U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Bleg: Is this clever or annoying?

Are these opening sentences for my article clever or annoying? (I am trying to evoke the hubris of a few of our Presidents, but I also don’t want people to dismiss Jones too quickly).

On October 7, 1930, satisfied that he was making the world safe for African Americans, President Thomas Elsa Jones welcomed his faculty to the fall meeting. The confidence of the white President of historically black Fisk University rose from the beautiful new library he stood in, erected through his fund-raising efforts. Partially finished Aaron Douglas murals carved black history into the walls and ceilings and illuminated the elegant meeting room. His confidence also emanated from a recent victory in the war on racism.

9 Thoughts on this Post

  1. For formal writing (i.e., not a blog post) I would shy away from “clever,” because sometimes clever is annoying. [Of course, most of the time I don’t have to try very hard to avoid “clever.”] However, a little dash of humor or gentle irony in scholarly writing can be refreshing. Depends on the publication/audience, I’m sure.

    That said, these sentences do a good job of setting a scene, and the two key phrases — “making the world safe” and “war on racism” — evoke Woodrow Wilson and LBJ quite nicely.

  2. I get what you’re trying to say, but I don’t like how you use “confidence” in either sentence here. As written there’s all sorts of mischief and confusion going in both about what Jones’ confidence is doing and why.

  3. I don’t know if I’d quit so soon, but I would say that any author who started in such a manner would have used up a considerable portion of his or her benefit of the doubt.

  4. And just to be clear, I have no objection to you opening with Jones, or his being confident, or anything else. It’s specifically how you have him being confident that bothers me. His confidence isn’t like gas rising out of a swamp. Where did it go after it rose from the library? And his confidence can’t emanate from an event. It might be due to an event, caused by it, stem from it, etc. But his confidence can’t emanate from one as though it were a quasar giving off radiation bursts. Only people can have confidence, not inanimate objects.

  5. It wasn’t working on anyone’s computer for almost an entire day. And comments are still lost in the ether somewhere, as several are still missing here.

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