Saturday, 29 June 2013

Of class and what the word really means

Posted  Friday, June 28   2013 at  18:55

What class did the correspondent have in mind when he said that Kethi Kilonzo “…is in a class of her own …”?
For I know a handful. The word class includes:
(a) a group of pupils or students being taught together or a meeting of university students for special tuition;
(b) one of the taxonomical groups (containing more than one order) into which a phylum is divided.
(c) a group of people inside the same socio-economic brackets — such as the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, the proletariat and the peasantry;
(d) a group of people or things sharing certain characteristics — such as the fixation with money which chokes members of our “middle class”;
(e) a standard or quality of attainment — such as a first class degree and the third-rate performance of our MPs;
(f) excellence or elegance in taste, dress, design and personal conduct.
To be in a class of one’s own is to stand above the category to which one belongs. But in which of them does Miss Kilonzo excel?
Unfortunately, our mutual friend was speaking only in the context of elective politics, where we have not yet seen Miss Kilonzo in real action. And, in Kenya, I have never yet heard of any politician of class.
The adjectival phrase “of class” is synonymous with the adjective classy — meaning sylish, sophisticated, well-dressed, measured in speech and, above all, graceful in behaviour — the last one the very antonym of the conduct of many a Duale, a Khalwale, a Midiwo, a Shebesh, a Sonko, what-have-you.
The adjective classic refers to:
(a) anything which, by its quality, serves as a standard or model of its kind and epoch – the “ work that wakes...” (in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetic phrase);
(b) a work definitive of its times and climes;
(c) a work of a widespread and lasting interest; and
(d) an artist at his zenith of creative excellence.
That is why such masterpieces of European literature as Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, Dante’s The Divine Comedy, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Dostoievsky’s Crime And Punishment, Goethe’s Fautus and Dickens’ David Copperfield are called classics.
For its part, the adjective classical refers to that work which tends to conserve the popular ethico-moral assumptions of the epoch concerned.
One overriding myth in all intellectual upbringing in the Western European and North American cultural continuum is that classical Greece and Rome were its culturo-intellectual taproot.
That is why all university studies in ancient Greek and Roman literature, language and fine art are called “classics”.
That, too, is why the adjective classical also denotes that time’s Helladic (Mediterranean ) civilisations — the period from a few centuries before to a few centuries after Anno Domini (“year of the Lord”), the supposed date of Jesus’ birth.
Thus the noun classicism refers to the assumption that the Greek and Roman art, literature and thought of the period represent what Shakespeare calls the nonpareil, the height and inimitability, of humanity’s intellectual creation.
This persisting assumption by the Euro-North American intelligentsia is, of course, the purest water.

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