November’s facts

2 December 2013

fact checking in action

Fact-checking detritus from various freelance assignments last month, culled from a lifetime in service to the truth.

From Matt Warshaw’s Encyclopedia of Surfing: “Raised in a Kauai geodesic dome by two surfing parents, Keala Kennelly has an untouchable reputation as the sport’s most fearless tuberider. […] Breaking rank from the girlish ‘surfette’ look that all but defined women’s surfing in the ’90s and early ’00s, Kennelly was a leather-clad and tongue-studded nightclubber who moonlighted as a DJ and often looked, as surf journalist Alison Berkeley put it, like ‘a sinister Disney cartoon character.’”

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Indexes

18 September 2013

card catalogs, NYPL
Room 100, including card catalogs, 1923. New York Public Library Archives.

I like book indexes because of the tantalizingly incomplete sense they give of a large, impossible object broken down into its constituent parts. And because I like lists of words.

Anyway I was at the wine store the other day paging through the Jancis Robinson-edited Oxford Companion to Wine (it is as crazy authoritative as the title would suggest), and next to the introduction there’s a two-page double-column list of 300 new entries added to the third edition. If you like, it gives a rough sense of how the canonical wine world might have changed between 1999 and 2006—you know, black-magic big industrial processes in commercial production on the one hand, formerly forgotten regions and nerdy, nearly-extinct indigenous grapes on the other. (Also, the Internet: websites finally have an entry!) Did I mention I like lists of words? Like so:

Asian Lady Beetle
black dead arm
California sprawl
Denmark
diotomaceous earth
direct shipping
flavour scalping
glassy winged sharpshooter
Gorbachev, Mikhail
Kangaroo Island
Lacrima Nera
macèration pelliculaire
methoxy-dimethylpyrazine
Myanmar
philosophy & wine
plastic corks
reverse osmosis
Smaragd
umami
vegetarian & vegan wine
websites
Xinomavro
Yellowtail

His girl friday

29 August 2013

Image

WALTER BURNS. “Because it happened to be a colored policeman—and you know what that means, Hildy.”
HILDY JOHNSON. “Mm. (to Bruce) The colored vote’s very important in this town.”

I love His Girl Friday (1940) and always will, but every rewatch there’s that uncomfortable moment at lunch. It’s when we’re made to sit through the premise, right after the hilariously unfamiliar line reading Rosalind Russell gives the word “lowdown”: A black Chicago policeman has been shot by a mentally unbalanced white man; he’s going to be hanged as a sop to the city’s African-American vote; the Morning Post is taking the shooter’s side.

The movie, bless its heart, doesn’t really care about the case. It just has to sound like Chicago dirty politics-as-usual, something that will let Hildy and Walter be world-weary and knowing and on each other’s wavelength. Just texture, as they say. And if you’d like to forget all about it, the movie will let you. But it’s precisely the film’s genial indifference that makes the thing so perverse and unsettling: we’re meant to sympathize with Earl Williams, the “poor little dope,” to delight in the craven political hackery of the mayor and the sheriff—but what about the person who just got shot? The invisible dead black policeman is never mentioned again. He doesn’t even merit a name. Does a single black character appear on screen?

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He’s like the x of y.

23 August 2013

All taken from the New York Times and Washington Post. Answers below.

01. He’s like the Tocqueville of the culinary world.

02. He’s like the Beethoven of cocktails.

03. He’s like the Ingmar Bergman of poetry.

04. He’s like the Pluto of talk shows.

05. He’s like the Lou Gehrig of Stalingrad.

06. He’s like the John McCain of action heroes.

07. He’s just like the Muhammad Ali of horse racing.

08. He’s like the Cal Ripkin Jr. of NYPD spokesmen.

09. He’s like the Sheryl Crow of now.

10. He’s almost like the Zelig of homeless people.

11. He’s becoming like the Keith Richards of content.

12. He’s the Paul Newman of American presidents.

____________________

a) Spanish chef José Andrés *
b) Muslim mixologist Mojnu Hoque *
c) Tomas Tranströmer, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature *
d) Carson Daly *
e) Soviet sniper Vasily Zaitsev *
f) Chuck Norris *
g) Jockey Edgar S. Prado *
h) NYPD spokesman Paul J. Browne *
i) John Mayer *
j) Matthew Eckstine, stepson of jazz singer Billy Eckstine *
k) Merlin Bronques of LastNightsParty dot com *
l) Barack Obama *

Tigritude

5 August 2013

Fact-checking a story is getting lost in rabbit-holes of one kind or another. After a while you start to take amusements of a very particular kind: dry, pedantic, maybe totally incomprehensible. In this case, I was looking for the most accurate possible version of a quotation attributed to Wole Soyinka. There is no reason for you to find this  interesting, but I find endless minor variations on a theme kind of relaxing. You see the phrase, originally specific and tied to history, get polished down into a maxim that’s portable and casually deployed, you see every writer wear out the word “famous.”  Was it a quip or statement, criticism or aphorism? 1976, or 1967, or 1962? Did the tiger pounce or leap or jump or strike? Eventually, tragically, hilariously, it ends up credited, in three different books of quotations, as “an African proverb.”

Here we go:

The reaction of the first generation of Anglophone writers in the 1960s to the older tradition of French Négritude theory is usefully, if crudely, summed up by the often quoted remark of Wole Soyinka that ‘a tiger does not proclaim its tigritude.’

…and it is hard not to sympathize with Wole Soyinka’s famous criticism that ‘a tiger does not proclaim its tigritude.’

Hence Wole Soyinka’s now famous maxim: “A tiger does not proclaim his tigritude.”

Soyinka expressed this in his famous statement that ‘a tiger does not proclaim his tigritude, he pounces.’

I am reminded of Wole Soyinka who points out that in a free environment a tiger does not proclaim its tigritude, a tiger jumps on its prey.

The future Nobel laureate from Nigeria proclaimed, “The tiger does not proclaim its tigritude. It leaps on its prey.”

“A tiger does not proclaim its tigritude before it strikes.” These words, coined by Nigerian playwright and activist Wole Soyinka …

Wole Soyinka (1934–), Nigerian writer. “Does a tiger feel its tigritude?” on the use of the word ‘negritude’; often quoted in the form ‘A tiger does not proclaim his tigritude—he pounces’ in Time magazine, 17 November 1967

This is the meaning of Soyinka’s well-known aphorism that the Tiger does not need to proclaim its Tigritude, it just pounces. A Tiger, we note, has an immutable identity rooted in genetics.

One should also note that Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian dramatist, and Mphahlele, the South African writer-scholar, once vocal anti-négritude voices, have moved away from a narrow reading of the notion. Soyinka’s statement, that a tiger does not proclaim its tigritude but jumps, became the play word of the anti-negritude school.

“A tiger does not shout its tigritude,” Soyinka argued, “it acts.”

“Négritude? A tiger does not proclaim its tigritude.” — Wole Soyinka, 1976

Soyinka’s disagreement with the Négritude tenets was summed up by his famous remark made in 1964 at a conference in Berlin: A tiger does not proclaim his tigritude, he pounces.

The quip graduated into the celebrated adage about tiger and tigritude at the African Writers Conference at Kampala (Uganda) in 1962.

As Wole Soyinka would say, a tiger does not have to proclaim its tigritude. Neither does Mandela.

Nigerian proverb: A tiger does not have to proclaim its tigritude.

There is an African proverb that says, the “Tiger does not have to proclaim its Tigritude.”

…whose criticism of the movement is summarised in Soyinka’s famous aphorism that Le tigre ne proclâme pas sa tigritude; il saute sur sa proie. (A tiger doesn’t proclaim its ‘tigerness’; it jumps on its prey.) The problem this paper sees in this assertion is that if a tiger has been tamed over the years not to be conscious of its natural instincts or capacities, then it would lose its ability to feed itself.

Soyinka: “un tigre ne proclame pas sa tigritude— il bondit” (a tiger doesn’t proclaim his ‘tigerness’—he springs!).

And I remember too Soyinka’s smile when I asked him last year in Hanover, in what terms exactly had he put his phrase about the tiger, about how it does not proclaim its tigritude; I remember what he told me—after repeating his phrase and throwing in another reference to the eagle that does not proclaim its eagletude—that such preoccupations are known only to Francophone Africans.

It turns out, by the way, that the earliest recorded instance I can find of Soyinka taking this phrase out for a spin is a 1960 essay for the Horn, “The Future of West African Writing,”: “And if we would speak of ‘negritude’ in a more acceptable broader sense, Chinua Achebe is a more ‘African’ writer than Senghor. The duiker will not paint ‘duiker’ on his beautiful back to proclaim his duikeritude; you’ll know him by his elegant leap.” Or to put it another way:

Soyinka’s famous put-down of Negritude (“a tiger does not have to proclaim his tigritude”) apparently originated in this remark on the duiker and duikeritude, of which it must have been a perversion, tigers being no more indigenous to Africa than surrealist French poetry.

_____________________

Some sources:

Being Black, Being Human: More Essays on Black Culture, Femi Ojo Ade
Black Odysseys: The Homeric Odyssey in the African Diaspora Since 1939, Justine McConnell
Concise Oxford Dictionary of Quotations
The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures, Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin
Marxism and African Literature, ed. Georg M. Gugelberger
National Consciousness in Russian Literature, Gamel Nasser Adam
“Negritude: New and Old Perspectives,” Lewis Nkosi
Research on Wole Soyinka, ed. James Gibbs, Bernth Lindfors
The Routledge Book of World Proverbs
“The Senghor Complex,” Gods and Soldiers: The Penguin Anthology of Contemporary African Writing, Patrice Nganang
Toward a Critical Realist Reading of African and African Diaspora Literatures, Dokubo M. Goodhead
The World Contracted to Recognizable Images, Edrik Joel Lopez
World Musics in Context, Peter Fletcher

Some lists

3 August 2013

Languages heard by fewer people in the world combined than Dothraki, the invented language of Game of Thrones nomads: Yiddish, Navajo, Inuit, Basque, Welsh.

Languages into which Georges Perec’s lipogrammatic La Disparition has been translated while preserving the constraint: German (Anton Voyls’ Fortgang); English (A Void, Vanish’d!, A Vanishing); Italian (La scomparsa); Spanish (El secuestro, no ‘a’); Dutch (‘t Manco); Swedish (Försvinna); Turkish (Kayboluş); Russian (Исчезание, no ‘o’); Japanese (En-metsu).

Nicknames of Charles Dickens’ children: the Snodgering Bee; Lucifer Box; Mild Glo’ster; Young Skull; Chickenstalker; Skittles; Ocean Spectre; the Jolly Postboy; Plorn.

Old-school newspapers: the Bee, the Comet; Press-Scimitar, Post-Intelligencer, Times-Picayune; the Argus, the Watchman, the Vigilant.

Old-school baseball teams: the Des Moines Prohibitionists, the Chicago Uniques, the Milwaukee Creams; the Spokane Bunchgrassers, the Kalamazoo Celery Pickers; the La Crosse Pinks, the Regina Bone Pliers.

Family cars: Adventure Van; Petunia Vader; Speedy Alice; Princess Buttercup; Bruce; Bonnie a.k.a. Hellfire Avenger.

Ways to call someone a wet blanket: aguafiestas; ponurak; rabat-joie; Miesmacher; ξενέρωτος; مفسد البهجة; guastafeste.

Marianne Moore’s suggestions for a new Ford Motor Company model, 1935: the Resiliant Bullet, the Intelligent Whale; Aeroterre, Pastelogram, Thunderblender; Utopian Turtletop.

I remember

2 August 2013

I remember that one of the twelve-year-olds I taught at camp told me that the rat king in the Nutcracker ballet with the three heads and the glowing red eyes had scared her; to make herself feel better she thought about the person inside the costume and how nervous they must be to be out in front of all those people.