Friday, November 07, 2008

"In the world of ideas, to name something is to own it" says Thomas Friedman

My writing students have been analyzing essays and book chapters for 2 weeks now. Quite a few were attracted to Thomas Friedman's excerpt "Revolution IS U.S." from his book Lexus and the Olive Tree, and just tonight the current New Yorker arrived with a profile of Friedman: "The Bright Side: The Relentless Optimism of Thomas Friedman" by Ian Parker. (I'm sorry that the website only gives the abstract unless one is a subscriber.)

Parker quotes one of Friedman's friends describing him as tremendous at naming concepts:
"He's created a brand for himself. And the Flat World [a reference to Friedman's books The World is Flat and Hot, Flat and Crowded] is also a brand. He comes up with phrases and hooks that people hang on to, sometimes for dear life. I think that's a unique skill. He writes for the masses. His work is extremely intellectual, but it takes the form of a conversation with a taxi-driver."
Students noticed right away Friedman's chatty style and were quite drawn in. Parker says,
"Friedman is not blithe, or without passion, but his career can be seen as one that has redirected left-of-center dismay or unease (about terrorism, globalization, climate change, American political inertia) into a conversation about opportunity and national purpose -- and, to a large degree, has done this through the insistent marshalling of rhetoric. "I don't mind using rhetoric," Friedman said. 'I get criticized for that a lot: It's 'too cute,' too this or that. But I've never had a reader come up to me and say, "that book was too easy to read. That anecdote went down too easily.' To simplify something accurately, you've got to understand it deeply."
Later, Parker says "In a curious way, this rhetorical challenge [of making metaphors to describe the interplay of forces] has become [Friedman's] subject. As Friedman said, "I've always described my books as books about how to think about a problem. Not necessarily the specific detailed answer."

Absolutely Friedman's style is perfectly aligned with his message; in fact it is his message. I would like to read more of his work.


Blogger Laura said...

Interesting. What a needed and intellectually-helpful skill -- that naming of concepts, metaphorizing in a way that "average" people can grasp them and hopefully better run with them in their own minds (so to speak with an unsuccessful mixed metaphor! :))

11:44 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home