Monday, March 9, 2009
Some good stuff . . . and bad
I enjoy reading the Chicago Sun-Times' Neil Steinberg every day, even if half the time I disagree with him. One of the reasons is that he is unafraid to display a cultivated intellect, often with the help of the world's great literature. This guy does not dumb down for dopes.
Today, on Rush Limbaugh's expressed hope for President Obama's failure, Steinberg writes:
"I was reading War and Peace to the teen the other night -- we're about halfway through -- when Tolstoy surprised me by summarizing Limbaugh far better than I could.
"The Russians are fighting Napoleon. One of their allies, a rigid Prussian general, Ernst Pfuel, is aghast that the czar would consider any strategy other than his own. The fact that Pfuel's plan of attack had already led to disaster has shaken his confidence not one bit -- rather the past defeats are, in his eyes, proof that his instructions must not have been followed to the letter.
"'Pfuel was one of those theorists who so love their theory that they forget the purpose of the theory -- its application in practice,' Tolstoy writes. 'He was even glad of failure, because failure, proceeding from departures from theory in practice, only proved to him the correctness of his theory.'"
Another admirable writer is Terry Teachout, the Wall Street Journal theater critic and biographer of H.L. Mencken.
Last week, however, Teachout stumbled. In an an otherwise pleasant appreciation of a late playwright, he led with not one but two dreary cliches, combining them into a clanging mixaphor:
"Horton Foote died in the saddle, the way every artist worth his salt wants to go."
TUESDAY: The New York Times' stylebook chief examines some misbegotten metaphors that recently sneaked into the paper, as well as some good ones.