November 09, 2003

John righteously frums "Dead Right"

John (of John and Belle) has posted an enlightening and hilarious review of David Frum's "Dead Right". It's like one of those long, eloquent rants that a dinner guest sometimes lets fly, halfway through the third bottle of wine. One of the things that I like about the weblog form is that you get a lot of these vivid and heartfelt effusions -- which James Lileks calls bleats -- along with the news tips, the quick quips and the spoon bread recipes. And the beauty part is that if the rant gets tiresome, you can just slip out of the room without offending anybody.

John's bleat about "Dead Right" is a special type of bleat, an extended attack on a piece of someone else's writing. When the critique is presented as a copy of the original document with interlinear commentary, it's called a fisking. But John's review is not a fisking -- it couldn't be, since he's reviewing a whole book, and it shouldn't be, since his piece is organized around the flow of his thoughts rather than the text of his target.

I think we need a new word to describe a piece of this kind. I suggest the verb to frum [an author or text], with the associated noun frumming. Besides providing a useful bit of terminology, this improves the political symmetry of the anti-idiotarian lexicon.

A sample of John's piece, starting with a quote from Frum:

"Conservative rhetoric can sound a little overbroad, if not positively bats, to nonconservative ears. Conservatives, however, see the things they dislike in the contemporary world – abortion, the slippage of educational standards, foreign policy weakness, federal aid to handicapped schoolchildren – as all connected, as expressions of a single creed, a creed of which liberalism is just one manifestation."

This passage cracked me up. (Belle was moved to inquire solicitiously: “Are you OK, honey?”) It is, of course, precisely because people know some conservatives see all these things as connected that some people think some conservatives are bats. (If it thinks like a moonbat, and it talks like a moonbat, and if it comes right out and says it’s a moonbat, it’s a moonbat.)

Seriously, here’s a cautionary lesson taught by the 1960’s (you’d think conservatives could learn such things): just because you feel that everything is, like, so connected in a mysterious way, doesn’t make it so. And for damn sure you don’t have the right to bother other people with constant reports of your weird but strong intuitions of, like, total interconnectedness.

Another tasty passage:

What Frum has got, to repeat, is just a feeling that the kids these days are getting a bit soft. Everyone feels this way sometimes, of course – since it’s true. But some people have thoughts as well as feelings about this attendant effect of civilization. And so it turns out Lionel Trilling was maybe not such a poor prophet after all, when he wrote way back in 1953: “in the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition;” for the anti-liberals do not, by and large, “express themselves in ideas but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.”

Read the whole thing.

[Note: although the jargon file says that fisking is "very common", Google still asks helpfully "did you mean fishing?"
And yes, I do know about John Frum, cargo cults and all...]

Posted by Mark Liberman at November 9, 2003 07:19 AM