Editors, editing and infant mortality

Earlier this week, three closely related subjects swam into focus together, on my mental screen:

* Complaints about unedited or poorly edited books, a species of moan that has begun to be an anachronistic cliché — in this case, by a New York Times reviewer grumbling about the autobiography of someone called Russell Brand:

In the (mostly positive) British reviews of “My Booky Wook,” a lot was made of the fact that Mr. Brand wrote this thing himself. That’s good to know, but what he needed was a working editor. “My Booky Wook” is about a third too long, and dithers off into impossibly extended tangents.

* Two sentences from a single entry in the blog of Tina Brown, a former editor of The New Yorker, the most famous literary magazine in America. The metaphorical equivalent of minestrone is not all that’s startling in this departure from writing to textual conversation:

(i) One of the many bummers of our ongoing miseries at the moment is that they have deprived Obama devotees of their expected post-electoral nirvana. (ii) Cuomo’s effectiveness in shaking down the bonuses helps to go a small way to lance the boil of vindictive outrage that is clouding serious political decisions, while Geithner’s comeback vindicates the president’s patience and belief in him. [my ital.]

* An email explanation from a mole at a famous British newspaper (FBN) for a hair-raising collection of basic errors in a 600-word article, not long ago:

[O]n the subbing front [. . .] you wouldn’t BELIEVE how hard it is to find a good sub. Seriously. Especially for somewhere like the [name of newspaper]. Subbing is an art, and a noble one – but the annoying fact is that many (if not most) subs see it as a route into writing, and don’t care about the subbing itself, except as a stepping stone. And the [name of newspaper] naturally attracts people like this.

I’ll return to those clear markers of the death of editing in a moment. When they came to mind, I’d been thinking on a different tangent — of editors as baby-killers, the literary equivalent of Rameses II, whom most scholars consider the most likely pharaoh in the story of Moses and the bulrushes, . . . that’s right, the villain many of us met long before we had to become doctrinal secularists – in a scripture class, at about six years old.

I’ll confess to a feeble attempt to be provoking, there. One of my best and oldest friends is an editor. Indeed, if I were asked to name ten people across the span of my life that I’d save from hellfire and damnation – if I believed in such thrilling entertainment – at least three of them would be members of the profession. And yet . . .

Joan Didion named her 1992 collection of essays, After Henry, for the man who was her husband’s book editor as well as her own, who once flew unannounced all the way from New York to California to help stiffen her spine when she was ‘scared witless’ at the prospect of lecturing to the members of the Berkeley faculty who had taught her. Anyone who ever had the luck of encountering a great editor will know that she is being strictly factual, describing what she lost when he died at fifty-one:

What editors do for writers is mysterious, and does not […] have much to do with titles and sentences and ‘changes’. […] The relationship between an editor and a writer is much subtler and deeper than that, at once so elusive and radical that it seems almost parental: the editor, if the editor was Henry Robbins […] was the person who gave the writer the idea of himself, the idea of herself, the image of self that enabled the writer to sit down alone and do it.

She admits that even such extraordinary connections in the world of books are not friction-free when she says that except for two minor disagreements, she believed everything he ever told her,

even when time and personalities and the difficulty of making a living by either editing books or writing them had complicated our relationship.

Those difficulties have acquired towering dimensions. They’ve done so in ways that remind anyone else who lost a Henry to the Reaper, too young – two out of the three mentioned earlier, in my case – that what Didion says that a good editor gives a writer can also be taken away by a bad one. The internet and the blogosphere are being blamed in some quarters for destructive literary ignoramuses dominating the ranks of book publishing, today. But Didion rightly fingered the commercialisation of publishing as the actual culprit seventeen years ago – and wrote brilliantly about its insidiousness:

[Writers] fear their contribution to the general welfare to be evanescent, even doubtful, and, since the business of publishing […] increasingly attracts people who sense this marginality all too keenly, [. . .] it has become natural enough for a publisher or an editor to seize on the writer’s fear, to reinforce it, turn the writer into a necessary but finally unimportant accessory to the ‘real’ world of publishing. […] A publisher or editor who has contempt for his own class position can find solace in transferring that contempt to the writer, who […] can be seen as dependent on the publisher’s largesse.’

A rapidly sinking ‘class position’ is much of the explanation for my FBN mole’s lament about sub-editors – but it also applies to all language-loving editors paid by capitalist enterprises, anywhere. Since money took over as the measure of success in every branch of the arts, editors have grown increasingly envious of writers having so much as a chance at a jackpot — when most of them have none.

Didion’s complaint about editors illustrating the paradoxical psychological tendency that turns some victims of abuse into abusers is unspecific. The more ordinary problem has been the excessive concentration of power over literary creators by an arbitrary handful of people – editors acting not just in their role as gatekeepers to the profession but in a position to tell all but established bestseller-writers what they can and can’t write about. For instance, a respected New York editor-turned-agent, Betsy Lerner, admitted nine years ago in a book advising scribes on dealing with editors that, as far as book editors and reviewers are concerned, writers cannot and must not write in more than one genre. ‘Gone is the idea of the Renaissance man,’ she said flatly. She quoted Gore Vidal pronouncing,

Writers are the only people who are reviewed by people of their own kind. And their own kind can often be reasonably generous – if you stay in your category. I don’t. I do many different things rather better than most people do one thing. And envy is the central fact of writing life.

Neither Didion nor Lerner mentions the ways in which the print editorial process itself has also obstructed literary creativity and productivity – particularly in the US, where every stage of it is more minutely systematised than in Britain. I would guess that all writers who have worked in it but now have blogs of their own marvel, every time they post, at the fractional elapsed time between getting an idea, then executing and communicating it to others.

Print writers publishing nothing more consequential than magazine articles in the US typically follow these steps for each piece –

a lightbulb turns on in the head of a scribbler . . . who then . . .
… submits a proposal for developing the idea into an article
… (a freelance scribe with no history of writing for the magazine sometimes has to write an introductory letter complete with CV to ask permission to send in a proposal)
. . . the editors of the magazine discuss the proposal and will sometimes re-shape it before they accept it (‘We think that juvenile obesity in Greece would be far more appealing visually than in the US – could you maybe switch your research to Athens?’)
. . . or they might reject it (which could mean starting the whole process all over again at another publication, if the writer is a freelance).
. . . The completed article is discussed at another meeting of the editors, and modifications may be proposed . . .
. . . the writer will often be asked to accommodate changes for strictly political reasons – such as pandering to the ego of the assigning editor’s boss’s boss . . .
. . . By this stage, any strikingly innovative perspective or approach to a subject — and sometimes the subject itself – has usually been diluted, filed down or de-fanged to become something familiar and comfortable for the most conventional thinker at the editorial conference table …
. . . which accounts for the fascinating sensation most of us have, reading magazines, of encountering essentially the same ideas repackaged over and over again.

Collaborative, group decision-making can be punishingly slow. A scribbler I know who went freelance after years of toiling as a copy (sub-)editor on The New York Times and Playboy once had to write off nearly twelve months of rewriting the same article at least five times for National Geographic, where she had also been a staff member. The editors rejected the final version of the piece. Though they paid her a $12,000 ‘kill’ fee for her trouble, her face still grew pale with anger, recounting the tale many years later.

Writers who care most about giving readers stimulating fresh angles and new information about the world experience such sagas as something very like abortion or infanticide. By contrast, blogging can feel like a premature experience of paradise.

. . . Which takes me back to the examples with which I began this post. Never mind if part of the price for putting a stop to baby-killing and seeing more literary infants grow to maturity is a Russell Brand going off on ‘impossibly extended’ tangents – not least because it’s surely more interesting to see what he’s capable of writing himself, without aesthetic surgery. Never mind a Tina Brown lancing the boils on the bummers of clouded, ongoing miseries – as long as the rest of us are also allowed to express ourselves exactly as we please.

As editors in the Henry Robbins or Max Perkins mould are anyway extinct – or nearly so, . . . bring on the anarchic prose! Viva the blogging revolution!

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34 Comments

Filed under Book publishing, Editors and editing, The blogosphere

34 responses to “Editors, editing and infant mortality

  1. ISA

    You obviously haven’t watched Stewart Lee, Wordy.

  2. ISA

    Fuller version here for you, Wordy.

  3. wordnerd7

    Thanks, @ISA, a nicely emblematic video clip . . . That Chaucer has a lot to answer for innit. . . . The mime sequence was lovely and said all that needed saying. Don’t know any of the other ‘authors,’ alas — and am only beginning to grasp who Brand is from the reviews of his book — or is it ‘book’?

    I’ve been feeling bad about not being able to say anything about your excellent recent posts on your own site. I haven’t dared to comment for the same reason that I haven’t been able to blog here, for days — and am taking a break, even now, that I shouldn’t be.

    … have a bit more to say about your video link when I have a minute or two to search for a URL.

  4. It’s a similar tricky relationship between a director and performance company. We have toyed with using directors over the years – they bring a fresh , critical eye to what you do but if they don’t “get” what you’re trying to achieve then a good idea can spiral wildly out of control and you can end up doing a director’s show rather than one of your own.

    Arts festivals are full of name directors ( Robert Lepage, Robert Wilson, Heiner Muller ) who were once very good but who now travel round the world with their box of tricks which they unpack for each project. Lack of budget to spend time on each of these projects means that having a set of stylistic approaches ready to shoe-horn into an opera, a re-working of a classic text, a collaboration with a rock musician , whatever is asked for is now an important part of the director’s arsenal.

    Working outdoors which generally never attracts any critical attention means that the first 15 – 20 shows you do are raw around the edges but the fact that you can get a lot of bites at the cherry in quickly ( we do 2 X 30 minute shows a day or as regards the pig 14 X 10 minute long shows a day ) means the natural rhythm of the show emerges and extraneous elements can be quickly removed. There’s a creative advantage flying under the critical radar even if we might whinge about it too.

  5. ISA

    Wordy,

    Someone has set up a Guardian Books Blog Breakaway thing.

    http://en.wordpress.com/tag/guardian-books-blog-breakaways/

    Looks a bit old though.

  6. wordnerd7

    That isn’t a blogger, @ISA, it’s WordPress — either an editor there or the automated ‘featured blog’ software, which has exceedingly poor taste, I might add. . . . When I found more than one early post from this site on the featured list, weeks ago, I googled the phrase disbelievingly and found that the selection process has been robotised. . . . Can’t you see the future? Booker prize-judging bots? Orange Prize bots? Couldn’t be any worse than the judging now, could it?

  7. wordnerd7

    @Alarming, I’d assumed that you were the director, only much too modest to tell us so. . . Do you mean to say that the Whalley Range All-Stars have a perfectly flat power structure?

  8. wordnerd7

    Also, @ISA, . . . your Stewart Lee clip — and the attachment to toilet jokes unrivalled by any other nation, as far as I know . . . reminded me of something I read the other day in the health-and-medicine section of a newspaper about the connection between our brains and intestines.

    Can you believe that there are more nerve cells in the enteric nervous system, which controls the gastrointestinal system, than in the spinal cord? It’s true. . . So the next project for the boffins should be an investigation of whether people of British ancestry have the most nerve cells in the gut. . . Would certainly explain a great deal — eg., Sam’s oeuvre . . . young, bright, had an expensive education, writes very well, … and writes what????

  9. Lumpy rather than flat – I come up with initial ideas and try to think of a range of ways they can be moved forwards. But in rehearsal they get developed by us all . The ideas are starting points rather than must do’s. Sometimes you need an outside eye to tell you if you’re taking too long, standing in front of an important visual image or that if you show this before that it makes a stronger impact.

  10. re: judgebots – you’d also need to programme them to write a piece afterwards on how diffcult it was to be a judge and make sure 2 of the judgebots disagreed violently over the winner thus making a tie-in with those Robot wars TV series of 10 year’s ago possible.

  11. wordnerd7

    @Alarming, about the judgebots, essential additions to their capabilities, I agree … and then there should perhaps be the occasional one that’s nice to look at and is being roundly condemned for inclusion on the judgebot panel (or do I mean litprize webpage menu) just because of a successful career as a cupcake bakerbot …

    _Lumpy_, eh, I knew I’d guessed right, essentially . . .

    === Sometimes you need an outside eye to tell you if you’re taking too long, standing in front of an important visual image or that if you show this before that it makes a stronger impact. ===

    Yes I see, but there’s no parallel there for what I’m condemning in this post, since you’re describing an ideal editor, a Henry Robbins, in another form . . .

    Going back to our discussions in Editors begone! there really is no equivalent in most other branches of the arts for the degree to which editors can enslave scribes to the gratification of their egos . . . The really bad ones lift their legs on every writer’s work to mark it as _their_ territory. The only mystery, given this system that print writers have meekly accepted for so long, is why these editors don’t put their names on the final result — or make all heavily edited prose anonymous, as for cathedral stonemasons.

    You’ve never signed any equivalent of a work-for-hire contract, have you? — which hands over every idea and every expression of it in a piece of text to a large institution, such as a newspaper or magazine, … signs over ownership rights in every medium, in perpetuity?

  12. I had an experience with a council who hired me in to work with a consortium of artists to come up with a show. I accepted initially as I liked the work of 3 of the artists on the team and it was in the wintertime when we don’t tour. On delivery of the first outline said council then tried to copywrite the idea so that they could put it out for tender.

    I had lost interest about a third of the way through – it having turned into a horse designed by a committee = camel idea so wasn’t that bothered. But the others who had also suggested the idea of a collaborative show to the council rightly felt that they were taking the piss.

    The cupcake bakerbot is essential – maybe some bloggerbots can whip up a controversy about it all as well.

  13. wordnerd7

    Hello @Alarming, I’m so sorry for this disgracefully slow response . . . ‘force majeure,’ as they say in the commodities markets when eg., frost wipes out the Brazlian arabica bean crop . . . A change of location for me, and there are acute connection problems in the new place, thanks to environmentalist zealots who appear to think that the merest sprinkling of wireless relay towers unconvincingly disguised as trees will bring on an plague of heebie-jeebies, or something like that.

    Which bloggerbots did you have in mind? What you describe suggests troublemakers — or certainly stirrers of some description, and since no one like that ever comes here I am straining every muscle in my imagination to work out why you’d say such a thing.

  14. @Wordn

    (been having split-username disorder so trying to stick to Exit from now on).

    Sorry I haven’t shared much on editors. Frankly, my experience of their sorcery is limited. I once had a call when Smoke magazine published one of my short stories. He was concerned about the accuracy of a metaphor abour gears that I’d used. I looked it up, her was right, I changed it; then he brought fifteen copies to my flat on his bike. Thoroughly decent sort. (his co-editor was Jude Rogers who now seems to blog a lot on GU Music).

  15. Captain Ned

    This is all very depressing. I’ve been toiling away at a novel for three years, and now that I’m coming towards the end of it, I know that there’s likely to be an almighty struggle still to come. I can almost feel the sense of elation that I’ll soon have when I finally get it into shape (or so I hope). Then to have it scrutinized – could you change this? Shorten that? Make that a bit clearer, a bit easier to understand? Maybe not so many fancy words?

    In such a situation, will I have the confidence to stand my ground? Will standing my ground necessarily be the right thing to do? I mean, I’ve lived with this thing for so long now that my perspective is probably somewhat skewered. My own attitude to what I’ve written has certainly veered about a bit: from sunny contentment to modest satisfaction, thence from nagging suspicion to resigned despondency and back again. I think that’s a challenge that all writers who want their work published have to face (a particularly acute one for first-time authors): how to distinguish advice that is motivated a genuine desire to see a work reach its full artistic potential, and that which stems from purely commercial considerations. I have no idea yet how I’ll measure up to the challenge.

  16. Hazlitt

    Great stories EB.
    I take it you are/were BaronCharlus?You are a very talented writer,if it ever needed saying.
    I particulary enjoyed the Deptford ghost story.
    I used to live around there when I was a student.
    I think I’ve read that before somewhere?Haven’t finished reading everything but I shall.

    Captain Ned:
    I was recently talking to a writer friend about Raphael’s “School of Athens”which in the original proposal,contained over fifty philosophers,artists and Mathematicians.Raphael also included a woman(Hypatia)to which the commissioning pope objected.Raphael removed her.
    I remember a story concerning George Moore complaining to Manet about his recently finished portrait……..drags himself off his perch and crawls over to bookshelf……
    “On the other hand,some of them come back without being asked,wanting me to do some retouching,which I always refuse to do.
    Look at that portrait of the poet George Moore.
    As far as I was concerned,it was finished in a single sitting,but he didn’t see it that way.
    He came back and annoyed me by asking for a change here,something different there.I won’t change anything in his portrait.Is it my fault if Moore looks like a squashed egg and if his face is all lopsided.”

    I am ashamed to say I once agreed to change a double portrait commissioned and rejected by a local matriach of her sons.As it happens I hardly touched it afraid to lose any likeness I had already achieved and she was content.She wasn’t present at the extra sittings and the two sitters couldn’t see what I was doing,or rather not doing.
    I once watched a video of John Ward,the society portraitist,painting Gerald Norden and Ward’s assistant.Half way through the sitting Norden gets up for a break and perusing the unfinished oil painting,informs Ward the assistants eyes are too low.
    Ward agreed,rubbed out the eyes and started again,grateful for his friend’s advise.
    Some things have nothing to do with artistic integrity in which case eagle-eyed,respected colleagues are invaluable.

  17. WN I too have been away. Re; Bloggerbots I was thinking of an imaginarybot scenario where complainers and trouble-makers are as much a part of the whole book prize phenomena as those who love it all rather than making veiled accusations.

  18. @Hazlitt

    How nice to go away for a weekend and come back to some generous feedback!

    I am/was BaronCharlus, indeed. Thank you so much for reading and I’m glad you enjoyed the tales.

    I briefly lived in a house on the river, a few metres walk from the Deptford churchyard. My walk home took me between the c17th(?) death’-heads. If you read Smoke magazine you would have read the story there about four years ago.

  19. @Ned

    I don’t know if it’s useful, but buried in Wordn’s archives somewhere are several of my anecdotes relating to my own attempts to get published.

    I suspect that, long before an editor gets anywhere near your work it will be the agent(s) who are demanding/requesting/suggesting alterations, rewriting, etc. Whether you find that process threatening, helpful, interfering or nurturing will depend in part upon your attitude towards your work, how experienced a writer you believe yourself to be. Whether the intentions are aesthetic or commercial you might ask yourself ‘what can I learn from this person’?

    Wordn and I disagree on this, I think, but I do feel writing can – after the initial drafting stage – creatively collaborative. That said, negative interference can be crippling.

  20. wordnerd7

    Severe connection problems made the new post slow work indeed — and as you’ll see, some of our minds were running on closely parallel tracks.

    I’ll return to reply properly later. Too tired, now, from wrestling with the gods that govern flying bits . . .

  21. wordnerd7

    Dear @BaronC, it’s going to take time for me to get used to you as @Exit, I’m afraid . . .In turbulent phases of my life it’s continuity and familiarity that I need most and I suspect I’m like most people, in that respect. . . This particular name switch is also a bit confusing — the sad feeling of a baron _exiting_, but someone called @Exit is _entering_ dear oh dear …(should I imagine stage R or L? : ) …)

    @Hazlitt is right, you’re a born writer — and one of the few PP posters whose work consistently made me pause and even stop in my skimming passage through those blogs. . . I’m sorry I haven’t been able to read more than the Corinna piece on your site — for which my praise was genuine. But I’ve been finding it hard to read fiction for months. now.

    This tends to happen when life gets too bustle-y. Last night in an unfamiliar kitchen a loud and powerful fan above the stove turned itself on as I was steaming asparagus and boiling new potatoes. The din from this vent blotted out all thought. No matter how many times I hit the ‘off’ switch on the beatly thing, I couldn’t kill the sound. . . Nothing could be simpler than the final steps of that meal I was cooking, but it was an almighty struggle to get to the end. [think: wordnerd, melting down] . . My attempts to read fiction have been like that for some time. Real life problems — er, I’m sure I mean ‘challenges’ — are like the roaring, obstinate fan.

  22. wordnerd7

    . . . Oh, and what you said here isn’t quite true,

    == Wordn and I disagree on this, I think, but I do feel writing can – after the initial drafting stage – creatively collaborative. ===

    . . It would all depend on the context — I’ve had hugely successful writing collaborations in non-fiction. Couldn’t imagine attempting this in fiction, though.

  23. wordnerd7

    @CaptainNed,

    I’ve really replied with the Cocteau citation at the end of the new blog about writers and the marketing gene. . . But you might look at your problem like this: since you’re obviously not writing a book intended to be a blockbuster, pleasing yourself is really all you have to worry about. What would be really sad — tragic, in fact — would be lowering your standards _and_ not seeing your bank balance grown to any significant degree by publishing your novel. And who gets rich from literary fiction?

    What you must hope for in an editor is someone with literary taste very close to your own — since I’ve always thought of my own ideal editor as me with the advantage of not being me. I mean, as I might be if I could afford to put the manuscript (for something as long and complex as a book) in a drawer for a few years, after which I could see it with fresh and objective eyes.

    That’s what Norden is for Ward, I think, in @Hazlitt’s lovely parallel with painting, upthread.

  24. wordnerd7

    @Hazzy, can my brain really be so addled (see answer to @BaronC — I mean @Exit) … You see, there is something weirdly familiar about this subject — but if Raphael removed her, what is Hypatia doing in the painting, which I must have seen on a weekend tour of Venice 25+ years ago: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_School_of_Athens … Could the editing by the Wikipedes really be that intrusive?

  25. wordnerd7

    @Alarming,

    === trouble-makers are as much a part of the whole book prize phenomena as those who love it all rather than making veiled accusations. ===

    . . . and what if you were being a bit of un beau noiseux? (see the next blog after this one). Would any of us enjoy blogging without the occasional tweaking of pompous tails? : )

  26. @Wordn

    Thanks, as always, for your supportive words. It means a lot.

    The name thing’s confusing me, too. It was a sad decision to pass on from the Baron but I didn’t feel a name so definitively linked to a particular novel and character would go well with my site/blog. Then I realised that I’d have to log out from WordPress every time I wanted to post as BC. I think, around here, you should call me what you want. One of the most exciting things when I began posting on GU – unforeseen, as I had never imagined people actually responding to anything I might say – was that people began calling me The Baron. This almost never happens in my regular life. It’s taking a lot to give that title up. I feel like Tony Benn.

  27. wordnerd7

    Thank you, BaronC, that’s characteristically gracious of you to let us call you what we will. Naturally I think you deserve the distinction of a title — even if they do make me laugh in real life — because of your exceptional courage in starting threads for my most awkward posts. . . In some instances, I’m sure I owe you nothing less than a VC … No you couldn’t possibly feel like Wedgie Benn. : ) I think he gave up his title around the start of the last Ice Age.

  28. Hazlitt

    Wordy:
    Yes,It is confusing.I started to plod my way through an explanation..bingo.. why not cut/paste……

    “Upon Raphael’s submission of his preliminary compositional sketches of the fresco to the church fathers, the Bishop is alleged to have inquired as to the identity of a woman depicted standing at the bottom (front) and center of a sketch, in the foreground, between the figures of Parmenides and Diogenes, “Who is this woman in the middle?”

    “Hypatia of Alexandria, the most famous student of the School of Athens,” replied the artist. “She was a professor of philosophy, mathematics and astronomy at the University of Alexandria and certainly one of the greatest thinkers ever.”

    “Remove her. Knowledge of her runs counter to the belief of the faithful! Otherwise, the work is acceptable,” cautioned the Vatican’s high priest.

    The Bishop’s words struck at the heart of Raphael’s original artistic conception. It had been the artist’s intention to depict Hypatia standing alone in the center foreground, located, spatially, between the viewers of the fresco and the central figures of Plato and Aristotle, as homage to her unique role, temporally, as guardian and transmitter of their ancient wisdom and inquiring spirit to their intellectual heirs in future eras.

    Yielding to the power of the purse strings, Raphael’s initial reaction was simply to omit the figure from his final working drawing, but he then proceeded instead to disguise his original intention as an intimate gesture to his holy patron. In an area which had been vacant in the preliminary compositional sketch, directly behind and between the images of Pythagoras and Parmenides, the artist’s final working drawing, the “cartoon” (detail), bears the image of Hypatia, her dark skin recast to a very pale white and her facial features altered to resemble those of the “beloved” nephew of the Pope. Raphael thereby restored Hypatia to a rightful place in his masterpiece among her intellectual peers.

    While the figure of Hypatia was displaced and disguised, her posture and demeanor were preserved. Unlike almost all of the other characters in the fresco, Hypatia is depicted, not engaged in philosophic inquiry with her peers, but instead directing her gaze out of the painting, towards the viewer standing in front of the fresco. The only other figures so depicted are those of the historian, Diogenes of Laertius, and the artist himself. Raphael thereby symbolizes the roles of the chronicler, the curator, and the artist in projecting, into the future, the intellectual and spiritual thrust of the School of Athens.

    (Also, whereas the figure of Hypatia was displaced, the figure of Heraclitus is the only major figure in the entire work that was totally absent from Raphael’s final working drawing, the “cartoon”, of all the figures in the fresco. In fact, subsequent examination of the fresco confirms that the figure of Heraclitus was painted in on an area of fresh plaster put on after the adjacent figures were completed. This block-like figure plugged up the visual hole, the expanse of marble steps and flooring in front of Plato and Aristotle, left unoccupied by Hypatia’s displacement.)

    Thus, the effeminate, white-robed figure in Scuola di Atene serves here to represent the first significant female philosopher, and the last philosopher, of the ancient age. The pale complexion and juvenile visage of Pope Julius II’s beloved nephew was apparently sufficient distraction to have prevented the Pope’s recognition of Raphael’s representation of Hypatia of Alexandria, an official enemy of the Church, whose martyrdom at the hands of Nitrian monks had signaled the death of the classical world.”

    “God save us from Christians.”

  29. WN You’ve now completely confused me as I was laying out all the necessary players in the game I could think of rather than making judgement calls. Will now retire to boil my head.

  30. wordnerd7

    @Hazlitt, I’ve replied to that intriguing post here: https://acacciatura.wordpress.com/2009/04/06/do-real-writers-lack-a-marketing-gene/#comment-2574

    @Alarming … that makes two of us … mine was long ago boiled to a pulp (looks just like mushy peas, no exaggeration) … Back with a less serious answer later …

  31. wordnerd7

    === an official enemy of the Church, whose martyrdom at the hands of Nitrian monks had signaled the death of the classical world.”

    “God save us from Christians.” ===

    Certainly from that species of Christian … But they were powerful enough to make sure that some of us have hardly thought of her at all. She’s certainly far less well-known than, say, Sappho.

    @Hazlitt, I hope you can forgive me for forgetting to thank you clearing up the confusion about Hypatia. . . _But_ you neglected to tell me off — as you should have done — for assigning the School of Athens to the wrong Italian city. I seem to have confused it with another Renaissance painting I was reading about recently, that I saw fleetingly long ago. Sadly the addled brain cannot remember which one.

  32. wordnerd7

    A correspondent catching up on old blogs has sent me a remarkable parallel — from the life of a poet hugely hyped in an American newspaper — with this funny confession of @Hazlitt’s, upthread:

    === I am ashamed to say I once agreed to change a double portrait commissioned and rejected by a local matriach of her sons.As it happens I hardly touched it afraid to lose any likeness I had already achieved and she was content. ===

    from ‘Frederick Seidel, Laureate of the Louche’
    :

    === . . . He published poems in The [Harvard] Advocate, even one in The Atlantic, but only at the very end of Harvard did one attain a different caliber. Called “The Sickness,” Seidel sent it to The Hudson Review. “I got back a letter from the editor saying that the poem was brilliant . . . but wouldn’t I consider a number of changes they wanted to propose to the poem’s advantage? So I took a look at their suggestions, hung onto the poem and three months later sent it back to them — no changes whatsoever. Back came a note saying: ‘Wonderful! That does it! It’s just superb.’ ”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/12/magazine/12Seidel-t.html?_r=1&hpw=&pagewanted=all ===

    . . . whether good or bad, that was certainly one infant saved from cot death . . . : )

  33. Yes, Max Perkins is dead and now we have to deal with airheads who think Sophie Kinsella is a masterful writer and can’t tell the difference between a novel and a memoir (according to James Frey and his cadre of moron supporters, they’re pretty much the same thing).

    I stopped submitting my work and started publishing exclusively on my own blog just over 2 years ago and I’ve never been happier. I’ve got complete control over my vision AND tens of thousands of readers around the world.

    For a weirdo, “cult” writer like yours truly it is, quite literally, a dream come true.

    I just wrote about the future of books on my blog–I think our two essays make interesting companion pieces. Hope you’ll pop over and check it out:

    http://cliffjburns.wordpress.com

  34. === For a weirdo, “cult” writer like yours truly ===

    Welcome, @Cliff Burns, we could use someone who fits that description … and thanks for your most interesting post. . . which had to be rescued from the spam filter. . . I’ll pop over to look at your blog soon. . . Can’t even reply to the inflammatory (!!! 😉 …..) comments on this one, at the moment. . .

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