What writer (and by that I mean anyone who writes, whether literature, philosophy, history … whatever) do you most wish you could successfully reduplicate as a writer?Having once deleted my answer through sheer absent-mindedness and once lost it through WordPress not liking my combination of email address and username, I am afraid to try again. So I'll post a version of my comment here, and perhaps cut and paste it over there when my courage returns.
What I wanted to say is that I don't want to copy anyone else's style, but that I wish I had the ability to do so. Cavell, for instance, has a style that wonderfully allows him to have his own voice while still doing philosophy. But it would be a disaster if I tried to copy him. Perhaps others can do so successfully, either by recreating what Cavell does or by producing something new by attempting to reproduce his style. Mostly I try to write plainly, influenced to varying degrees by professional norms, Orwell, and Simone Weil (as well as a sense of my own limitations). But I do sometimes try to personalize my writing by attempting humor (probably a bad idea) and making references to things I like. One of these is Larkin's poetry, and I have had lines from his poems in mind at times while writing, for instance "If I were called in to construct a religion I should make use of water".
On the other hand, I also wish I made use of more words than I generally do, and had the ability to keep multiple ideas in the air at the same time. It would be nice to be able to write as cleverly as Chesterton or De Quincey.
Chesterton: Among the bewildering welter of fallacies which Mr. Shaw has just given us, I prefer to deal first with the simplest. When Mr. Shaw refrains from hitting me over the head with his umbrella, the real reason–apart from his real kindness of heart, which makes him tolerant of the humblest of the creatures of God–is not because he does not own his umbrella, but because he does not own my head. As I am still in possession of that imperfect organ, I will proceed to use it to the confutation of some of his other fallacies.
De Quincey: Nothing, indeed, is more revolting to English feelings than the spectacle of a human being obtruding on our notice his moral ulcers or scars, and tearing away that “decent drapery” which time or indulgence to human frailty may have drawn over them; accordingly, the greater part of our confessions (that is, spontaneous and extra-judicial confessions) proceed from demireps, adventurers, or swindlers: and for any such acts of gratuitous self-humiliation from those who can be supposed in sympathy with the decent and self-respecting part of society, we must look to French literature, or to that part of the German which is tainted with the spurious and defective sensibility of the French.
To be able to write like Cavell, Chesterton, and De Quincey, but to end up, by choice, writing like Larkin might be the best of all possible worlds. Chesterton writes with energy and wit, and De Quincey is a rogue. He sounds like Captain Haddock when he talks about demireps and adventurers, and his anti-French ranting is bracingly crude. On its own it would be dull and unpleasant, but its a nice contrast with his baroque sentence-structure and vocabulary. (That is, the contrast is nice; it's not both a contrast and nice.) To be a well-read, quick-witted cross between Santa Claus and Jack Sparrow who writes and speaks with a deceptive simplicity seems pretty desirable to me. (As does doing just about anything but grading papers right now.)