January 8, 2014

"The prevalence of specifically racial offenses shouldn’t blind us to a kind of bigotry jiu-jitsu that often follows in the wake of these incidents..."

"... in which the offenders quickly flip the script to portray themselves as the victims of intolerance toward their own intolerant remarks."

One of many New Yorkerish sentences in a New Yorker piece grappling with the way playing the race card backfires. And I mixed my metaphors knowingly and with intent to be annoying, because I don't think The New Yorker — famous for its "Block That Metaphor" squibs — noticed it mixed metaphors of eyesight, martial arts, boating, script-writing, and portraiture.

IN THE COMMENTS: Henry says:
I'm trying to figure out the point of the word "specifically."

That seems to imply the existence of "vaguely racial offenses" which by definition must be even more prevalent than the specific ones. The world is awash in the brickbats of hamhanded script-flippers.
My offhand theory would be that "specifically racial offenses" are incidents where the use of race is explicit or at least implicit and intended, to be contrasted with pervasive disparities that can be perceived or understood to have a racial aspect, like incarceration or poverty or inadequate education. It's exasperating to comb through the author's tangled prose, but here are a couple sentences than might support my theory:
[Melissa] Harris-Perry’s apology was striking precisely because we inhabit a hallucinatory moment in which the lines of power, inequality, and, yes, victimhood are blurred. Untouched is the higher standard for those confronting real grievances, the kinds rooted in systemic, empirical inequalities, not the imaginings of the angry entitled.
I love the use of "precisely." It serves a function similar to "specifically." And here we are, living within a hallucination full of blurred lines. I guess that first sentence means that if anyone says anything at all clear, like Harris-Perry's apology, it's striking. In a world of blurred hallucination, we're surprised to discern anything.

Now, what's going on in the next sentence? What is "untouched"? Harris-Perry apologized for her specific racial offense, but there are also the "real grievances," things that are more important, but harder to discern. The real grievances are the "systemic, empirical inequalities," but they're nonspecific, so thoroughly woven into everything that if you try to point them out, people will hold you to a "higher standard." Instead of talking about what really matters, we pay attention to the wrong victims, the upstart victims, like Mitt Romney, who's able easily to command our concern, because of the specificity of Harris-Perry's offense.

Okay, I think I untangled that, and I do see the author's point. His name is Jelani Cobb, and I think for whatever reason, he's decided it's brilliant to write like that, and The New Yorker is refraining from the tough work of word editing, for which it was once renowned.

61 comments:

tim maguire said...

I never understood the blanket prohibition against mixing metaphors. Bad writing is bad writing, compelling images are compelling images, and English speakers use far more terms and phrases that are technically metaphors than nearly anyone realizes.

Only the illiterate mute don't mix metaphors.

Chuck said...

The link didn't work for me, but I found the blog post (by Jelani Cobb, right?) at NewYorker.com.

Don't worry; if you couldn't click on it, you didn't miss anything. I can summarize it; the only victims in the world are women and minorities. All others are fakes. And indeed hateful fakes, for having claimed victimhood.

There was no mention in the New Yorker of Melissa Harris-Perry's tampon earrings, of course.

Chuck said...

By the way, since Jelani Cobb brought up the magazine "Guns & Ammo"'s firing of one of its editor/columnists for questioning the extent of Second Amendment protections; here is a link to a dazzling summation of that story by James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal's "Best of the Web" online column:

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304617404579306662410582016

Henry said...

I'm trying to figure out the point of the word "specifically".

That seems to imply the existence of "vaguely racial offenses" which by definition must be even more prevalent than the specific ones. The world is awash in the brickbats of hamhanded script-flippers.

Carnifex said...

When the professor wrote that it had to do with the New Yorker, that was all the information I needed. To click the link. They got nothing to say that I care to hear about unless it's to apologize for swinging from the HNIC's nutsack.

Take that back... they got nothing I care to hear about period. They're New Yorkers...eff 'em.

surfed said...

An African-American teacher once told me to join the NAACP as a beard to being called a racist while teaching in inner-city schools back in the early 80's. In those days "racist" was a fairly common epitaph hurled at white teachers by parents in the hood. As in - "The only reason you are writing my child a referral is because you are a racist". After duly becoming an official member the inevitable happened, a confrontational parent claiming I was a racist for writing her child on a discipline referral for some now long forgotten classroom disturbance. The Administrator was an African-American male and the meeting immediately turned away from the misdeeds of the child to the question of apparent cultural racism in handling the matter. This went on for awhile until my Administrator asked if I had anything to say. I pulled out my official NAACP membership card, slapped it down on the table and said to the parent "I'm a member, are you?" the were both speechless. I waited a second as they stammered a bit, got up and waltzed out of the office. End of meeting. Literally, I played the "race card". Best $20 I ever spent.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

It's weird how the writing in The New Yorker was better back in the old days before computerized word processing made rewriting and editing so much easier.

Ann Althouse said...

Link fixed. Thanks for pointing it out. Sorry.

Paul Zrimsek said...

"racist" was a fairly common epitaph

They're planning to carve it on your tombstone as an epithet.

rhhardin said...

There's no crime in mixing dead metaphors.

You do have to detect metaphor mixes that are not quite dead and suffer a galvanic response that's very like living, to pararphrase Fowler (2nd edition) on mixed metaphors.

Mrs X drew the teeth of Mrs Y's forehand, a tennis example cited.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

But it is also possible to look with admiration at the image of Romney beaming with grandfatherly pride and simultaneously feel unsettled by his role as the standard-bearer for a party that has devoted great energy to making it more difficult for people who look like his grandson to vote.

I would hope that anyone who looked like his grandson would have a difficult time voting. I mean, if you show up at the polls looking like a six-month old infant you really should have to produce an i.d. proving you are old enough to vote.

My God these people are stupid.

Brando said...

Among Cobb's gross miswritings is his assertion that Romney deserves some blame for being the nominee of a party that pushed for voter ID laws. Cobb takes it as a given that those laws are intended to keep blacks from voting, which I suppose makes as much sense as saying the military draft was intended to keep young men out of the workforce.

For shame, Mitt Romney! Do you not realize that your adoptive grandson will not be able to acquire a driver's license (for reasons I'm sure Mr. Cobb can explain), and therefore he will be denied the right to vote??? Don't you see what you've done???

Wayworn Wanderer said...

No matter. When all is said and done, this article sides with the professional victims and trashes the right. As long as the New Yorker can do that, does anything else matter?

Darrell said...

The Left has always been good at doubling down whenever they are caught in a lie. Keep in mind Robert Cook will tell you the Left no longer exists.

Brando said...

The unfortunate thing here is that there is room for an intelligent discussion of how racism has been politicized over the decades, and each side likes to insulate themselves by gleefully pointing out every time the other crosses a line. Such a discussion could involve calling out your own team when they play the race card, and giving the benefit of the doubt (by for example not assuming that a guy who criticizes "welfare cheats" is assuming that these cheats are minorities). Conservatives as well as liberals could learn to resist the temptation to score cheap points like this.

This article of course just tosses a little more left wing red meat into the fire, by saying in essence "no, THOSE guys are the real racists! Don't take your eyes off the ball!"

El Pollo Raylan said...

No mention at all in that New Yorker piece of Althouse's best point of the whole flap: that's it's just wrong to go after somebody's kids.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Only a cheater would fear One Person, One Vote safeguards.

Ann Althouse said...

"There's no crime in mixing dead metaphors."

Right. It's not a crime to write clumsy, ugly sentences that fail to convey meaning and distract the readers who see the meaning in words. Why use images at all unless you want to get those pictures going in the readers' mind?

But if the metaphors are really, truly dead, the pictures don't get started. The problem — and it's the term used by Orwell in "Politics and the English Language" — is dying metaphors. The writer is careless about the imagery, and the reader is irritated by stray, unintended, often ludicrous pictures.

But in the passage I've quoted, there are some straight-out metaphors: jiu jitsu, the script, blind.

"Wake" is a dying metaphor, I'd say.

"Portray" could be called a dead metaphor. I was piling on when I put "portraiture" on my list, and to be fair "portray" fit the visual metaphor zone of "blind," and there was other vision metaphor in the essay, like "hallucination" and "blurred."

David said...

"The New Yorker is refraining from the tough work of word editing, for which it was once renowned."

Yup. The paragraph you quoted is mystifying.

Henry said...

Speaking of metaphors, the word "wake" reminded me of the following passage from A Tale of Two Cities. Admittedly it's a simile, almost a Homeric one, but still a brilliant construction:

Mr. Stryver shouldered his way through the law, like some great engine forcing itself through turbid water, and dragged his useful friend in his wake, like a boat towed astern. As the boat so favoured is usually in a rough plight, and mostly under water, so, Sydney had a swamped life of it.

Larry J said...

But it is also possible to look with admiration at the image of Romney beaming with grandfatherly pride and simultaneously feel unsettled by his role as the standard-bearer for a party that has devoted great energy to making it more difficult for people who look like his grandson to vote.

That would be funny if it wasn't so ignorant of history. The Democrats are the party of slavery, the KKK, Jim Crow laws and segregation. The Republicans encourage all legally eligible people to register and to vote but only once and only representing themselves. Minorities have at least as much to lose from fraudulent voting as everyone else.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

"Wake" is a dying metaphor, I'd say.

Do they hold a wake for a metaphor that died?

pst314 said...

The only substantive difference between the New Yorker and MSNBC is that New Yorker writers employ long, convoluted sentences, densely packed with metaphor and allusion, to tell the same lies that MSNBC talking heads scream at us in grade school English.

Paul Zrimsek said...

And here we are, living within a hallucination full of blurred lines.

Everything's drawn and super '80s! Which brings us to Cobb's real complaint: What are they doin' with our Magic Frame?

surfed said...

@Paul - My cell phone spelled it for me and by the time I caught the error there was no way to edit the comment other than a delete and re-post.

Hammond X Gritzkofe said...

Thanks, Althouse. Without your links to these articles in the New Yorker and NYT, I'd never know what kind of maundering drivel is actually being written and published these days.

Who'd a ever thunk it! Do the folks who buy that crap actually read it? Or they just want to have the rag on their coffee table to impress guests?

Paul Zrimsek said...

As far as I can tell there's no way to edit your post even if you catch the auto-complete error immediately. Delete and repost is all we've got.

Broomhandle said...

""racist" was a fairly common epitaph

They're planning to carve it on your tombstone as an epithet."


That is seriously clever.

Franklin said...

You also may have noticed on your FB feeds the New Yorker article - http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/borowitzreport/2014/01/polar-vortex-causes-hundreds-of-injuries-as-people-making-snide-remarks-about-climate-change-are-pun.html

I guess it takes three to make a trend, but it certainly seems like the formerly highbrow magazine is specifically dumbing down its articles for those sweet, sweet pageviews.

Michael said...

I believe what the New Yorker writer mean to say is that you cannot mention, for example,, including in written form, the fact that the black child in the Romney example will be raised in a loving home surrounded by supportive and loving family who will encourage, insist upon, a spiritual life and the pursuit of an excellent education. Unlike what, er, might have been. Because what the mind knows and the tongue cannot utter is itself the jiujitsu.

Anglelyne said...

Jeez, these people are just too funny. It's "troubling" to the author that no apologies were forthcoming for being in favor of voter ID, or for suggesting that people do vote for handouts. Because of course, it goes without saying, everybody I know agrees that only racists want voter ID, and that no human being ever voted with anything but the noblest notions of the common good uppermost in his mind.

I stopped reading at that paragraph. I should have stopped at "[t]here is still something worthwhile about the registering of collective disapproval—which ultimately represents our evolving judgment, as a society, about the vanishing social acceptability of retrograde views on race, sexuality, and gender...". We all know that by "retrograde", she means anything that differs in the slightest from her own flimsily-thought-out progressive conventional wisdom, and by "worthwhile...collective disapproval", she means "like in the good old days where my fellow progressive zombies and I could make everybody else just STFU by throwing down the race card".

No, no, I should have stopped at "fraying tethers of our civic culture". "Fraying tethers of our civic culture". Good Lord. Braying Heathers of our civic culture. Swaying feathers of our civic culture. Greying weather of our civic culture. Flaying leathers of our civic culture. Nay-ing nethers of our civic culture. Preying togethers of our civic culture.

Sorry. Just reading half that article damaged my brain.

Fen said...

The unfortunate thing here is that there is room for an intelligent discussion of how racism -

Fen's Law: "The Left doesn't really believe in the things they lecture the rest of us about"

You can have an intelligent discussion with them about racism till the cows come home. Won't do a darn thing. Because its not about racism for them, its about using racism as a prop to get more power.

You're wasting your time and energy if you think a meeting of the minds about racism will accomplish anything.

Fen said...

Thats why the concept that skin color should be no more relevant than hair color scares the Left to death.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Larry J said...
Minorities have at least as much to lose from fraudulent voting as everyone else.


No, I don't think so. If an actual majority cheats, it only unnecessarily increases the majority it already had.

If a minority cheats, it can flip its status and become the (fraudulent) majority.

I can't shake the suspicion that, were voting totally honest, the Conservative side would rarely lose. Because it isn't, it rarely wins.

If I called the shots for Conservatives, I would laser focus on One Person, One Vote, to the exclusion of nearly everything else. First, pass laws. Second, have lawyers at the ready to immediately challenge the inevitable corrupt liberal judge who will declare the law unconstitutional, and then let things work their way through the appeals until One Person, One Vote is the law of the land.

I am confident this would usher in a new birth of freedom and prosperity for America.

Conversely, if we don't stop the Left's cheating, America is doomed and, unfortunately, a sinking ship drowns all passengers - those who deserve, and those who don't.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Ann Althouse said...

Right. It's not a crime to write clumsy, ugly sentences that fail to convey meaning and distract the readers who see the meaning in words. Why use images at all unless you want to get those pictures going in the readers' mind?


Indeed. And Conservatives are maddeningly inept at using words to put the proper picture in the voters mind.

Voter ID??? Please. Immediate image of the gestapo-like "Show me your papers!"

But: The One Person, One Vote Initiative? Nothing but goodness.

Wise Confucius said, "If you would rule a land, first get control of the language."

halojones-fan said...

You're thinking about this too hard. They're using "specifically" as an emphasis word, the way we all used to use "literally" before it got to be Intellectual Cool to trash people who use "literally" as an emphasis word.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Re metaphors, mixed and otherwise: Back in the '70s the editor of FLYING magazine issued an edict forbidding the use of then-common cliches and metaphors, such as "beautiful downtown Burbank" (popularized by Laugh-In).
In response, Gordon Baxter wrote back
"I congratulate you for having the courage of a lion to set foot in those shark-infested waters where the hand of man has never trod before."

rhhardin said...

It's not a positive good to write in cliches, which dead metaphors mostly are, but it's not risible either.

A galvanic response is risible, a distraction on that account, and so a positive bad.

Cliches, not quite. Barthelme makes an art of it, writing on cliches :

You know, Klipshorn was right I think when he spoke of the `blanketing' effect of ordinary language, referring, as I recall, to the part that sort of, you know, `fills in' between the other parts. That part, the `filling' you might say, of which the expression `you might say' is a good example, is to me the most interesting part, and of course it might also be called the `stuffing' I suppose, and there is probably also, in addition, some other word that would do as well, to describe it, or maybe a number of them. But the quality this `stuffing' has, that the other parts of verbality do not have, is two-parted, perhaps: (1) and `endless' quality and (2) a `sludge' quality. Of course that is possibly two qualities but I prefer to think of them as different aspects of a single quality, if you can think that way. The `endless' aspect of `stuffing' is that it goes on and on, in many different forms, and in fact our exchanges are in large measure composed of it, in larger measure even, perhaps, than they are composed of that which is not `stuffing.' The `sludge' quality is the *heaviness* that this `stuff' has, similar to the heavier motor oils, a kind of downward pull but still fluid, if you follow me, and I can't help thinking that this downwardness is valuable, although it's hard to say how, right at the moment. So, summing up, there is a relation between what I have been saying and what we're doing here at the plant with these plastic buffalo humps. Now you're probably familiar with the fact that the per-capita production of trash in this country is up from 2.75 pounds per day in 1920 to 4.5 pounds per day in 1965, the last year for which we have figures, and is increasing at the rate of about four percent per year. Now that rate will probably go up, because it's *been* going up, and I hazard that we may very well soon reach a point where it's 100 percent, right? And there can no longer be any question of `disposing' of it, because it's all there is, and we will simply have to learn how to `dig' it--that's slang, but peculiarly appropriate here. So that's why we're in humps, right now, more really from a philosophical point of view than because we find them a great moneymaker. They are `trash,' and what in fact could be more useless and trashlike? It's that we want to be on the leading edge of this trash phenomenon, the everted sphere of the future, and that's why we pay particular attention, too, to those aspects of language that may be seen as a model of the trash phenomenon. And it's certainly been a pleasure showing you around the plant this afternoon, and meeting you, and talking to you about these things, which are really more important, I believe, than people tend to think. Would you like a cold Coke from the Coke machine now, before you go?

-Snow White p.96

cited because DSL is down and searches are too expensive to find online.

Rocketeer said...

Harris-Perry apologized for her specific racial offense, but there are also the "real grievances," things that are more important, but harder to discern. The real grievances are the "systemic, empirical inequalities,"...

Uh, help me out here - wouldn't "empirical inequalities" be easier to discern? What codswallop.

TMink said...

Surfed's story is an excellent illustration of the race card in action: You cannot criticize my choices because you are white (or male or whatever) and I am (fill in the blank.)

It works in many circles, but what does it do to the group who use the excuse to escape responsibility? The group stays infantile, dependent, and hopelessly mired in the bad choices that the race card prevents them from having to accept. To point out that process is also, of course, racist.

Any group that is beyond criticism becomes Kim Jong Un.

Trey

Ignorance is Bliss said...

They are easier to discern, but harder to blame on Republicans.

traditionalguy said...

I smell fear in the young black TV personalities that their schitik is near becoming a dead metaphor.

What happens when the Hispanics become the go to favored bloc vote?

And whites born after 1980 are not into that delusion that blacks are persecuted. The delusion only works when 1950 era Southern whites are postulated as the haters.

mccullough said...

"it is what preyed on Gatsby; what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams"

jr565 said...

"But it is also possible to look with admiration at the image of Romney beaming with grandfatherly pride and simultaneously feel unsettled by his role as the standard-bearer for a party that has devoted great energy to making it more difficult for people who look like his grandson to vote."


This is the default liberal talking point, but of course it's complete garbage and projection.
IF we are talking about the civil rights movement and the south, then that was the dems doing that.
If we are talking modern times then they must mean trying to get people to have ID's to vote to prevent fraud.
Unless you want every vote to count including fraudulent ones(including dead people and fictitious people and people voting multiple times) and which ensure democrat victories then you hate black people.
But how is requiring an ID somehow a preventative to blacks voting? Would whites not have to prevent ID's too? Are republicans preventing blacks from getting ID's? If anything it's democrats making the process difficult.
They are suggeseting that it's some impossible task. Meanwhile, if you don't have such an ID you are most likely disadvantaged in society. So, in truth its dems trying to keep people in a disadvantaged state so as to get a higher vote count through fraud. And if you don't support that then you are racist.
I would say if we recognize that a lot of blacks don't have ID's and its not a priority for you to facilitate getting those ID's then it's YOU that is the racist.
Democrats, as per usual, are the racists.
This whole talking point is just the dems doing their usual. proposing policies that benefit them. Then when you say those policies are stupid calling you a racist for opposing their policy.

jr565 said...

Or, it's an example of democrats objecting to a totally non racial proosal that makes sense, and crying racism because they don't want the policy to go into place because they think it will hurt their ability to get elected.

Kev said...

(the other kev)

Never read Cobb before. Obviously wasn't missing anything. Won't make that mistake again.

Lydia said...

Jelani's got nothing on the Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates, who says Melissa Harris-Perry is "America's most foremost public intellectual" and that there is no one better equipped to deal with the "weighty subtext" involved in the situation of "a black child being reared by a family whose essential beliefs were directly shaped by white supremacy, whose patriarch sought to lead a movement which derives most its energy from white supremacy."

Good to know. She wasn't just laughing her ass off, she was dealing with that weighty subtext.

Michael said...

Surfed: Great story. In 1966 I waltzed into the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee's office in Memphis Tennessee and asked to join up. Was told membership was not available to whites. I walked down the hall and joined the NAACP. Irony theretofore was but a concept.

Lydia said...

*America's foremost public intellectual*

Pogo is Dead said...

Man, whoda guessed that a state-run Democrat magazine would print leftist propaganda?

I'm flummoxed.

Pogo is Dead said...

And this week in Rolling Stone, they really gave it to the man, man.

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

You mentioned the other day 'things that we are tired of hearing about.'I think this is no. 1. It's not that the argument can't be made, systemic etc. It's that, as TNC at the Atlantic illustrated yesterday, an apology can't be made and we move on. No! Romney is a class enemy and, not to paraphrase 'Lord of the Flies, the chant 'Kill the Pig' must continue in our hearts. Meanwhile the pigs relatives keep arming themselves.

n.n said...

They have a narrow, almost insular, understanding of reality. Everyone looks for the most effective leverage which is most easily acquired. Most people are not so greedy that they would denigrate individual dignity or devalue human life. The social exploitation industry has found an extremely profitable niche.

ErnieG said...

Lydia said...

*America's foremost public intellectual*

I thought Noam Chomsky had that title.

Chuck said...

Lydia just beat me to this:

"Lydia said...
Jelani's got nothing on the Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates, who says Melissa Harris-Perry is 'America's most foremost public intellectual' and that there is no one better equipped to deal with the 'weighty subtext' involved in the situation of 'a black child being reared by a family whose essential beliefs were directly shaped by white supremacy, whose patriarch sought to lead a movement which derives most its energy from white supremacy.'

"Good to know. She wasn't just laughing her ass off, she was dealing with that weighty subtext."

This is today's starkest skirmish in the culture war. Basically because Melissa Harris-Perry was called to task for something that SHE felt obliged to apologize for, she earns the sobriquet, "America's foremost public intellectual." Since I am doubting that Ta-Nehisi Coates (did I spell that correctly?) had been working up a Melissa Harris-Perry column for a month, the entitlement stems directly from the latest MH-P media fight; her having been (along with her panelists, it bears repeating) the source of a basically anti-white racial provocation. No word from Mr. Ta-Nehisi Coates on whether he thinks that MH-P's choked-up television apology, or her silly prior Twitter apology enhanced, or detracted from, her status as "foremost public intellectual."

Valentine Smith said...

As long as there's an Irishman alive the "wake" will live on!

El Pollo Raylan said...

As long as there's an Irishman alive the "wake" will live on!

If Troop were a wake he'd say that's not racist.

William said...

In the Venn diagram of victim and oppressor, will the Romney grandchild be given victim or oppressor status? DeBlasio 's kids are clearly entitled to victim status, but he's a liberal Democrat. Can the progeny of Republicans truly claim to be black? Is it ok to make fun of the other Romney children? So many questions yet to answer.

Forbes said...

I guarantee that voter ID laws will be the rule of the land just as soon as all illegal immigrants have been given the right to obtain drivers licenses. Just wait...

gregq said...

"to be contrasted with pervasive disparities that can be perceived or understood to have a racial aspect, like incarceration or poverty or inadequate education."

Anything can be "perceived" to be racist, all it takes is someone eager to play the race card.

"Untouched is the higher standard for those confronting real grievances, the kinds rooted in systemic, empirical inequalities, not the imaginings of the angry entitled."

Translation: he's a racist pig, who thinks that it's only "racism" when it isn't directed at "white" people.

wildswan said...

Fun Fact: You can't get medical care under Medicare or Medicaid unless you have a picture ID issued by the government - a regulation passed by Obama. So if you can't get the ID you need to vote you also can't get medical care yet you never hear of any minority being turned away from their doctor due to this regulation. Why is that? (That question is a flower of rhetoric embellishing a fact which is specifically blurred in the almost hallucinated clarity otherwise of race-injustice-consciousness-lines of at-this-time progressives but for public intellectuals Obama can do no wrong and hence he has not.)