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Apologizing; Glitz and Glamour

December 16, 2011 | by

How do you manage to apologize to someone when you think you also deserve an apology (but believe you are never going to get one, and the conflict remains unresolved)? Is there some way to prove a point while also expressing a sincere desire to be friends again?

The short answer, I think, is no. You probably can’t make your point and make up at the same time.

But it sounds as though—whatever went down—there were plenty of hurt feelings to go around. Maybe you can set aside the question of blame, and the unresolved conflict, and focus on the feelings. To start with: you feel rotten, and you’re sorry to have hurt your friend. If you own up to that, you’ll make it that much easier for your friend to let down his or her guard.

Don’t expect an actual apology—even if you do get an apology, it probably won’t be the one you want. We’re human, so we all feel our own pain more sharply than the pain we cause in others. Try to correct for that bias, if you can, and at least you’ll know you’ve tried. (Thanks to Geoff O’Sullivan for the sage counsel on this hard question. We’ve all been there.)

One of my students mistakenly believes the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers 1930s to be the pinnacle of American glitz and glamour. Aside from the obvious—Scott Fitzgerald, Midnight in Paris, A Moveable Feast, and the like—what ought I offer to open her eyes to vastly superior qualities of the Lost Generation and its Jazz Age?

If your student can handle a strong dose of decadence—sex, drugs, and experimental lit—give her Geoffrey Wolfe’s biography of the expat publisher Harry Crosby Jr., Black Sun.

Twist or shout?

A little of both.

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5 Comments

  1. Burke | December 17, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    I need this biography for Christmas. Seriously.

  2. Helen DeWitt | December 17, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Re question 1. But what if the Party of the First Part is in AA? So the apology and admission of wrongdoing is integral to the sobriety to which PFP is allegedly committed? (For reasons that remain opaque, Al-Anon, far from tackling this crucial question, seems to expect its members to follow the 12 Steps themselves. Hence the somewhat desperate recourse, you may reasonably think, to Comments on the blog of the Paris Review.)

  3. Noam D. Blum | December 17, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    Black Sun!

    At a time with so many first-rate genre-ambiguous authors (top of my head–Dyer, Shields, Sante) and [obligatory reference to Reality TV/ Facebook here], seems to me Geoffrey Wolff’s oeuvre is overdue for critical reappraisal.

    For instance. Three of Wolff’s four biographies are about anti-heroes (assholes). As stories, the books succeed less as exemplary lives (negative examples) than as somewhat rueful comedies of manners. When Black Sun came out, doesn’t seem critics got this. As recently as ’03, when NYRB Classics brought out a new edition, Wolff felt obliged to defend his choice of subject. (N.B.: The afterword where that happens can be found online. I think it doubles as a kind of bitchin’ ars poetica.)

    Another for instance. The first of those biographies, The Duke of Deception, about Wolff’s father, a con man, is also cited (Sven Birkets and Vivian Gornick to name two) as a high water-mark for the contemporary memoir. It introduces a theme at the heart of all four biographies and Wolff’s work in general, one as relevant now as ever: “The price of doing business in a culture preoccupied with appearances.”

    Sorry if I bent the blog’s ear. Got excited.

  4. Jim Holt | December 18, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    Oft on the dappled turf, at ease,
    I sit and play with similes.
    I leave it to the hacks and bores
    To slap up labored metaphors.

  5. Alphonse Simms | December 21, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    Helen: For whatever my opinion’s worth, sounds to me like it might be helpful for PFP to separate the apology he wants to make out of a sense of personal integrity from what may or may not satisfy PSP; he might then feel some at least closure regardless of PSP’s response. Too obvious to say that then the apology is an end in itslef? To my mind, it’s the difference between making amends and making up.

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