Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Adam's Task I: "Pellucid Prose"

I started reading Adam's Task on my Kindle. When you first open a book on the Kindle, it doesn't take you to the cover or table of contents, the first page you see is the first page of writing. So it wasn't until I finished the prologue that I learned it was written by Border Collie trainer and trialer Donald McCaig.

I thought he was a woman.

Take that as you will, but McCaig's prologue sets the tone for the book: sentimentally flowery where passive syntax masquerades as arcane truth.

"Let me backtrack to 1986. I was and am a sheepdog trainer. I believe that training any dog to anything like his full capacity is an intricate, heartfelt, deeply intellectual undertaking which deepens the trainer's soul as surely as it satisfies the dog's. The conversation between trainer and dog is so subtle, dense, and satisfying that I have known great trainers whose ordinary human speech has atrophied. These brilliant linguists cannot explain what they do, and often cannot answer novice's questions because asking that particular question means the questioner can't understand a true answer."
Vicki Hearne. Adam's Task: Calling Animals by Name (p. ix). Kindle Edition.

Emphasis mine. I am a deeply theoretical person (hence, the blog's title, which translates literally to teachdog, and poetically to theoryhound) and cannot do anything without understanding how it works, why it works, what to do if it doesn't work, and when to know that it did work. As my understanding of dogs and dog training grows, I am beginning to understand the bold more fully. I can explain myself all day long, but if the listener is not ready for the knowledge, they will not hear it.

My objection is when this is used as an excuse not to even try explaining. This idea will eventually be expanded on in the main text, reasonable reasoning used as an excuse for objectionable action. If you cannot understand a true answer, you do not get an answer.

A blog I read frequently posts short quotes from a variety of sources on dogs, training, learning, and any other topic that touches on some truth related to these (as everything is dog training, this encompasses quite a lot). While I usually agree with the quotes, they clearly mean more to the author than they do to me. Sometimes understanding is beyond our current knowledge, but without being exposed to them our understanding can never grow.

"Dog fanciers (dog show people) whose arcane lingo obscures and excludes these sparks found Vicki's pellucid prose "difficult" and her democratic spirit profoundly unsettling."
Vicki Hearne. Adam's Task: Calling Animals by Name (p. x). Kindle Edition.

If you are using the word pellucid, you are not. I suspect McCaig was too allured by alliteration. As we will see, Hearne is anything but "pellucid" and even less democratic.

As I write this, I'm training two Border Collies for sheepdog trials and starting a three-year-old who has been a difficult family pet because her heart is too great for petdom.
Vicki Hearne. Adam's Task: Calling Animals by Name (p. xi). Kindle Edition.

This is the first slight against pet owners. This is not a book with a "democratic spirit," this is a book that ridicules and puts down anyone less enlightened than the author.

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