Crouch and the English language
was having a snack in my neighborhood earlier this evening, I read a remarkably incoherent column
by Stanley Crouch in the New York Daily News
, and I thought I’d share it with y’all. I’ve copied the whole thing below. Remember that Crouch is a writer and author of some note, and at times has been thought to be a specimen of that rare breed, a black conservative. If you don’t feel like reading the whole piece, at least read the last paragraph and see if you can get any sense out of it.
Politicians’ Hypocritical Oath does great harm to the voters
April 28th 2008
Part of what makes this race for the Democratic nomination so thrilling, so bewildering and so chastening beyond sentimentality is the grand drama of the contest. It pulls away scabs, bursts pimples, douses our heads in everything from dirty toilets to wash basins where the water is quite cold but very bracing.
Only a true dummy would not know that this is such a revealing race that it shows us our identity quite clearly, which is why some of us are reluctant to look closely. Liberated humanity of the kind that is common to the United States can be as inspiring as it is disturbing, as uplifting as it is disgusting.
Quite a bit about our nation is made clear by the absurd issue of authenticity. It is the ridiculous point at which a candidate is supposed to prove personal worth and accountability by translating complex inner essence into the recognizable style of each section of this country. In Pennsylvania, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were expected to convince voters of their superiority to the rival by playing hardhat or bowler or deadeye rifle shooter or consumer of bad food, chocolate and bad whisky. Yikes.
An aspect of the absurdity is the condescension and the sheer hatred that both candidates can draw. Obama is sneered at for being too much of a silver-tongued preppy, while Clinton is hated with such a degree of hysteria that it is mystifying.
One columnist has advice for Obama. She keeps demanding that he cease proving himself a weenie and start to take down Clinton. But Obama is actually the kind of graceful slugger who easily charms the reporters and the voters but is considered somehow unfit for the conflict even though he can take both a brutal punch and can knock an opponent down and out with either hand while smiling.
If anything, Obama should enhance his strengths even more because his speeches are so effective that Clinton lifted much of his Iowa victory speech and used it to pump up her address on the night of her Pennsylvania victory. Her supporters cheered her as if she were Obama. Clinton obviously enjoyed the feeling.
However much she might try to be otherwise, Clinton is never more or less than what she seems to be: a plucky Midwestern woman full of the fight that women brought West with them to impose sense and sensibility on rough-hewed men in wild and barbarous towns where civilization seemed impossible. In a certain way, she and her campaign are a contemporary and high-profile realization of that glossed-over part of American history.
Clinton is most authentic in her adaptability. For instance, she knows how to show disdain for Obama’s words while using them when she wants to lift the optimistic flag as she steps from the mud in hip boots.
In an interview with Keith Olbermann not long before the Pennsylvania votes were cast, Clinton always responded to difficult questions with an odd laugh. She even explained how she believed in redemption, which was why she accepted the endorsement of a right-wing newspaper that seemed to many an embrace of a redneck.
But redemption only has so far to go, and I believe that now is the time for substantial policy thought on both parts. I believe that the dinosaur in the soul of America will diminish to little significance if an expected hesitation about color or sex is put in its place. That can be achieved by policy details so imaginative, substantial and so possible that election seems the best way to address the emergency room that the Republicans have put the country in, transforming it into a hemophiliac and a cash cow that bleeds every time it bumps into greed, incompetence, short-range sense and long-range irresponsibility.
Now, around the time that the dinosaur in the soul of America was diminished to little significance by an expected hesitation about color or sex being put in its place, and as the emergency room that the Republicans have put the country into was transformed into a cash cow that bleeds when it bumps into long-range irresponsibilty, I had a sudden George Orwellian urge
to hurl the jackboot of fascism into the melting pot. But I don’t think that even Orwell, famous as a critic of cliche-ridden and nonsensical English, could have imagined a paragraph like Crouch’s.
- end of initial entry -
Tim W. writes:
Your guess is as good as mine, but he seems to be saying that if Hillary wins, and enacts policies that work better than Bush’s policies, it will teach a lesson to the Neanderthals who hesitate to put a woman or minority in power. Or maybe not.
Crouch’s terminal quagmire is a good lesson in bad writing. What could he have been thinking? I enjoyed what he wrote until that last paragraph. “Yikes” indeed.
Speaking of black conservatives of note, I keep fantasizing I will see a “Thomas Sowell for Pres” bumper sticker in my neighborhood. If it materializes I will let you know.
Adela G. writes:
“Chastening beyond sentimentality”? “Liberated humanity of the kind that is common to the United States”? “The dinosaur in the soul of America”?
Good grief. Evidently, Crouch has entered the “zoned-out, meaningless state” generally associated with excessive bowling. But in his case, it’s clearly a symptom of going gaga at the prospect of the first black POTUS.
Please, God, no, not four more years of this.
Sage McLaughlin writes:
Perhaps now would be a good time to recall the words of H.L. Mencken, who so famously heaped scorn on (I believe) the inaugural address of President Warren G. Harding. I was reminded of it instantly when I read Crouch’s incomprehensible prose.
“I rise,” he began, “to pay my small tribute to Dr. Harding. Setting aside a college professor or two and a half dozen dipsomaniacal newspaper reporters, he takes the first place in my Valhalla of literati. That is to say, he writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up to the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.”
If for no other reason than to remind me of this delicious morsel of criticism, thanks for directing us to Crouch’s column.
I love that line about “dogs barking idiotically through endless nights.”
Matthew H. writes:
Thanks to Sage McLaughlin for bringing forth H. L. Mencken’s delightful dissection of Harding’s Inaugural Address. As much as I enjoyed it, however, I was eager to Google up Harding’s speech in order, first, to compare examples of literary dreck from different eras and, second, to consider what such a comparison might teach us about the standards of literary style that prevailed in their respective eras.
As I expected, next to Crouch’s blurtings, President Harding’s prose is a model of concision and lucidity. His first paragraph (obviously referring to World War I):
WHEN one surveys the world about him after the great storm, noting the marks of destruction and yet rejoicing in the ruggedness of the things which withstood it, if he is an American he breathes the clarified atmosphere with a strange mingling of regret and new hope. We have seen a world passion spend its fury, but we contemplate our Republic unshaken, and hold our civilization secure. Liberty—liberty within the law—and civilization are inseparable, and though both were threatened we find them now secure; and there comes to Americans the profound assurance that our representative government is the highest expression and surest guaranty of both.
Yes, of course, over-blown blah-blah, perhaps even worthy of the epithets Mencken threw at it. But at least it tracks. It makes sense. Not only that, but it expresses a vision of noble national purpose consistent, as far as it goes, with our constitutional traditions. Not like Crouch’s gurglings.
Our culture is not even worthy to pick through its great-grandparent’s trash cans.
It is tragic that it was Mencken, perhaps the most insightful and original public intellectual of the twentieth century, whose corrosive cynicism set the intellectual tone for succeeding generations of Americans. For it was this “smart” attitude, as aped by Mencken’s despised Boobus Americanus, which did so much to create a cultural climate in which Stanley Crouch is rewarded with a career as a professional prose stylist.
Centuries before the “smart” and destructive attitudinizing of Mencken, there was a more destructive wit, Voltaire, whose superficial and rationalistic skewering of things that go beyond superficial reason set a pattern for the modern Western mind, alienating the West from higher truth, and thus ultimately putting the West in its present position where it is unable to defend its own existence.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 28, 2008 07:58 PM | Send