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Posts Tagged ‘fame’

Ignorance Studies, and Other News

August 27, 2015 | by

An illustration of ignorance personified from an 1890 edition of Pilgrim’s Progress.

  • Literary fame has been a thorny thing more or less forever—according to Suetonius, Virgil sometimes ducked into buildings to flee his fans and the adulating masses. But what accounts for this celebrity, and what stokes its flames once a writer has died? Being struck down in your prime helps: that’s why we read Keats, who died at twenty-five, and not Barry Cornwall, who lived to eighty-six. All told, “an appetite for literary immortality, like the desire to read one’s obituary, poses sufficient challenge that a writer should concentrate on other goals.”
  • Today in etymology and the patriarchy: misogyny is a very old word, and sexism a fairly new one—in 1933, the Oxford English Dictionary defined it as “a sequence of six cards”—but despite their nuances, the two are coming to be used interchangeably: “Imputing hatred, which is what misogynist does, is an unnecessary step in a different direction … Misogyny isn’t merely a strong version of sexism. Some men go past stereotyping to contempt. Those calling out ‘misogyny’ everywhere do so with the aim of helping women, but overuse of a word weakens it. If speakers keep misogyny to its original and more powerful meaning, it will pack a greater punch, hopefully to land all the harder on the misogynists of the world.”
  • If we want to dispel ignorance, there’s one tactic we haven’t really tried yet: teaching it. Ignorance Studies could impart valuable lessons about human folly, in its many guises. “The study of ignorance—or agnotology, a term popularized by Robert N. Proctor, a historian of science at Stanford—is in its infancy … But giving due emphasis to unknowns, highlighting case studies that illustrate the fertile interplay between questions and answers, and exploring the psychology of ambiguity are essential. Educators should also devote time to the relationship between ignorance and creativity and the strategic manufacturing of uncertainty.”
  • Since The Corrections, published fourteen years ago, Franzen has assumed a role as our preeminent public moralist, following in the footsteps of Roth and Mailer where once he admired more fringe figures like DeLillo and Gaddis. “His new phase is marked by his conviction that novels be animated by causes … Franzen has always conceived of writing as a competition, with all writers everywhere, living or dead, aligned either with him or against him, or both at once. His critical writings often read like peace treaties or declarations of war, or like the posturings of a permanent undergraduate at pains to take a side. They frequently contain eccentric statements about what it means to read a novel.”
  • Charles Simic has been reading Charles Reznikoff’s long poem Testimony: The United States (1885–1915): Recitative, culled from thousands of pages of court records spanning three decades around the turn of the twentieth century: “I know of nothing like it in literature … what we have here is the first found epic poem. It certainly reads like one, with its huge cast of evildoers and victims, vast setting, and profusion of breathtaking stories. Murder, treachery, injustice, greed, foolishness, jealousy, rape, anger, revenge, marital squabbles, cruelty to children and animals, bad luck, and many other miseries human beings bring upon themselves and on their fellow men are all here to behold … It should not be surprising that Testimony is rarely assigned at our colleges and universities these days; it causes too much discomfort to those who prefer to know nothing about what goes on in the world. This may be precisely what Reznikoff intended with a book like this. Let whoever reads it be upset.”

Say Your Prayers

June 18, 2015 | by

christopherrobin

Christopher Robin Milne with Winnie the Pooh in 1928.

Christopher Robin Milne’s first two memoirs, The Enchanted Places and The Path Through the Trees, are in the canon of great ambivalence books. Perhaps you’ve read that Christopher Robin, as A. A. Milne’s son and muse, grew to loathe his fame and the hordes of Pooh fanatics who stalked him even as an adult. (Milne fils supported himself as a successful bookseller; all the royalties went into a trust fund for his disabled daughter.) “It seemed to me almost that my father had got to where he was by climbing upon my infant shoulders,” he wrote, “that he had filched from me my good name and had left me with the empty fame of being his son.”

But the books don’t read as an angry indictment so much as an attempt to grapple with his condition. Yes, there’s some record straightening—but the author’s sense of frank exploration is sympathetic, and it feels honest. Although he’d ultimately detach from his remote parents, his feelings are complex, and he describes his experiences with sensitivity and nuance. Milne died in 1996; in later life, he’d even come to embrace his father’s legacy, gamely showing up at the occasional official event coming to appreciate the love of nature bestowed by his Sussex childhood. Read More »

Where Have All Our Zawns Gone? and Other News

February 27, 2015 | by

Rocky_Cliff_with_Stormy_Sea_Cornwall-William_Trost_Richards-1902

William Trost Richards, Rocky Cliff with Stormy Sea Cornwall, 1902.

  • Aquabob, clinkerbell, daggler, cancervell, ickle, tankle, shuckle, crottle, doofers, honeyfur, zawn the English language has historically teemed with vivid, precise words to describe the landscape and natural phenomena. So what happened to all of them?It is clear that we increasingly make do with an impoverished language for landscape. A place literacy is leaving us. A language in common, a language of the commons, is declining.”
  • On the shifting sands of literary fame: “It would be hard to find a poet, in the twenty-first century, who openly claims to write for glory, fame, or immortality. Yet the idea that great poetry was the surest way to achieve fame and outwit death has been very long-lived … Why has this dream of immortality vanished from contemporary literature? One reason, surely, is that in the twentieth century human beings faced a distinctively new uncertainty about the very existence of posterity.”
  • William Powell published The Anarchist Cookbook in 1971, when he was only nineteen. Thus ensued a very unanarchic quest, on his part, to remove it from print, as it tarnished his reputation and took on a new life as a terrorist ur-text: “All hippies at one time or another renounce themselves. Sooner or later they put a tie and a coat on.”
  • A new exhibition celebrates the work of Paul Rand, who designed the iconic logos for IBM, Westinghouse, and Enron, among others—and who, “like Charles and Ray Eames, spread a bright and cheerful image of pax Americana.”
  • The pioneering romance novelist Bertrice Small died on Tuesday, leaving behind an oeuvre of “bold sexual storytelling.” “Her best-known work was the Skye O'Malley series, which starred a swashbuckling pirate queen who commanded her own fleet and once bested Queen Elizabeth I in a battle of wits.” A friend said, “I had the pleasure of knowing Bertrice personally and I’m proud to say she was a true ‘broad’ in the very best tradition of the term.”

The Art of the Obituary: An Interview with Margalit Fox

December 26, 2014 | by

We’re out until January 5, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2014 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

Margalit Fox credit Ivan Farkas

Photo: Ivan Farkas

In nearly twenty years and twelve hundred obituaries, Margalit Fox, a senior writer at the New York Times, has chronicled the lives of such personages as the president of Estonia, an underwater cartographer, and the inventor of Stove Top Stuffing. An instrumental figure in pushing the obituary past Victorian-era formal constraints, Fox produces features-style write-ups of her subjects whether they’re ubiquitous public figures, comparatively unknown men and women whose inventions have changed the world, or suicidal poets. (More on those below.)

I caught up with Fox in the Upper West Side café where she’s written two books, Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals About the Mind and The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code, the latter of which was published in paperback earlier this year. She was remarkably jovial and eager to clarify what it’s like to write about the dead every day. We spoke about the history of the obituary, her love of English eccentrics, and how it feels to call a living person in preparation for his or her eventual death.

Does the work you do change the way you think about death?

This work does skew your worldview a bit. We all watch old movies with an eye toward who’s getting on in age. I watch the Oscars memorial presentation and sit there going, Did him, did her, didn’t do that one. For obit writers, the whole world is necessarily divided into the dead and the pre-dead. That’s all there is.

How did you end up in the obituaries department?

I’d never planned for a career in obits. The child has not yet been born that comes home from school clutching a composition that says, When I grow up, I want to be an obituary writer. I started as an editor at the Times Book Review. It was wonderful to be around books and people that love books, but the job itself was copyediting. I was afraid that all they’d be able to put on my tombstone was “She Changed Fifty-Thousand Commas into Semicolons.” I started contributing freelance to the obituary section and ended up getting pulled in as a full-time writer.

How is your section different from other news sections at the paper?

Ninety-five percent of our job is writing daily obits on deadline. It’s impossible to have an advance written for all the pre-dead who we hope to cover, so we usually have to phone someone up to ask about a person or a subject we don’t know much about. Recently, one of my colleagues was heard running around the office going, Does anyone know anything about exotic chickens?! It’s that sort of thing. Read More >>

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The Art of the Obituary: An Interview with Margalit Fox

September 23, 2014 | by

Margalit Fox credit Ivan Farkas

Photo: Ivan Farkas

In nearly twenty years and twelve hundred obituaries, Margalit Fox, a senior writer at the New York Times, has chronicled the lives of such personages as the president of Estonia, an underwater cartographer, and the inventor of Stove Top Stuffing. An instrumental figure in pushing the obituary past Victorian-era formal constraints, Fox produces features-style write-ups of her subjects whether they’re ubiquitous public figures, comparatively unknown men and women whose inventions have changed the world, or suicidal poets. (More on those below.)

I caught up with Fox in the Upper West Side café where she’s written two books, Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals About the Mind and The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code, the latter of which was published in paperback earlier this year. She was remarkably jovial and eager to clarify what it’s like to write about the dead every day. We spoke about the history of the obituary, her love of English eccentrics, and how it feels to call a living person in preparation for his or her eventual death.

Does the work you do change the way you think about death?

This work does skew your worldview a bit. We all watch old movies with an eye toward who’s getting on in age. I watch the Oscars memorial presentation and sit there going, Did him, did her, didn’t do that one. For obit writers, the whole world is necessarily divided into the dead and the pre-dead. That’s all there is.

How did you end up in the obituaries department?

I’d never planned for a career in obits. The child has not yet been born that comes home from school clutching a composition that says, When I grow up, I want to be an obituary writer. I started as an editor at the Times Book Review. It was wonderful to be around books and people that love books, but the job itself was copyediting. I was afraid that all they’d be able to put on my tombstone was “She Changed Fifty-Thousand Commas into Semicolons.” I started contributing freelance to the obituary section and ended up getting pulled in as a full-time writer.

How is your section different from other news sections at the paper?

Ninety-five percent of our job is writing daily obits on deadline. It’s impossible to have an advance written for all the pre-dead who we hope to cover, so we usually have to phone someone up to ask about a person or a subject we don’t know much about. Recently, one of my colleagues was heard running around the office going, Does anyone know anything about exotic chickens?! It’s that sort of thing. Read More »

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Five Down: O-O-H Y-E-A-H!

February 4, 2014 | by

TPR crossword 2

Photo: Martin Huber

There are many yardsticks for fame and influence, but by my lights, you haven’t really “made it” until you’ve appeared in a clue for the Times Sunday crossword. In which case, we’ve made it. The Times may direct its complimentary jeroboam of Dom Perignon to 544 West 27th Street, New York, NY, 10001.

The clue is “Contributors to The Paris Review, e.g.” The answer is eight letters. Take your best guess.

 

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