November 21, 2010


GG Gaynor

That Wieseltier quote may be the clunkiest sentence I've ever read. There has to be a more concise way to say that, and certainly one which uses less than 6 "of"s.


Sorry, GG, I don't agree. I think it's an involved thought, hence the involved sentence, and he expresses it exceedingly well. Wieseltier's never been afraid of long sentences, and some can rumble on, but not this one, in my opinion.

Kit Stolz

This is what I think he was trying to say:

"The art of writing consists in putting two things together that are unlike and that belong together like a horse and cart. Then have we somewhat far more goodly and efficient than either."

Of course, I'm a believer in Emerson.


Wieseltier's definition of metaphor is wack. More often than not metaphor highlights a commonality between both terms of comparison. As in, "Her hair was baby's breath wrapped in honey". Not really juxtaposing wild opposites there. Rather associating things by something they have in common.

Wieseltier also loses me when he says the more jarring the juxtaposition, the more illuminating the effect. Really? What makes that so? Does a metaphor like, 'Her hair was bauxite wrapped in a mouse's liver' isn't a terribly illuminating "juxtaposition". Metaphor is like wit. It can't really be captured or formalized.


I have to express my delight at seeing a West Wing clip. It's very rare to see something on television that you've never seen even in movies, but that was true for me with the following three scenes from this show: (1)Bartlet cursing God in Latin in the Cathedral, (2)C.J. holding back tears at the deaths of young girls in the fictional Arab country, and (3) Toby unburdening himself to a young fellow writer.


I don't think the Wieseltier quote is any clunkier than most current writing, but I can't quite admire it as poetry or an involved thought.

It says 'the more disparate the things a writer can unite in metaphor, the more the writer seems to have thought about the world' in fairly plain language. That's fine, but not exciting.

Of course, some metaphors are simply wild, not brilliant. The writer must succeed at uniting things (in the reader's subjective judgement) in order for Wieseltier's rule to apply.

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


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