Paul Greenberg

The agency's purpose: "to facilitate a meaningful cultural dialogue between the American people and their government." Facilitate. Meaningful. Dialogue. Certain words are a sure sign that atrocious prose is being committed. And here they were all lined up in a single phrase.

To quote Senior Adviser DeBerry on Echo Dynamics, "the work shapes and is shaped by its surroundings." Actually, it just sort of lies there like a big old, forgotten pair of pliers left off to the side of some completed project. I didn't see it shape its surroundings or anything else while I was there. Or be shaped by them, more's the pity.

There's more of this kind of language from Ms. DeBerry, if you can stand it: "Thin sheets of water moving through the stainless steel channels animate the plaza both visually and aurally." I think she means we're supposed to see and hear the fountain/trough.

What we have here is another sad example of the widespread artistic exhibitionism that doesn't serve the public so much as the artist's need to make a statement. Or money. (Why not both? It's the land of opportunity.)

The new fountain is one (debatable) thing. But whoever is responsible for the words used to justify it shouldn't be let near the English language. It's not language so much as wordage. This kind of verbal assault on the mother tongue - no mod art show seems complete without it - would make ordinary profanity come as a relief. It brings to mind a passage from "Pictures from an Institution," Randall Jarrell's still relevant, and still delightful, little satire on the academic life:

"Some of what she said was technical, and you would have had to be a welder to appreciate it; the rest was aesthetic or generally philosophical, and to appreciate it you would have had to be an imbecile."


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.