Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Fox, the Hedgehog, and the Arresting Sentence

While reading "The Coast of Utopia" by Jedediah Purdy [1], I stopped at this sentence describing a book:

"It is a fox dreaming of hedgehogs."

This sentence made me stop and think. It rang a bell, but I could not place the connection. I googled and found a nice blog entry: Hedgehog or Fox: Which Are You? by Norm Pattis that brought forth a connection to Isaiah Berlin, who wrote a famous essay on Tolstoy entitled, "The Hedgehog and the Fox."

The reference is to a quote from the poet Archilochus: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."

I wanted to say the sentence, "It is a fox dreaming of hedgehogs," is a great sentence, but I cannot. There are great sentences in The Aeneid and in Moby Dick, and the sentence by Purdy cannot compare, but it was a very nice, arresting sentence. It was a nice twist on a famous sentence from Archilochus and had the bonus connection to the essay by Isaiah Berlin.

All these connections are examples of cultural literacy. Culture not only transmits civilization, it is effective in improving communication through the short-hand of allusions. Culture is not only enjoyable, it is empowering.

Robert Canright

[1] A review of the book, Beyond the Revolution, A History of American Thought from Paine to Pragmatism by William H. Goetzmann, appearing in the New York Times Book Review, Sunday February 22, 2009.