Prophecy Fire

Denzel Washington, NYTimes

Denzel Washington, NYTimes.

Paul Theroux traveled in China in 1986 and 1987 for his book “Riding the Iron Rooster” published in 1988. He described police assaults on pro-democracy demonstrators that he witnessed. The book was dismissed by some reviewers “as alarmist and Sinophobic.” The Tiananment Square massacre in 1989 made it seem prescient. “… All I had done as a traveler was record what I saw: Writing the truth is prophetic,” Theroux adds in his letter to the NYTimes. He concludes as follows:

I have mentioned this in lectures I have given, in many Western cities as well as in Hong Kong, and each time I raise the subject, uttering the words “Tiananmen Square,” two or three Chinese people — sometimes more — rise and rush to the exits, as if I’d yelled “fire.”

The first time it occurred I was puzzled. When it continued to happen, I was told that all Chinese people connected to the government — which includes business people and academics — are under instructions to respond to any mention of the massacre by turning their backs on the speaker and fleeing the room.
(“Paul Theroux: Truth and Tiananmen [Letter],” NYTimes, 6-7-19)

(c) 2019 JMN

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Parting Looks — HJN

Harold J. Nichols (1924 — 2013) (c) 2019 JMN

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Parting Looks — HJN

Harold J. Nichols (1924 — 2013) (c) 2019 JMN

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Mistakes Were Made


I’m haunted by that sentence in Lincoln’s second inaugural: “And the war came.”
(David Brooks, “The Racial Reckoning Comes,” NYTimes, 6-6-19)

David Brooks is well haunted. Lincoln could make words punch above their weight. His mastery lends killing clout to a simple declarative sentence. The banal, intransitive verb following the copulative conjunction and naked noun-of-war implies fatalistic, repetitive consequence. It has the passivity of “mistakes were made” but without the dodginess. Both constructions erase the agent, leaving mistakes and war as their own perpetrators.

(c) 2019 JMN

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Parting Looks — HJN

Harold J. Nichols (1924 — 2013) (c) 2019 JMN

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A 1903 illustration shows President Theodore Roosevelt warning about protective tariffs going too far. Credit Photo12/UIG, via Getty Images.

I’m no connoisseur of illustration, but this one strikes me as having a distinctively painterly quality to it. It has introduced me to the work of J.S. Pughe (1870 – 1909), who is well documented in Wikipedia. The graphic appears in Margaret O’Mara, “Who Will Survive the Trade War?” NYTimes, 6-6-19.

(c) 2019 JMN

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Vindication of Stuttering

darcey steinke

The author at home in Brooklyn. Credit Michael Kirby Smith for The New York Times.

The battle with speech impediment can equip persons like Darcey Steinke with fascinating insights into language.

It was around this time [in elementary school] that I started separating the alphabet into good letters, V as well as M, and bad letters, S, F and T, plus the terrible vowel sounds, open and mysterious and nearly impossible to wrangle. Each letter had a degree of difficulty that changed depending upon its position in the sentence.

Her article includes description of her experience recording the audio edition for her forthcoming book “Flash Count Diary: Menopause and the Vindication of Natural Life.”

As I started to read… I had no control over my vocal cords, adrift on waves of unpredictable sound… The young sound engineer was patient. His voice in my earphones was gentle and his expression open and empathetic… I explained that in the classroom as I teach and at my readings, my stutter brought intimacy to my listeners. He nodded. “They can hear your vulnerability…”

Steinke is the author of five novels and two memoirs.

The central irony of my life remains that my stutter, which at times caused so much suffering, is also responsible for my obsession with language. Without it I would not have been driven to write, to create rhythmic sentences easier to speak and to read…

(Darcey Steinke, “My Stutter Made Me a Better Writer,” NYTimes, 6-6-19)

(c) 2019 JMN

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