Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Discovered: Most Pompous Writer on Earth

As a wee lad, barely out of his training cassock, Father Anonymous discovered a book on his family shelf called The Pooh Perplex. It was a series of essays on the best-known works of A.A. Milne, cleverly mimicking the styles of literary criticism in vogue circa 1964. Freudianism, Marxism, Catholicism, and so forth are all sent up magnificently.

Well. This essay from First Things, by one David B. Hart, looks at first like it belongs in the Perplex. And maybe it does. But we can't be sure whether Hart is the sender-up or the to-be-sent.

Playing off J.R.R. Tolkien's "sole anarcho-monarchist manifesto," a personal letter which is not in itself a model of clarity in either prose or thought, Hart first proposes that any lover of democracy will enjoy the occasional electoral rout of one party by another, a "bloodless bloodbath." True, and well said. Then, we report with sadness, he continues:
But, as is always the case here below in the regio dissimilitudinis, the pleasure is accompanied by an inevitable quantum of pain. The sweetest wine quaffed from the cup of bliss comes mingled with a bitter draft of sorrow (alas, alack). Tragically—tragically—we can remove one politician only by replacing him or her with another. And then, of course, our choices are excruciatingly circumscribed, since the whole process is dominated by two large and self-interested political conglomerates that are far better at gaining power than at exercising it wisely.

And yet we
must choose, one way or the other. Even the merry recreant who casts no vote at all, or flings a vote away onto the midden of some third party as a protest, is still making a choice with consequences, however small.
He works in a labored reference to Virgil, but then -- humbly! -- assures us that all his political ideas come from Izaak Walton and The Wind in the Willows. It barely matters; we had stopped listening at "merry recreant."

Whew. Hart may in fact be teasing. If so, he is apparently setting out to mock the tone of a high school essay written by one of those unfortunate children whose teachers are impressed by big words and off-point literary references. With some post-Marxist Catholicism thrown in. In other words, he has raised the FT house style to such a level that it now mocks itself.

Listen, people. We ourselves are no stranger to language done up for comic effect. And we recognize that those fellows at FT, like their less malignant peers at the National Review, all grew up wanting to be Buckley. But even when it is meant to be funny, bad writing is still bad writing. For mercy's sake, friends -- let's buy this man a Strunk & White.

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