“Go hang yourselves all! You are idle shallow things, I am
not of your element. You shall know more hereafter.”
And the winner of the Blagojevich Literary Comparison Contest is…Holloway McCandless, whose apt comparison of the governor to Twelfth Night‘s Malvolio came the closest to satisfying our nagging sense that Blago emerged fully-formed from a book somewhere. As justification, she cited “the preening and the poetic overreaching, the overestimating of one’s position at court”; we’d also mention Blago’s attitude of wounded dignity (more hypocritical in his case than in Malvolio’s). The analogy may not be perfect, but it’s close enough to earn Holloway our Stylish Reader of the Week Award. Huzzah! As a grand prize, we are recommending Holloway’s own site, the newly-launched Litagogo: A Guide to Literary Podcasts—and are happy to do so, because the writing on it so far has been first-rate. Bonus style points to Ms. McCandless for working the phrases “sub-Dickens,” “beribboned aperçu,” and “how-we-live-now signifiers” into a single post; it’s always nice to find a kindred spirit on the Web.
Also deserving of mention (especially as he was, effectively, the only other contest participant) is “Governor Blago Shakespeare,” a merry prankster whose site, called Illinois Poet Laureate, features supposedly Blago-penned verse in the style of Dylan Thomas, Robert Burns, and Lewis Carroll, among others. Well worth checking out before the governor tragically fades from the collective memory (at least until the publication of his groundbreaking oeuvre, that is).
And speaking of website recommendations, an announcement: we are hereby retiring the category head “Marginalia,” in deference to The Elegant Variation. We had been using the term for many months, congratulating ourselves on our cleverness, before finding TEV and realizing that Mark Sarvas was using it in essentially the same context—and had thought of it long before we did. Rather sheepishly, we’ve continued calling our recommendations “Marginalia” until now, but today we are proclaiming the birth of a replacement term: “See Also.” We will be titling new posts and emending old ones accordingly. We’ll miss “Marginalia” a bit, but we think the new term is, to coin a phrase, an elegant variation.
“Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.”
We saw this item on GalleyCat last week and couldn’t let it pass without comment. It seems disgraced Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, having infamously quoted Kipling’s “If” in a defiant press conference after scandal erupted around him, has quoted yet another poem in his post-impeachment press conference—this time Tennyson’s “Ulysses.” Evidently no longer content to rust unburnished in the dreary confines of Chicago, he is launching forth into new conquests on the high seas of life, determined “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” Though he did not say so explicitly, we can presume that he is doing this not because he has become a laughingstock and a pariah but because his spirit is “yearning with desire / To follow knowledge like a sinking star / Beyond the utmost bounds of human thought.”
For his literary pretensions Blagojevich has of course been roundly mocked, and yet…as this ludicrous popinjay exits the stage to the jeers of the masses, we have to admit that there is a certain literary quality about him, a kind of hilarious anti-grandeur reminiscent of Shakespeare’s or Dickens’s petty fops and tyrants. There’s something marvelous about a man who, as has been widely reported, is so vain about his poofy coiffure that his aides refer to his hairbrush as “the football”—i.e., a nuclear football that must under no circumstances be let out of sight—and at the same time imagines his implication in a squalid corruption scandal as a tragic circumstance worthy of Lord Tennyson. Even the name “Rod Blagojevich” is somehow perfect, its homely syllables comically clashing with the fame he sought for it (and also, like his accent, suggesting humble origins for which his poetic bombast may be an attempt to compensate).
And so, even though Mr. Blagojevich deserves whatever punishment he gets, we’re almost sorry to see him go. We’re also nagged by the feeling that there’s an exact analogue for him somewhere in literature: a minor comic character in a nineteenth-century novel, or even a fairy-tale villain, or something…readers, help us out? If you can think of a literary personality or a short passage of poetry that Blago reminds you of, leave a note in the Comments section. We’ll pick the best suggestion next Monday and name its contributor our Stylish Reader of the Week, with all possible attendant fanfare (including a featured website recommendation). Good luck—and thanks for helping secure ex-Governor Blagojevich the literary immortality he so desperately craves.
You think Chicago’s politics could use some cleaning up these days? You should see their editing! HI-OHH! That’s right, it’s time for another battle against our formidably orange opponent, The Chicago Manual of Style. Eat your heart out, Janet Reid.
Our bone of contention today is “extracts,” otherwise known as block quotations—that is, quotations lengthy enough to require their own paragraph. Chicago claims (2.25-2.26) that these “should be double-spaced vertically and indented” regardless of whether they’re prose or poetry extracts. Indentation is all fine and well, but we’re honestly not sure where in Strunk’s name they’re getting the double-space rule. We’ve almost never seen it implemented anywhere, at least not in any publication we’re willing to consort with, because the fact is it looks pretty sloppy. The only way to get away with it is to make the font size of the extract considerably smaller than that of the main text—and even then it looks better with 1.5-line spacing. This looks to us suspiciously like what Chicago uses in their own volume.
And that’s just for prose; with poetry, our rule is never to tinker with the text in any way that might undermine the author’s intent—which means no mucking around with line spacing. In fact, in order to demonstrate the just and proper formatting of poetry extracts, as well as to express our outrage at Chicago’s subversion thereof, we have composed the following topical quatrain in the style of Pope:
Thy crimes against the Editor’s art, Chicago,
Rival the Mischief of thy Governor “Blago”;
In a just world, thou wouldst confess like Men
And trade the Editorial—for the Federal Pen.
And with that, Chicago, we say good DAY.