In a state of mitigated exasperation

I don’t want to inundate you with quotes, but my desire will not stop me from doing so. For upon encountering the following two passages from, yes, William Gass’ The Tunnel, I realized his narrator was, in the course of describing a colleague, also describing many a participant in this digitized forum we call the theological blogosphere. Regular readers of our fair blog will get the gist of the jab. I suspect everyone else will not need their hand held either though.

“There may be some truth in what you say, Herschel says, with his customary Cream of Wheat agreement: mildness of a sort which could never cause a bilious blowup, bland as ordinary atmosphere and nearly as impalpable. I call him the hedgehog because he is such a believer in both sides. You have a point, he likes to say, he enjoys saying; there is more than a little merit in that, he declares, as if removing a pipe from his mouth (actually, Herschel never declares, or asserts, or avers–I do that; Governali avows and Planmantee affirms; they do that–Herschel assents, or suggests; he elaborates, or gently opines); yes, well, what you say seems, yes, well, plausible to me, upon my brief entertainment of it anyway, yes, at first glance a nice notion, on the face of it a pleasant guise; but will such an idea survive a long haul over stony ground, you think? the scrutiny of a dental pick? the footsteps of many a traveler across the same ground? and will it survive journalists and cameramen, you know? town meetings? picnics spread out abundantly open?”

“It is impossible—not to say, nettlesome—to carry on a debate with Herschel because he is invariably prepared to grant you your point . . . after he has blunted it. He is quick to applaud your overall attitude (for the most part, of course) (on the whole) (by and large) (in the main). Meanwhile, he has so effectively clouded the countryside that you can never perceive the defining edge of anything, or circumscribe an ordinary outline in order to locate its elbows or touch its tits. Blur, fuzz, smear: that’s what he does—his specialty. It’s not that . . . he hates distinctions, but rather that he makes too many, and lays them down on top of one another repeatedly like an angry scratch-out of lines. On the other hand, you can never come to an accord, either—sing harmony. Not with Good King Qualification, Handsome Prince Perhaps. Not with Mister Maybe. . . . Not with every idea developed as an endless polyhedron. No, you cannot quarrel with Herschel, yet the Hedgehog lets nothing pass. If thoughts wore ties, he’d always feel compelled, in his wifely way, to straighten them. So with Herschel one is habitually in a state of mitigated exasperation.”

Oh that last sentence especially. So delightful. It is tattooed in my brain now.

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10 Responses to “In a state of mitigated exasperation”

  1. Rod of Alexandria Says:

    I can think of a couple of commentors recently who bow down to the Good King Qualification and Handsome Prince Perhaps.

  2. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I can see where you’re coming from on this, Brad. I suppose there are some people in comment threads who occasionally indulge in something like what Gass is describing. I guess where I might part ways from you, though, is asking: Is this really that widespread a problem?

    I should let you know in advance, by the way, that the only way I will accept that it is a widespread problem is if you exhaustively document every instance of anyone doing this, though I’m pretty sure it will turn out that none of your purported examples exactly fit with what you’re saying.

  3. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I also wonder if maybe your sarcastic tone is actually working against the point you’re trying to make. You might wind up alienating exactly the people you’re trying to persuade. Like I say, I understand where you’re coming from, but I’m concerned that you’re taking things a bit too far.

  4. Rod of Alexandria Says:

    Adam and Brad,

    I agree with your overall point here, but please take for example this person and what he said into consideration. I do have to passive-aggressively disagree with you but I do not want to make it look like I am disagreeing with you, since in the West, agreement to disagree is the only way to have an intellectual debate. Perhaps maybe if you stated it like this, you would not be as incorrect as I think you are.

  5. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Okay, Rod, I don’t understand why you’re so angry about this. It’s an important issue, but there’s no need for emotions to run so high. We can all exchange views calmly in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

  6. Maurice Says:

    Ha ha, guys. This is all true, or at least a little bit, sometimes, but what are we gaining by making a mockery out of dialogue? This gets us nowhere! We don’t have to agree, of course, but surely our disagreements can be done in such a way that we can say at the end “I disagree w/ the guy, but, by god, I’d get a drink w/ him!”

  7. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Hear hear, Maurice! I think at the end of the day we have to admit that everyone involved in every dialogue in the world is a good person who’s acting in good faith and really wants what’s best for everyone.

  8. Hill Says:

    Seriously, though. I love you guys.

    Yours in Chr

  9. Rob L Says:

    I think that, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, when the chips are down, and the rubber hits the road, that, in all honesty, all things considered, mutatis mutandis, the real issue here, all things being equal, is, inter alia, (speaking to the low-hanging fruit of common ground), whether anything of ultimate concern is ever said, whether we, quid pro quo, with deft and expertise, unalloyed by compromise, actually manage to touch base and add value to blogospheric conversations by really thinking outside the box, or whether, chasing red herrings, we flog a dead horse and shoot the messenger by putting all our eggs in one basket – the basket of conversational propriety. So, going forward, I’m giving you a heads up; there’s a blue sky, and it’s not rocket science getting up there, if you just hit the ground running, and workshop a rebranding of the elephant in the room by getting our ducks in a row and push the envelope of a pradigm shift, rather than screwing the pooch, and find a fucking solution. The key performance indicator here, in case it needs spelling out, is to speak with clarity and rigour. (I don’t know why I wrote this. Once I began, I couldn’t stop. Addictive. I’m also aware it’s not relevant to the humour of the post/comments.)

  10. Rob L Says:

    Oh yeah, Hill reminded me I forgot to add my nauseating Christian Latin sign off.

    Pax Sellarium.


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