India Uncut

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Writing for posterity

Man walks into a bar where a bunch of journalists are sitting. Orders a drink, notices that the guy next to him is looking at him, turns and says, "Hi, I'm gay."

Instantly they all whip out their autograph books.

Yes, I rather like the work of Gay Talese myself: there are few men who have written about sport -- in particular boxing -- than this legendary feature writer, who abhors deadlines, has "one of the great wardrobes in American journalism," and describes himself as a "perennial outsider." In a feature on Talese, Jason Horowitz lets him narrate a story about his early days in the New York Times, in the 1950s:
“Though I was doing daily journalism, I thought it would be a reference point for the future,” said Mr. Talese, remembering a day in which he was taking a characteristically long, long time to tinker with a story. That’s when a “third-string labor reporter” began badgering him.

“He was saying, ‘Come on, young man—you are not writing for posterity, you know,’” recalled Mr. Talese, dressed now in a sand-colored three-piece worsted suit that kept the crease well for its 25 years. “It was a revelation, and not a welcome one.”
Ah, well. Blogs, typically, aren't for posterity either, especially filter-and-comment blogs like mine. It is ephemeral, here today, gone tomorrow, permalinked firmly to the past. And satisfying as it is, many of us have other ambitions too, as writers. And there's only so much time. Blogger Sarah Hepola, who recently shut down her blog, explains why in Slate:
Blogging wasn't helping me write; it was keeping me from it.
I know what that feeling is like. And someday I might be faced with the same decision as her. Not fun, not something I'm looking forward to, but this doesn't make me any money, and sometimes one has to choose between passions.

While on the subject of writing, I had a long and fascinating exchange of emails recently with my friend Prem Panicker, where he spoke about the way he wrote and the lessons he learnt from Chaim Potok's "My Name Is Asher Lev." At the end, he pointed me to this beautiful piece he wrote in 1997, about writing and other things. It's old, but age and posterity go well together, and this is a piece you can read 50 years from now and still be moved.

(Talese link via email from Chandrahas, Hepola link via email from, uh, a kind friend.)
amit varma, 12:05 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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