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1458Dido Goodbye

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  • mandreox
    Sep 5 2:56 AM
      I'm not sure whether I can or should defend the classics. I love
      them, of course, but I don't have a cell phone and threw out my TV
      long ago. I don't tend to buy new books. For one thing, I have no room
      for more books. So, like a certain sad alcoholic uncle who died
      alone, I tend to take five books from the library and read two or
      three right to the end.

      I took Anthony Everitt's Augustus from the New York Public Library. As
      I started to read, I thought that the book was printed in two colors;
      the maps and pages were adorned with careful purple handwriting. No,
      these were corrections by a previous reader. Nor was the previous
      reader thorough. I discovered new mistakes on every page. How could
      Random House do such a piss-poor job publishing?

      Sadly, I know only too well. The late Richard Morris was a dear friend
      and when he began publishing popular science books, I'd try to read
      them. Frequently I would give up after forty or fifty pages, because,
      I thought, science was beyond me. Then one day it flashed -- the
      computer "spell check" had corrected an "error" with the wrong word,
      reducing pages and pages to nonsense. Richard's books are 2% gibberish.

      What labor classical scholars have expended over the centuries getting
      their texts correct! Perhaps I love to read the Aeneid or The Iliad
      with my little Latin and Greek because I feel the immensity of human
      attention, intelligence and love which have been expended to preserve
      these books.

      I never published an issue of my magazine Unmuzzled OX without
      typographical errors. Proofreading in 1971 was always done in pairs.
      Jack Unterecker, my advisor at Columbia, taught me the routine. The
      walls of Jack's apartment were covered with bookcases. He was a
      joyful man, but the times, I think, really wrecked his life. His wife
      came out as a Lesbian, Farrar-Strauss mangled his biography of Hart
      Crane, and the 1968 student uprising at Columbia culminated, for Jack,
      with the first of a series of heart attacks which eventually killed him.

      You can't read another person's life with certitude. Carolyn Heilbrun
      was known at Columbia at the time for tying feminism and
      literature--or so Lyndall Gordon told me. I passed on Heilbrun's
      courses, but read mysteries she wrote under the pen name Amanda
      Cross. One day I came across her email address and wrote her a fan
      letter. To my surprise, she responded, and we began a regular
      correspondence. At one point I lamented that after Jack's death
      Columbia held no memorial. This contrasted with the reaction after
      Kenneth Koch's death. Carolyn responded with the only email which
      seemed like inappropriate feminist boilerplate, viz., Jack was a
      victim of the old boys' network. The truth, as I'm sure she knew, was
      rather the opposite.

      I went on a lengthy trip and the emails ceased. I learned that while I
      traveled Heilbrun had committed suicide. She had been sick, someone
      told me; but then a note appeared in The Times in which her son said,
      no, his mother had been in perfect health.

      At this point in this posting I might be expected to wrap these words
      up by quoting, say, Virgil's rendering of the suicide of Dido. After
      the artist Ray Johnson committed suicide by drowning himself in Sag
      Harbor, I bought Emile Durkheim's classic Suicide to try to figure out
      why. There are people who believe there's nothing to add to Durkheim's
      book. Durkheim was a 19th century French sociologist. August Comte,
      who is credited with the invention of sociology, attempted suicide as
      a young man by throwing himself in the Seine. Unlike Ray, Comte was
      saved. If Comte had succeeded at killing himself, we'd never know why,
      by this reckoning, because his student wouldn't have written the final
      word on that grimmest subject, Suicide. Comte's death would just be
      incomprehensible.
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