In “Authority and American Usage,” Wallace applauds Bryan A. Garner’s ingenous appeal to ethos his A Dictionary of Modern American Usage. Garner, according to Wallace, is able to transcend (and possibly solve) the descriptivist vs. prescriptivist issue by establishing himself as an authority figure – “a professional who realizes that he can give good advice but can’t make you take it” (123).
I think that this ability to cultivate authority is also one of Wallace’s unique writerly trademarks. I remember when I first read Wallace, one of the things that I was most taken with was his how he could get me to just trust him. We’ve discussed in class to some extent how he does this – sincerity, encyclopedic research, compassion, sheer intellect, sensitivity, and pyrotechnic skill all seem to contribute to this effect.
These aren’t so different from Garner’s imputed qualities:
“It turns out that ADMAU’s preface quietly and steadily invests Garner with every single qualification of medern technocratic authority: passionate devition, reason and accountability…experience…exhaustive and tech-savvy research…an even and judicious temperament…and the sort of humble integrity that not only renders Garner likable but transmits the kind of reverence for English that good jurists have for the law, both of which are bigger and more important that any one person” (123-124).
I can’t help but feel that the same things apply for Wallace. Even in this essay, Wallace abides by the same technocratic principles that make Garner so sucessful. Wallace’s willingness to take on the issue of authority and american usage, explain to the reader why it’s a relevant issue, provide copious research and background to support his arguments, convey sincerity and humility, communicate an issue that’s bigger than himself (the democratic spirit), all persuade me to submit to his, Wallace’s, authority.
This happens for me in every Wallace essay, without fail.
Similar feelings anyone?