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Posts Tagged ‘Benjamin Franklin’

Being a Bumpkin

October 10, 2016 | by

Three new books try to untangle the Gordian knot of white-trash identity.

From the cover of Hillbilly Elegy. 

Scan the headlines and you’ll find that everyone’s talking about how the white trash have made their presence felt. The white trash support Trump; the white trash are losing ground; the white trash should be honored by the government for their hard work and sacrifices; the white trash are continuing to redirect their aggression at other racial minorities instead of the robber barons who exploit them.

But who exactly are these people, these trashy whites who have found themselves, in the words of sociologist C. Wright Mills, “without purpose in an epoch in which they are without power?” Read More »

Staff Picks: Dreamers, Dealers, Kidney Donors

October 16, 2015 | by

An illustration by Gustave Doré for Poe’s “The Raven.”

The two things I like most about annotated classics are the annotations and the pictures—which are really the point, if you think about it: you can read the text itself in any edition. Truth be told, sometimes the annotations aren’t very interesting, but the pictures rarely disappoint. Such is the case with the new Annotated Poe from the Belknap Press. Some are illustrations that were made to accompany Poe’s works: there’s great stuff from Arthur Rackham, Harry Clarke, Aubrey Beardsley, and Gustave Doré, such as his very cosmic (very Little Prince) depiction of a line from “The Raven”: “Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.” But the book also includes art that was influenced, sometimes obliquely, by Poe: a still from Batman in 1966 shows Adam West quoting a line from Poe’s poem “To One in Paradise”—a nod perhaps to the fact that Bob Kane, Batman’s creator, came up with the idea for the masked detective while visiting the Poe Cottage in Fordham, New York. And still other art in the book feels simply like a wonderful excuse to draw connections across time: a moody photographic close-up by Lisette Model of a pair of legs striding the nighttime pavement made the cut because Poe’s description of a man’s “agitated restlessness” in “The Man of the Crowd” prefigures Model’s candid street photography, which appeared a century later. —Nicole Rudick

As a child, I understood the harrowing effect of my sullen and unloving behavior on my parents, yet continued to behave rottenly anyway. Ben Marcus’s story in this week’s New Yorker, “Cold Little Bird,” about a ten-year-old boy who suddenly begins to withhold affection from his parents, is a chilling evocation of the pressure-cooker tension that can arise in family life. Marcus teases striking images out of dense thickets of metaphor; here his writing is spare, the story proceeding in a series of clipped passages. He captures the subtle features of relationship maintenance; one of the best scenes involves the advance-and-retreat dynamics of tactical apologies. In its refusal to diagnose, the story offers no release valve. I persevered to the end and felt uncomfortable, then guilty, then gladdened by the knowledge that I had never been as bad as this little shit, then embarrassed by that thought, then terrified of my own (nonexistent) child; then impressed that Marcus had been able to provoke in me a parent’s anxiety I had never known existed. —Henri Lipton
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On Epitaphic Fictions: Ben Franklin, W. B. Yeats

April 28, 2014 | by

The first in a three-part series on writers’ epitaphs.


John Singer Sargent, William Butler Yeats, 1908

“In lapidary inscriptions, a man is not upon oath.” —Samuel Johnson

Got a brittle, expensive medium? Bring an elastic ethics.

Dr. Johnson understood that words on headstones provide cover stories. Acts of make-believe inscribed in stone may be as banal as an incorrect—or fudged—year of birth; the phrase “In Loving Memory” must be a fiction much of the time. On the other hand, great writers have composed words for headstones, real and imaginary, that offer us complex fictions in which we may dwell, as if in compensation for loss. For such writers, good grief is infused with imagination.

Witness this epitaph in the collection of the Yale Library, from an autograph manuscript composed circa 1728: Read More »



December 27, 2013 | by


All this week, we are bringing you some of your favorite posts from 2013. Happy holidays!

“What would Ben Franklin make of this, if he were sitting here right now?” mused my father. We were driving on the West Side Highway. I was living with my parents following a breakup. This was fairly typical, topic-wise.

“I’d have to explain, Dr. Franklin, you are sitting in a conveyance known as a ‘car.’ These horseless carriages you see are also cars. They operate via combustion engines. Those lanterns you see there are powered by something called ‘electricity.’ And then, of course, I’d have to explain about movies. Dr. Franklin, those large posters you see are advertising something we call ‘films.’ You go into a large room and see a talking picture projected onto a screen by means of—”

“Why do you have to say ‘talking picture’?” demanded my mother irritably. “Why can’t you just say ‘movie’?”

“That would be too confusing. I have a lot of ground to cover, acquainting him with the modern world. And I’d say, Dr. Franklin, perhaps I shall take you to a moving picture. Would you like to see a comedy? A romance?”

“Take him to see a period piece,” I put in eagerly. “Then you could acquaint him with some of the historical events that occurred in the intervening period!”

“Good idea,” he said. “Now, Dr. Franklin—”

“Why are you calling him doctor?” said my mother.

“He was given an honorific by the Royal Academy!” said my father impatiently. “It was what everyone called him. It was what he preferred to be called! That’s common knowledge, Priscilla!

“Okay, okay.”

I suppose you could call this a low point. I lived in my childhood room. I commuted to and from my job every day via MetroNorth and spent most of my free time with my family. For the first time, I went to see a therapist. This was kind of a big deal, since no one in my family really did therapy. Once, in the eighties, my mom and dad had gone to a marriage counselor, who suggested they get divorced. Anyway, this woman and I hated each other on sight, and she told me I should disengage from my parents. This seemed impractical, under the circumstances. Read More »


Benjamin Franklin’s Clippings, Circa 1730

August 6, 2012 | by

An illustrated series of short news items written by Benjamin Franklin for The Pennsylvania Gazette. News at that time was fueled by hearsay and favored brief, outlandish anecdote. Where Franklin was running his paper in a wilderness devoid of information, we now operate in a wilderness so granite-packed with information that perhaps we now feel just as isolated, just as in the dark. These represent the dawn of American journalism, but I think in the present climate we’re moving back in that direction.

Jason Novak works at a grocery store in Berkeley, California, and changes diapers in his spare time.




A Routine Matter

March 15, 2012 | by

Benjamin Franklin's daily schedule.

I recently turned thirty, the age by which, according to William James, “the character has set like plaster, and will never soften again.” But he wrote that in 1890, before mobile devices and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and Lana Del Rey and the fragmentation of the self, and I’m happy to report that my character is as soft as unhandled Play-Doh. For the past year I’ve slept mostly in well-worn twin beds generously provided by writing colonies, my life a new kind of nomadism made possible by America’s patrons of the arts. Every morning I get up at seven, or seven thirty, or eight, or eleven, and record my dreams, or forget them, then make my bed, or not, after which I proceed immediately to take a shower, or start the coffee, or eat breakfast, or go for a walk, then sit down at my desk to begin the day’s work, or write e-mails, or stare out the window, or do absolutely anything else. I usually end my day by reading a book, or talking on the phone, or watching basketball highlights on, or wondering why I keep the channel on Jimmy Fallon when every instance of empty enthusiasm makes me loathe him a little more.

William James again: “There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation. Full half the time of such a man goes to the deciding, or regretting, of matters which ought to be so ingrained in him as practically not to exist for his consciousness at all. If there be such daily duties not yet ingrained in any one of my readers, let him begin this very hour to set the matter right.” This very hour.

Habits are for squares, is what I’ve always felt. Read More »