". My experience of him is that he's actually a little shy. He was, after all, the Texas bricklayer's son...who happened to be brilliant and didn't play football. In my experience in Texas, that means you've got to grow a pretty thick skin. I've wondered if part of his "persona" is what he does to deal with the sheer number of people that he's facing. For example, he's different in a large lecture hall than in a seminar than one-on-one. The language is still there sometimes one-on-one, but it's much less often.

The other thing that I can say about his profanity was that it was seldom gratuitous. If such a thing can be said (in light of the above story), it was usually grammatically correct--descriptive rather than exclamatory.

Not to excuse him though--several of the women in his class went to talk to him about the perceived violence of his words and their effect, especially on women who have suffered abuse. He received our comments graciously and handled it well.

Cynthia

Pete said...

When I was an undergrad, Hauerwas gave a lecture at my university on Bonhoeffer and non-violence/non-aggression. With typical Hauerwas flare, the whole talk was peppered with profanities (ex. "Bonhoeffer used to be a respectable theologian until all the shitheads got a hold of him.")

During the question and answer session, my friend stood up and said something along the lines of: "You've given us a fascinating argument for the virtues of non-aggression and non-violence, but I wonder whether your use of language and mode of presentation are not themselves acts of aggression and violence."

Hauerwas looked directly at him and replied, "Well, frankly son, I'd like to kill you right now because I'm a mean son of a bitch. You're lucky 'cause my God prevents me from doing that." He then called on the next questioner.

roger flyer said...

Wow! From most accounts, it sounds like Hauerwas is a brilliant person who still has a lot of integrative work to do in his own soul.

Anthony Paul Smith said...

I call bullshit. Worry about your own soul.

A. Bookbinder said...

"Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear."

Anonymous said...

i heard he vowed to stop using the f-bomb, but don't hold me to that. i haven't heard him say it in quite awhile, though.

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