Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Editor! Editor!

My father remains my best line-editor. Others--my husband, my writing group, my colleagues around the world--are wonderful for helping me with the big ideas, the implications of theory, the allusions and notions that I've missed or wrongly emphasized, but for elegant styling, my father remains the best.

So, when I sent him a copy of my paper on Kim Philby's memoir, I was not surprised to receive, in response, a brief nod of praise followed by five or six instances where he noted an inconsistency, a moment of confusion. This one, in particular, however, continues to amaze me. My paper has a long meditation on the ironies of Kim Philby taking his name from the Kipling novel, Kim. My father thought it might be worth a footnote to add:
Of course, the fictional Kim spies for crown and Empire, while Philby successfully did the reverse.
When I went to add that lovely small observation in my paper, I grew self-conscious about lifting his language entire, so I momentarily put:
Of course, the fictional Kim spies for crown and Empire, while Philby worked against it.
Not nearly as good, is it? My flat-footed pairing of for vs. against lacks the elegance of "did the reverse."

I can't quite figure out why his is so much better. Can you?

Needless to say, his phrasing now stands.


Cam said...

Not sure if this is it, but I think that the word successfully is useful because it underscores the irony, rather than being merely a dry reiteration of what the paper expounds upon. (And how many footnotes are dry!) Furthermore, did the reverse is clever because it plays off of the oppositional structure of the sentence; the second phrase is exactly that: a reversal. Instead of dry, it's wry. It is similar to how, when one tells a joke, you set up an situation and then deliver the punchline that is a reversal, something known but not expected in the context of the setup. The incongruity of the unexpected is what makes the joke funny. Similarly, I couldn't help but smile when I read his phrasing. That setup is pleasing. I don't know that I'm explaining this well, but I hope some of this makes sense.

KATE EVANS said...

His is better because the word "it" is never as strong as almost anything else.

How wonderful that you and your father connect through writing. That's the way my mom and I were (before her Alzheimer's diagnosis). Cherish it.

Anne said...

Very smart thoughts on this, both of you. Thanks.

Although I haven't always been grateful for all the red ink spilt on my prose, I *do* cherish it now, believe me!

genevieve said...

Ooh, funny footnotes rock. What an interesting opportunity, too, to write about someone so different from Virginia! wow.
Think of it as a pay-off for all the less humorous corrections you have endured, Anne, and take it as a free gift.(Has he got any more jokes, i wonder??)