Wednesday, February 27, 2008

In heaven, everyone is pleonastic

Didn't agree with him, didn't really like him much, but there's no denying the enormous impact Buckley had on the landscape of American culture and politics. His prodigious talent as a writer is a thing to admire, although I must confess that whenever someone drops Buckley's name I always flash back to the Robin Williams standup bit that imagined Buckley's retelling of children's stories: "Ah, thankyouverymuch. Today we're going to examine the political, social and ethical ramifications of 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears.'"
Norman Mailer may indeed have dismissed Mr. Buckley as a “second-rate intellect incapable of entertaining two serious thoughts in a row,” but he could not help admiring his stage presence.

“No other act can project simultaneous hints that he is in the act of playing Commodore of the Yacht Club, Joseph Goebbels, Robert Mitchum, Maverick, Savonarola, the nice prep school kid next door, and the snows of yesteryear,” Mr. Mailer said in an interview with Harpers in 1967.

Mr. Buckley’s vocabulary, sparkling with phrases from distant eras and described in newspaper and magazine profiles as sesquipedalian (characterized by the use of long words) became the stuff of legend. Less kind commentators called him “pleonastic” (use of more words than necessary).

And, inescapably, there was that aurora of pure mischief. In 1985, David Remnick, writing in The Washington Post, said, “He has the eyes of a child who has just displayed a horrid use for the microwave oven and the family cat.”

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