Lumpen Radio Interviews Helen DeWitt.

I was excited to discover a new post by Helen DeWitt on her long-dormant blog paperpools, which linked to an hour-long interview with Jeremy Kitchen and Michael Sack of Lumpen Radio’s books and literature program Eye 94 Radio; I was listening to it with immense pleasure, and then at the halfway point she mentioned Languagehat, which made me kvell and run into the living room to tell my wife. DeWitt is, of course, the author of The Last Samurai, the best book ever written, and about half the interview is devoted to it; she talks about her inspirations for it and her travails trying to get it published, and there are several readings from it (unfortunately not by the author but by someone who mispronounces too many words — picquet, the card game, for instance, is /pᵻˈkɛt/ or /pᵻˈkeɪ/, with the stress on the second syllable, not, as the reader has it, “picket”). The interviewers clearly love her work and have read it with attention, but of course they are media types and ask if things she wrote were “based on your experiences” (why are people so obsessed with this?) and want to talk about feminism and Harvey Weinstein, while she wants to talk about Mel Brooks and Aristophanes. But the important thing is that they let her talk, and sometimes pause and feel for the right word or expression, only rarely butting in impatiently, and she has lots of interesting things to say.

One of them gave me a wry chuckle; they asked her about the long string of jobs that paid her bills while she was trying to write, and she said it had been frustrating because she had no free time — she felt obliged to spend her time at work doing what her employers paid her to do. Since it was a Chicago radio station, she added this obiter dictum: “If you have the job, you should do the job — Midwesterners will understand this. New Yorkers seem to have no problem getting a well-paying job and then not doing it.” It’s true, it’s true! I mean not literally — I and my fellow workers in NYC corporate jobs did what we were paid to do, but we had no compunction about using our down time on our own personal projects rather than looking for more work to do. No one in our low-level worker-bee jobs had any particular respect for the company, any sense of mutual obligation beyond the basic “do what’s required to get paid.” The boss is the jailer, the enemy, not the benevolent patron or partner in a mutually satisfying relationship. I’m not saying it’s right, but there it is. I’m a Wobbly at heart.

As always, I’m astonished she’s had so much trouble getting her books published the way she wants them; you’d think publishers would be competing for the honor of doing right by one of the best writers of our time. But I guess publishers are to writers what bosses are to workers.

Comments

  1. John Cowan says:

    You wobble wobble? Yes, we wobble wobble!

    It does not take long to figure out that workers and their employers do not have the same interests. Workers want shorter hours, higher pay, and better benefits.

    We want our work to be less boring, less dangerous, and less destructive to the environment. We want more control over how we produce goods and provide services. We want meaningful work that contributes to our communities and world. Our employers, in contrast, want us to work longer, harder, faster, and cheaper. They want fewer safety and environmental regulations and they demand absolute control over all decisions, work schedules, speech, and actions in the workplace [and often enough elsewhere].

    Join the 1BU today..

  2. *tosses hat in air*

  3. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Aww, they don’t have a branch in Denmark.

  4. National borders are a fiction, comrade.

  5. Lars Mathiesen says:

    So is money, comrade, but the prevailing hegemony — what can a body do?

  6. John Cowan says:

    There’s no IWW branches in Western Massachusetts either, hence the web site, which leaves you in a detached state, not on any branch but still part of the project.

    (That’s a programmer’s joke, Steve.)

  7. Martin Langeveld says:

    Well, holy cow, based on your enthusiasm for it I downloaded the book to my Kindle and started right in, and quickly found that not only did she mention you on that podcast, but also you are also listed in the Acknowledgments of this 2nd edition, along with Mark Liberman (and both blogs are mentioned).

    By the way for those who may be wondering, the Kindle edition appears to do a good job rendering the typographical intricacies of the book.

  8. Trond Engen says:

    I downloaded it to my Kindle four years ago, and loved it, and still I gave up on it half-way through because I hated reading it in that format. I should probably try a newer version. Maybe a newer version of Kindle as well. Or paper.

  9. “picquet, the card game, for instance, is /pᵻˈkɛt/ or /pᵻˈkeɪ/, with the stress on the second syllable, not, as the reader has it, “picket””

    He’s just using the British pronunciation. I’m surprised that the American pronunciation is stressed on the second syllable even when the final t is pronounced, but I guess that ties in with the trend in US English to do that for disyllabic loans from French.

  10. I enjoyed reading the OED entry. It seems to be spelled most of the time without the C, piquet.

  11. @Graham “He’s just using the British pronunciation.”: Really? In my BrE card-playing experience, I’ve always heard+said it with 2-syllable stress, and the OED agrees — all pronunciations it lists are with second-syllable stress.

  12. He’s just using the British pronunciation.

    She’s a she, and no, it’s the British pronunciation I cut-and-pasted from the OED.

  13. Andrej Bjelaković says:

    LPD also says that both BrE and AmE have pɪˈket (or less commonly pɪˈkeɪ).

  14. I downloaded it to my Kindle four years ago, and loved it, and still I gave up on it half-way through because I hated reading it in that format. I should probably try a newer version. Maybe a newer version of Kindle as well. Or paper.

    Check your Kindle again. It may have updated your downloaded copy to new edition.

    The technical capability is there and they could have been doing that for a while.

    And you can’t know it for sure because you don’t read periodic updates to your ToS which Kindle sends to your inbox every now and then (“…if you don’t opt out, you will be deemed to have accepted these changes to our ToS”)

  15. The Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary has both accentuations for British English.

  16. Interesting, but I’m morally certain the reader was simply unfamiliar with the word.

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