My #1 fear in this life is ghosts,* and it doesn’t take a lot of exposure to ghost stories to keep me up at night. (Just last night, a story about a ghost that kept opening a refrigerator — that was the whole story — kept me awake until 4am.) Since I’m sure the rest of you enjoy entertainment like Ghost Hunters on the daily, I thought I’d do my best to surpress my fear and give you a spooooky Halloween post about famous writers’ ghosts. Presented here is what I found (so you can decide for yourself what’s real):
Famous writer ghost #1: Emily Dickinson. Someone with the heady username Enceladus posts this picture on ghost-mysteries.com:
Do you see the ghost?!?!?! Me neither. Enceladus helpfully outlines it for us:
Despite her reclusive nature, it seems that Emily Dickinson still pops through the mortal veil/her window now and again. (Also, this is a fellow ghost hunter’s response: “It’s a little weird though, but didn’t she write a lot of poems about death?” YOU GUYS. SHE EVEN WROTE ABOUT GHOSTS. !!!!!!)
Famous writer ghost #2: William Faulkner. No pictures of Will’s ghost (SADLY) but severalsites confirm that he still haunts Rowan Oak, his home in Oxford, Mississippi. Faulkner’s ghost likes to write on walls and scurrilously wander the grounds, to scare off all the Ole Miss students making out in the woods behind his house (ghosts are always grumpy).
Famous writer ghost #3: Willa Cather. This article sounds very exciting with its promise of lesbian ghosts in rural Nebraska (a “Boston marriage,” the locals say) but sadly we’re just given two blurry pictures of people in a church. Luckily THIS one reveals a double exposure that is most definitely the ghost of Willa, sitting for her high school portrait:
(When you’re a ghost, you reenact for eternity the most frustrating and mundane parts of your life. This is also partly why ghosts are so terrifying — any of us could become one, and this is what it would be like. Cranky for the rest of time!!!)
Neither confirmed nor denied famous writer ghost #4: Edgar Allen Poe. So we all know Poe is a natural for ghostdom. I mean, come ON. If Poe is not a ghost then I am one (oh no).
“Is the house haunted?
Some people have strong feelings about ‘ghosts’ and other related subjects. They are deeply offended by these claims due to religious beliefs. A historic site that claims to have had ‘ghostly’ events also stands the chance of being accused of making up stories to bolster attendance. For these and other reasons the Poe House has a policy of not discussing supernatural events that may or may not have occured during its past history. Any soft whispering that you may hear coming from no visible source is your imagination.”
Anyone who wants to confirm whether that “soft whispering” is a ghost or not should take this protip: the Ghost Radar® iPhone app. It only costs a dollar, and whoa, you guys. So worth it. I tested it out just now and a ghost spoke the following words to me: “beyond,” “fish,” “joy,” “result” and “protection”. So I think one thing is clear: I’m haunted by a joyful fisherman from the beyond, who is here for my protection (and he gets results?). (Later on I got “coach” and “sale”. Was my fisherman alerting me to online bargains?? Yes.) I’m feeling rather relieved about this whole thing.
*I wasn’t even allowed to watch Ghostwriter in kindergarten, because the ghost gave me nightmares.
Alright, wait a second. It was kind of funny when Salman Rushdie decided he wanted to pen a sci-fi TV series (though seriously dude, who rags on The Wire?). But then Jonathan Franzen and Noah Baumbach announced they were teaming up on an HBO adaptation of The Corrections (J-Franz said in an interview: “I love the relationship with the page, but it’s luscious to see a good actor handle your lines.”)
And now, HBO has snatched up Karen Russell’s debut novel, Swamplandia, about a girl in a family of alligator wrestlers.
Readers, this should concern us. HBO is stealing our novelists!
Granted, it’s not like authors haven’t been working in TV and movies for years. And we can’t really blame our creative geniuses for wanting another source of revenue (though I’m sure J-Franz and Rushdie, at least, are quite comfy). And sure, there are some totally great TV shows out there that elevate the genre to high brow so that we can all confidently discuss them over the water cooler (see: Mad Men).
But for an ominous sign, let’s turn to Jonathan Ames, writer of HBO’s Bored to Death, which was based on one of his short stories. The subtitle to a recent article about him? “The ‘Bored to Death’ writer doesn’t have time to write another novel thanks to the demands of the HBO series.” (He elaborates within: “It’s hard for me to think of writing a novel because it takes so long.”)
Let me remind you: this is the man who had to ask strangers via Twitter if he could watch the first BTD episode at one of their houses because he didn’t own a TV.
Therein lies the strange tension between our quirky, beloved, television-less authors and Mass Entertainment. I’m reminded of a certain Charlie Rose interview in which Jonathan Franzen (circa 1996—aww, that hair!) discusses the subject of TV with David Foster Wallace. Wallace clearly champions books (he calls them “an exchange between consciousnesses—a way to talk about stuff that we don’t normally talk about”), and Franzen seems to agree. He conjectures that people who read a lot of books often don’t participate in mass entertainment, because they don’t “fit in” the world at large.
Which makes me wonder, especially when Franzen steps out with Noah Baumbach, have the tables turned? Have the nerdy, quiet reader-types morphed into the cool kids, and are they now trying to take part in (or take over) a medium they once felt symbolically rejected by?
Whatever the reasons behind it, I remain disturbed. TV is generally defined as not-the-healthiest-pursuit. Especially when e-readers are gaining such steam, it seems a shame that some of our biggest literary champions are turning away and pushing folk to add another hour to their 4-hour/day TV average.
And really, how could a TV adaptation of The Corrections possibly compare to the book, anyway?
(Note: Shout out to Phil Edwards for originally cluing me in to this trend.)
1. George Washington – Gryffindor
2. John Adams – Slytherin
3. Thomas Jefferson – Ravenclaw
4. James Madison – Ravenclaw
5. James Monroe – Gryffindor
6. John Q. Adams – Ravenclaw
7. Andrew Jackson – Slytherin
8. Martin Van Buren – Hufflepuff
9. William Henry Harrison – Hufflepuff
10. John Tyler – Hufflepuff
11. James K. Polk – Slytherin
12. Zachary Taylor – Gryffindor
13. Millard Filmore – Hufflepuff
14. Franklin Pierce – Hufflepuff
15. James Buchannon – Gryffindor
16. Abraham Lincoln – Ravenclaw
17. Andrew Johnson – Slytherin
18. Ulysses S. Grant – Gryffindor
19. Rutherford B. Hayes – Hufflepuff
20. James A. Garfield – Gryffindor
21. Chester A. Arthur – Gryffindor
22. Grover Cleveland – Hufflepuff
23. Benjamin Harrison – Hufflepuff
24. Grover Cleveland – Hufflepuff
25. William McKinley – Hufflepuff
26. Theodore Roosevelt – Gryffindor
27. William Howard Taft – Ravenclaw
28. Woodrow Wilson – Ravenclaw
29. Warren G. Harding – Hufflepuff
30. Calvin Coolidge – Hufflepuff
31. Herbert Hoover – Hufflepuff
32. Franklin D. Roosevelt – Gryffindor
33. Harry S. Truman – Gryffindor
34. Dwight D. Eisenhower – Gryffindor
35. John F. Kennedy – Gryffindor
36. Lyndon B. Johnson – Slytherin
37. Richard Nixon – Slytherin
38. Gerald Ford – Hufflepuff
39. Jimmy Carter – Hufflepuff
40. Ronald Reagan – Gryffindor
41. George H.W. Bush – Ravenclaw
42. Bill Clinton – Slytherin
43. George W. Bush – Hufflepuff
44. Barack Obama – Ravenclaw
Instead of using this space to explain the elaborate methodology I used to come to these conclusions, I offer a contest! Whoever writes the best rebuttal to one or more of my choices wins an audiobook of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot.* A winner will be announced Monday afternoon.
*This is totally real.
Update: I have written a brief follow-up, responded to a few comments, and declared a contest winner. Click here to check it out.
These death masks are interesting. But why? Comparing the oil renderings of Dante against the plaster molded contours of his visage don’t teach me anything about his poetry. I hold a quarter up to the mask of Washington and I see discrepancies. Maybe I see a pattern of discrepancies. But do I see meaning?
An emaciated Walt Whitman, still inhabited by the presence of life in the image of death—in other words, still contradicting himself. But now I’m just projecting the works onto the physical body of the artist. That’s not Whitman’s face, it’s a math teacher from Akron. It’s a child molester. It’s your uncle.
We have a biological affinity for faces. Also, personalities and, for that matter, gossip. We love gossip. Whitman might have called the news he brought to America about itself the Holiest kind of gossip. It’s still being discussed in Zuccotti Park.
But Whitman’s power wasn’t in his face. Neither was the power of Keats. Tolstoy might be the only one in the lot to claim that our skin is more important, powerful, and blessed than the work. Whitman would dreamily emphasize the OUR in ‘our skin.’
But these aren’t even real faces. They’re not human bodies with sensory nerves being tickled and burned and titillated, which is the heart of the matter. Our strongest inheritance, the works, contrast sharp against the weakest, ourselves. Oh yeah, that’s why we write! Because time is running out. These aren’t masks. They’re scoreboards from games played long ago and the clocks all still read 00:00. Momento mori.
Jokes considered for, but not used in this post:
“The masks remind us that you can’t save your own skin.”
“There’s a mask in an attic somewhere getting younger.”
Last weekend, I flew to Chicago for my father’s 60th birthday. I wanted to spy on my fellow Southwest travelers’ books, but everyone had a Kindle or an iPad so I can’t tell you what people flying from LA to Chicago were reading. On my flight home, a male teenager was reading The Hunger Games. I almost dropped my carry-on on his head, so it was too awkward to ask him what he thought of it, so far, and why he chose to pick it up.
In the summer of 2006, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince came out on Harry’s birthday and I worked for my father’s investment consulting firm as a receptionist/clerk. I took a train from my parents’ house into the city, then rode the L to the office – a two hour commute. For a month, every second book on every train was a Harry Potter book.
On my flights to and from Chicago, I read China Miéville’s new novel Embassytown which is the perfect novel to read when you’re flying to your ancestral home because it’s about a woman flying (through space) to her ancestral home. It’s also about language, religion, and the disintegration of a marriage.
Miéville references Earth several times near the beginning of Embassytown, so we understand this space epic is meant to take place in our distant future. While it’s easy to develop a deep connection to Miéville’s characters, the emotional resonance of the idea “these people could be our descendants” doesn’t hit me until I’m somewhere above the Grand Canyon: in the characters’ darkest, least hopeful moment, a digital archeologist discovers some degraded copies of something the reader understands are zombie movies, Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Our protagonist, Avice Benner Cho, watches the movies; she and her compatriots read our stories as their own.
One of the ways that Full Stop is pushing the boundaries of online criticism is that more than 60% of our contributors are shockingly attractive! From time to time we’ll give you the chance to see for yourselves. Today you can see Full Stop contributors Michael Schapira and David Backer give a talk on the French philosopher Jacques Ranciere at Hofstra University. If that’s not enough, none other than former DNC Chair Howard “Nyahhhh!” Dean is on the bill as well. The event is free and open to the public, and you can see the schedule here.
Any Full Stop reader who attends and introduces themselves will receive a special prize that may or may not have something to do with the image on the upper left hand corner of this post.
There’s a lot of good writing about Occupy Wall Street on the web. If you don’t know where to begin, see Max’s post for an introductory guide, and be sure to also check out n+1’s new free digital gazette and the LA Review of Books’ online series.
I’m especially interested in all the conversations regarding the role of interactive/social media in Occupy Wall Street and other grassroots movements. As Douglass Rushkoff astutely observed on CNN last month, this movement isn’t structured like a book; it’s structured like the internet. Surely this is because a huge chunk of it happens on the internet. That is, the internet doesn’t just serve to organize and reflect upon what happens in the street; online and social networking activity constitutes its own vibrant, visible and highly accessible branch of the movement.
There’s a great conversation about this issue taking place over at Cyborgology, a culture blog that spotlights the impact of media and technology on our rapidly evolving social world.
Cyborgology’s bloggers were writing about digital activism before either OWS or Arab Spring, but #Occupy now provides a great case study for their ongoing discussion of digital dualism, or the tendency to strictly differentiate between the real world and the online world. The bloggers present a united front on the issue: this division is way too reductive to account for the complex and very real impact of the digital on our lives.
By way of example, last week blogger PJ Rey responded to Noam Chomsky’s trivialization of social media with this:
“Chomsky is seemingly ignorant to the use of Twitter and other networks in shaping the Arab Spring and the #Occupy movement; or the fact that young people are voraciously sharing and consuming important news stories through these same networks; or that Blacks and Hispanics were early adopters of smartphones; or that gay men have been pioneers in geo-locative communication. In many cases, historically-disadvantaged groups have used social media technology to find opportunities previously foreclosed to them. For these folks, social media is hardly trivial.”
Similarly, blogger Jenny Davis wrote recently that people whose activism never leaves the digital realm shouldn’t be so readily dismissed as “slacktivists.” She writes, “Status updates and tweets about Occupy Wall Street… not only spread information about the protests, but also locate the protests in the digitally networked space(s) of everyday life, designating them as part of a relevant conversation.”
For me this type of analysis represents a much-needed alternative to traditional activist thought, which tends to identify the physical body (or mass of physical bodies) as the primary agent of social change. “Digital activism is not only a means to the end of embodied social action,” writes blogger Jeffrey Goldfarb, agreeing with Davis above. “It also is an end in itself, a new type of politics that can make the previously hidden visible.”
Other worthwhile #Occupy-related posts on Cyborgology include:
Occupy Wall Street aside, Cyborgology is an internet gem– intelligent, topical, provocative, wide-ranging but coherent. If you’re interested in digital activism, interactive media, the sociology of the web, the technology of late capitalism, augmented reality, or thinking critically about the internet, I advise you to check it out.
When Slavoj Zizek warned the crowds at Occupy Wall Street a couple of weeks ago not to “remember these days, you know like, ‘Oh, we were young, it was beautiful.’ ” it seemed he could sense how tempting it is to exit your moment, jump forward, and view the present from a comfortable distance, to become separated from the immediacy of your action and head straight into the phase of hazy remembrance.
When times start to feel historic, the temptation might be even stronger. I rushed to the newsstand to snatch up a copy of the New York Times on the day after Barack Obama was elected President. I thought I would treasure that document forever because it would remind me of a moment of collective triumph. But you can never be sure how the past will look from the future.
I’ve recently been reading The Future of Nostalgia, Harvard Comparative Literature Professor Svetlana Boym’s treatise on the various ways that yearning idealization of the past acts on our wild contemporary existence. It has got me thinking about this moment, this year of protest and revolt, and how there are times that are particularly ill-suited for nostalgia—and yet we can’t resist collective reminiscence even in the middle of everything.
Boym writes “Nostalgia is a rebellion against the modern idea of time, the time of history and progress. The nostalgic desires to obliterate history and turn it into private or collective mythology.” It has the counter-revolutionary quality of stopping time and framing the past, just when forward movement is most important.
Around the time Zizek was talking to occupy Wall Street, I was sitting in a dark movie theater thousands of miles across the ocean in Egypt, watching tear-jerker documentaries of the 18 day uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak, one after another at the Alexandria Film Festival. Most of the films were made in the late spring of this year, only weeks after the end of the uprising. Most present the same story: a glorious build-up of protest, outrageous lies from state-controlled media, hilarious and inspiring chants, culminating in a heartbreaking moment of victory for the masses. And as Egypt post-January 25 becomes less and less rosy, watching such films feels not just painful, but painfully unhelpful and unproductive.
“We were young, it was beautiful,” and it only happened a few months ago.
There are plenty of ways this Occupy Wall Street thing is dividing people, particularly people who get paid to write their opinions on the internet (and those who just do it for volunteer credit). Lots of these things are valid—Simon Jenkins might be right when he writes in the Guardian saying that no protest that cooperates with the law so peacefully is going to get anywhere.
And when people say the protest is disorganized—well, maybe a little. (Look at these people; apparently museums are now the 1%?) But then again, it’s a general protest. People haven’t gotten that far protesting individual issues, because in this sea of laws we live in, there are five to replace the one you get overturned, and the very thing being protested is the totality of the system of economic oppression.
Here’s what I’m going to say, and I might regret it tomorrow: if you haven’t yet, set down the irony and the criticism and the urge to write a trend piece for a minute and go occupy something. See what it feels like to be one of the masses. We don’t actually get to do this very much in the U.S. This is an event, a moment in which people can insert themselves into a historic process, whether it turns out to be the process of change from within or — and I hope not — the process of market-conditioned apathy winning out over agitation. Or maybe it’s just people tired of being divided and running in place.
It’s remarkable that one of the central slogans of this movement — “We are the 99%” — is such a collectivist one. To crib an idea from the extremely smart Amanda Shubert, the story of this movement isn’t a story about individuals, about someone being able to make it against all odds. It’s about unity across dividing lines. If you feel alienated by this movement because you’re in the wrong demographic, you’re not. Go check it out, see what it feels like. As someone at Occupy Chicago said last weekend, “You are enough.”
I’m still racking my brain over this report from Eric Alterman about editor David Remnick’s interview with Jonathan Franzen on October 1 at The New Yorker Festival:
…the moment of actual drama came when Franzen was discussing David Foster Wallace and told Remnick that Wallace felt free to make stuff up for his non-fiction…particularly [in] his famous cruise piece for Harper’s…. Remnick appeared awfully surprised, but he also mentioned that Wallace never published any non-fiction in The New Yorker.
As Michelle Dean convincingly argues, this quip suggests more about Franzen than Wallace, yet it still occasions careful reconsideration of Wallace’s position on sticking to facts.
When “you hire a fiction writer to do nonfiction,” he informed Tom Scocca in a 1998 interview reposted last year on Slate, “there’s going to be the occasional bit of embellishment.” Yet in the same interview, while recounting how an unflattering description hurt a fellow cruise passenger’s feelings, Wallace insists:
…saying that somebody looks like Jackie Gleason in drag, it might not be very nice, but if you just, if you could have seen her, it was true. It was just absolutely true. And so it’s one reason why I don’t do a lot of these, is there’s a real delicate balance between fucking somebody over and telling the truth to the reader.
Michael MacCambridge’s recent appraisal of Wallace’s 2006 essay “Federer as Religious Experience” ends with an affirmation of the story’s factuality. Published in Play, a sports subset of The New York Times Magazine, the piece’s fact checker, Chuck Wilson (ironically, a former fact checker at The New Yorker), won Wallace’s affection despite hours of telephone conversations rigorously reviewing the article. “Chuck Wilson is unusually cool, for a factchecker,” Wallace wrote to a Play editor, “and appears ready to believe that I’m not Jayson Blair.”
I’m ready to believe it, too. As Dean notes, the cruise ship piece Franzen calls into question ran in Harper’s, whose former editors have recently defended its painstaking fact checking process. Considering the other publications to which Wallace contributed nonfiction – The Atlantic Monthly, Rolling Stone – he doubtfully could have slinked away with massive misrepresentations in his wake without anybody detecting it, especially given the amount of attention his work received. If anything deserves a thorough fact check, it’s Franzen assertion.
But what if, in the worst-case scenario, Franzen is right? What if Wallace’s nonfiction dishonestly earns its prefix? For me, nothing really changes. The real delight in these pieces stems from their experiential quality – as a reader, I’m fascinated not about the facts of a cruise, but how David Foster Wallace experienced a cruise. Part of me might feel duped by a fudged fact here or inaccurate description there, but the moral quandary Wallace poses for carnivores in “Consider the Lobster,” the footnote ingenuity of “Host,” the sensation of watching, in the Harper’s essays, a writer masters his signature style while simultaneously capturing feelings that had yet gone unspoken (at least in me), outweighs the line-by-line factuality that no fact checker could ever definitely determine.