Judt_2-071510_png_230x739_q85Tony Judt in the NYRB blog:

I was seduced by the sheen of English prose at its evanescent apogee. This was the age of mass literacy whose decline Richard Hoggart anticipated in his elegiac essay The Uses of Literacy (1957). A literature of protest and revolt was rising through the culture. From Lucky Jim through Look Back in Anger, and on to the “kitchen sink” dramas of the end of the decade, the class-bound frontiers of suffocating respectability and “proper” speech were under attack. But the barbarians themselves, in their assaults on the heritage, resorted to the perfected cadences of received English: it never occurred to me, reading them, that in order to rebel one must dispense with good form.

By the time I reached college, words were my “thing.” As one teacher equivocally observed, I had the talents of a “silver-tongued orator”—combining (as I fondly assured myself) the inherited confidence of the milieu with the critical edge of the outsider. Oxbridge tutorials reward the verbally felicitous student: the neo-Socratic style (“why did you write this?” “what did you mean by it?”) invites the solitary recipient to explain himself at length, while implicitly disadvantaging the shy, reflective undergraduate who would prefer to retreat to the back of a seminar. My self-serving faith in articulacy was reinforced: not merely evidence of intelligence but intelligence itself.

Did it occur to me that the silence of the teacher in this pedagogical setting was crucial? Certainly silence was something at which I was never adept, whether as student or teacher. Some of my most impressive colleagues over the years have been withdrawn to the point of inarticulacy in debates and even conversation, thinking with deliberation before committing themselves. I have envied them this self-restraint.