For the danglers…

Un complément du nom mal rattaché et de toute façon pas très clair.

I mean those who collect dangling modifiers in published writing.

This is from Jonathan Freedland’s opinion piece in today’s Guardian:

Like a character in Shakespearean tragedy, race is America’s fatal flaw, the weakness which so often brings it low.

I’m not even sure this counts as a mere dangling modifier: the imagery is just too confused. Or, as my friend Steph, who I ran this by on IRC, put it, “race isn’t a character that is a fatal flaw in Shakespearean tragedy”. Or, for that matter, like one. #[1]

There’s of course a lot to be said about race relations in the US or elsewhere, now or throughout history. And, to his credit, Freedland does try, though nothing he says is I think particularly original. Still, would it be too much asked to tackle the task using clear metaphors, even if the language may end up being a little less exalted?

[1]: For the record, I think he means something like: race:America::a flawed character:(a?) Shakespearean tragedy. But that’s still confused. Shakespearean tragedies would be much less interesting if the characters weren’t flawed; typically, all of them are. They are not the weakness that brings the tragedy low, even though they may, collectively, and assisted by literary devices, fate and stuff like this, bring the final catastrophe about.

5 comment(s) for 'For the danglers…'

  1. (Comment, 2005-09-06 20:19 )

    Oh, I think Freedland meant something much more sensible, although I agree that he failed to say it. I think the analogy he was going for was race : America :: fatal flaw : tragic character.

  2. (Comment, 2005-09-07 02:15 )
    #2 — chris

    Well, you might be right. Your interpretation has at least the advantage that it’s possible to reformulate the sentence, for example: “Like a Shakespearean tragic character, America has a fatal flaw: race.”

    But it’s not clear where the “the weakness which so often brings it low” should be attatched. Surely, to the bit about the Shakespearean character? Isn’t it a prediction about America, or does Freedland claim that’s how it has so often happened there? And doesn’t “so often” only apply if you look at all Shakespearean tragedies? I’m still confused.

  3. (Comment, 2005-09-07 18:12 )

    When you say “who I ran this by”, you mean “by whom I ran this”?;)

  4. (Comment, 2005-09-07 18:26 )
    #4 — chris

    Eszter: I thought about writing “whom I ran this by”, which to me comes more naturally, as whom was drilled into me from a young age, in terms of English proficiency. But it was this post by Arnold Zwicky that made me, for once, go for who.

  5. (Comment, 2005-09-08 22:35 )
    #5 — Ellen Evans

    I’m thinking he meant to say that issues around race serve the same function in America’s history, character, whatever, as the so-called “fatal flaw” serves in tragedy: the inextricable part of the tragic hero’s character that causes him/her to mistep, and thus to fall. This is a pretty common riff on hamartia, from Aristotle, but it’s not quite correct - it’s a sort of Christianization of the Greek.