What does the following passage from this NY Times article mean?

He [Theodore Roosevelt] transformed the 20th century; no, he overextended the 19th. He was a progressive trust buster; no, an imperialist demagogue. He was a defender of liberty; no, a power-hungry mountebank — a pioneer environmentalist, a bloodthirsty hunter; a farseeing visionary, an energetic clerk.

Why is the author using positive words in the first half of the statement and then tries to end the statement using completely opposite or negative words? What does the author want to convey using the following passage? Is the author trying to evoke the conflicting viewpoints among the general population?

  • +1 He is invoking paradox in order to evoke your questions. – StoneyB on hiatus Oct 26 '12 at 12:07

The key is the last sentence of the preceding paragraph:

But has the shadow of any 20th-century American president veered and quavered more than Theodore Roosevelt’s in recent decades?

Teddy's reputation has "veered and quavered," meaning people can't decide what to think about his legacy. In some ways he was visionary and forward-thinking, in other ways, there are things about his past that "bother" us, and make us hesitant to put him on a pedastal. The author is merely going through a few samples of those conflicting emotions.

Is the author trying to evoke the conflicting viewpoints among the general population? I think in some ways he's saying that there are two different views of Roosevelt among the general population; in other ways, he's saying that any one of us might feel those conflicting views when trying to form our own opinion.

This is not unlike the structure that Dickens used to open A Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.


My bet is as good as yours, but I'd say this is to stay neutral by providing simultaneously, side by side opposing views of two sides.

This is a strong neutrality, not a bland kind that provides non-committing mild expressions - it underlines the conflict between two sides, it shows how the subject wasn't a washed out unimportant middle but a character causing strong emotions.

This would be difficult to attain with such an impact otherwise - normally either you pick sides, or push a bland, neutral characteristics of the subject followed by a bland, neutral characteristics of the conflicting sides. By tossing the extremist arguments of both sides into one bag, the author got a text that remains neutral but is very juicy.


It sounds like contrapuntalism to me

Said describes contrapuntalism as a connection or mutual consideration of otherwise disparate social practices, of culture and empire, of history and the present:
That is, we must be able to think through and interpret together experiences that are discrepant, each with its particular agenda and pace of development, its own internal formations, its internal coherence and system of external relationships, all of them co-existing and interacting with others.

This is obviously the non-musical sense of the term, although the concept of strong contrast carries over.

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