Noreen Malone ("Grading Obama’s ‘Classic Undergraduate-ese'", New York Magazine 5/2/2012) turned to Matthew Hart to grade a letter that Barack Obama wrote to a girlfriend when he was an undergraduate at Columbia University. Prof. Hart, who "specializes in twentieth and twenty-first century Anglophone culture, with an emphasis on modernist poetry, contemporary British fiction, political theory, and the visual arts", was not impressed:
Considered as homework, I'd give the future President a B-minus. The reference to "an ecstatic vision which runs from Münzer to Yeats" (besides confusing that and which) sounds impressive, but it's more than a little opaque.
The dangling adjunct in Prof. Hart's first sentence is a lovely example of Muphry's Law in action. And a dispassionate observer might challenge Hart's standing to complain about opacity, given that he himself routinely writes things like "The critical novelty of Invisible Poet […] lies, in part, in the way it lights with a Bradleyan torch the darkness that did not comprehend" ("Visible Poet: T. S. Eliot and Modernist Studies", American Literary History 19(1), 2007).
But the most linguistically interesting aspect of Prof. Hart's evaluation is the parenthetical remark about "confusing that and which". Regular readers will be weary of our many complaints about which-hunting (see this and this for a couple of classic examples), so I won't discuss yet again the invented "rule" forbidding which in "integrated" or "restrictive" relative clauses. But I thought it might be instructive to take a look at this feature of the prose of T.S. Eliot, to whom Prof. Hart would presumably give a better grade than B-. Here are a few examples (among 50 or so) from Eliot's essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1921):
The necessity that he shall conform, that he shall cohere, is not one-sided; what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it.
He must be aware that the mind of Europe—the mind of his own country—a mind which he learns in time to be much more important than his own private mind—is a mind which changes, and that this change is a development which abandons nothing en route, which does not superannuate either Shakespeare, or Homer, or the rock drawing of the Magdalenian draughtsmen.
But the difference between the present and the past is that the conscious present is an awareness of the past in a way and to an extent which the past’s awareness of itself cannot show.
Or we could take a look at W.B. Yeats' A Vision (1925), where "confusions" between which and that are similarly epidemic:
The Will looks into a painted picture. The Creative Mind looks into a photograph, but both look into something which is the opposite of themselves.
The relations between Will and Mask, Creative Mind and Body of Fate are colled oppositions, and upon some occasions contrasts, while those between Will and Creative Mind, Mask and Body of Fate are called — for reasons which will appear later — discords.
The False Mask of Phase 3 is 'Folly' and is derived from Phase 17 modified by Creative Mind of that phase which is described as 'Creative imagination through antithetical emotion'.
It's surprising to learn that someone whose business is poetic language is so insensitive to the language of the poets that he studies.