Teju Cole Fait Drivers
PG was collecting the best, and the worst, from facebook and twitter. The mass of sentences will be published in a day or so, with Selah at the end. One of the best places to visit on twitter is Teju Cole. A specialty of the house are “small fates”… the essence of a news story in 140 characters.
Not far from the Surulere workshop where spray-painter Alawiye worked,
a policeman fired into the air. Gravity did the rest.
With a leap in front of the northbound local,
Philip Joseph, of Heary Street, canceled his wedding plans.
Harvey had an eventful trip on the Olympic. Swindled on the first day,
he quarreled on the second, and drank himself to death on the third.
Envious of the White Star Line’s Titanic, which is on its maiden voyage,
Cunard announced plans for Aquitania, which shall be even larger.
Merely because his surgeon, Dr Fischer, left two sponges in his abdomen,
Jacob Weiss, of East 87th Street, is making a legal fuss.
Death had been ignoring 82-year-old Mrs Levy,
so she jumped from the fifth floor of the Ansonia Hotel and got his attention.
It turns out that there is a French custom, fait divers. That outlet turned out to be a form of writing for which there is no exact English term: fait divers. This is a French expression, in common use for centuries, for a certain kind of newspaper piece: a compressed report of an unusual happening. What fait divers means literally is “incidents,” or “various things.” The nearest English equivalent is “news briefs” or, more recently, “news of the weird.” The fait divers has a long and important history in French literature. Sensationalistic though it is, it has influenced the writing of Flaubert, Gide, Camus, Le Clézio and Barthes. In Francophone literature, it crossed the line from low to high culture. But though a version of it was present in American newspapers, it never quite caught on in the English language as a literary form.
Raoul G., of Ivry, an untactful husband, came home unexpectedly,
and stuck his blade in his wife, who was frolicking in the arms of a friend.
A dishwasher from Nancy, Vital Frérotte, who had just come back from Lourdes,
cured forever of tuberculosis, died Sunday by mistake.
In today’s twitter feed, there was this: A link on not linking: http://inkdroid.org/journal/2012/04/11/on-not-linking/. In the story, there was a link to an interview on NPR. We learn that Mr. Cole finds many of his small fates in 100 year old newspapers.
In 1993, PG was working downtown, and able to take long lunch hours. One day he went to the library, and took a trip to 1956. At the time, a controversy over Georgia’s state flag was boiling over, and PG wanted to find a newspaper story about the decision by the General Assembly to change the flag. In one hour of going through microfilms, PG learned about concern over the qualifications of Vice President Richard Nixon, and about a personal appearance at the Fox Theater by Elvis Presley. A bill was presented, in the Legislature, to make it a felony to advocate desegregation. Finally, there was an announcement about a new state flag. The small article did not mention protesting integration.
In the NPR talk, Mr. Cole says that the old newspaper stories always had the address. This adds a touch a connection, for you can go to that same location today. In a touch of irony, Mr. Cole refuses to add links to his tweets about these stories. A link is the digital version of the address.
In the linked story in today’s twitterfeed, the author asks Mr. Cole to include a link to specific stories. The reply: “I can’t include links directly in my tweets for three reasons. The first is aesthetic: I like the way the tweets look as clean sentences. One wouldn’t wish to hyperlink a poem. The second is artistic: I want people to stay here, not go off somewhere else and crosscheck the story. Why go through all the trouble of compression if they’re just going to go off and read more about it? What’s omitted from a story is, to me, an important part of a writer’s storytelling strategy. And the third is practical: though I seldom use up all 140 characters, rarely do I have enough room left for a url string, even a shortened one. “
Pictures today are from The Library of Congress.