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Tymon Smith

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Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Footnotes: George Plimpton

The Paris Review has just celebrated the publication of its 200th issue. Unfortunately for one of the world’s most revered and beloved literary journals, its first editor-in-chief, George Plimpton, isn’t around to share in the celebrations.

Plimpton, who died in 2003, was born on 18 March 1927, into an influential New York family. He was a Harvard graduate who wrote for the Harvard Lampoon, drove a tank in Italy for the US Army during World War 2, obtained a second degree at Cambridge and, at the age of 26, became the first editor-in-chief of The Paris Review. A Harvard classmate of Robert Kennedy’s, Plimpton was present when the senator was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in 1968 and was credited as being one of the people who helped wrestle the assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, to the ground. For his most well-known book, Paper Lion, Plimpton signed up for pre-season training with the Detroit Lions NFL team and turned his experiences into a book, which was later made into a film. He performed similar exercises for books about baseball and golf and for articles about a range of sporting activities written for Sports Illustrated.

He appeared in a number of television episodes and films, playing secondary characters – these included ER and Good Will Hunting. He was also an interviewee in the 1996 documentary When We Were Kings, about the famous fight in Zaire between Muhammed Ali and George Foreman.

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Footnotes: Hannah Arendt

She died of a heart attack, aged 69, 36 years ago today, but German political theorist and writer Hannah Arendt had an undeniable influence on the way we think about totalitarianism and freedom and the way evil comes to take hold in societies and in the minds of seemingly reasonable people.

Born into a secular Jewish family in 1906, Arendt studied philosophy under Martin Heidegger, with whom she had a stormy romance at the University of Marburg. She worked on research into anti-Semitism but after being interrogated by the Gestapo, she left Germany and went to Paris. There she befriended literary critic Walter Benjamin and worked to support Jewish refugees.

In 1941 she escaped to the US, where she lived until her death. In her first major book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt suggested that totalitarianism in Germany was more focused on megalomania and consistency rather than a system for the eradication of Jews. Her coverage of the Eichmann trial for The New Yorker magazine became, in 1963, the book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, a term she coined and with which she is often associated.

Unafraid to speak her mind, Arendt did no favours for her popularity among Jews when she criticised Israel’s handling of the Eichmann trial and questioned the actions of Jewish leaders during the Holocaust.

In her essay On Violence, Arendt again split opinion by arguing that violence, rather than being a manifestation of power, is antithetical to power in so far as violence becomes an artificial means to an end, whether it’s used by governments or their opponents, and therefore exists only in the absence of power, rather than because of it.

After her death, Arendt had an asteroid named in her honour.

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Footnotes: James Agee

Today is the centenary of the birth of American author, journalist, poet and film critic James Agee.

Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and educated at Harvard, Agee started out writing for Fortune and Time magazines.

In 1936, he spent eight weeks living with sharecroppers in Alabama and producing the material for his first book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

In 1942, Agee became the film and book critic for Time before leaving for The Nation, where he wrote some of the most influential film criticism of the period. He worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter on The African Queen and Night of the Hunter.

An alcoholic and chain-smoker, he was on his way to a doctor’s appointment in 1955 when he suffered a fatal heart attack.

A Death in the Family, his autobiographical novel, was published in 1957 and earned him a posthumous Pulitzer in 1958.

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Footnotes: Julian Barnes Wins 2011 Man Booker Prize

So while the Nobel Prize committee gave this year’s prize to a Swede that no one has heard of, the Man Booker Prize judging panel led by former Director-General of MI5 Dame Stella Rimington, gave their prize to punter favourite Julian Barnes.

Barnes, who has been nominated three times before, won the UK’s most prestigious award for his novel The Sense of Ending, beating a controversial shortlist that saw the panel accused of pandering to popular taste ahead of literary merit (a charge made by commentators against everyone on the shortlist except Barnes). His first novel in six years, The Sense of an Ending went straight to the top of bestseller lists in the UK when it was published earlier this year.

Rimington described the book as having “all the markings of a classic of English literature. It is exquisitely written, subtly plotted and reveals new depths with each reading”. High praise and £50000 for Barnes, who once notoriously described the prize as “posh bingo”.

Barnes’s 11th novel is an exploration of the murkiness and subjectivity of memory and the ways in which people alter the past to suit themselves. Told through the eyes of the seemingly dull arts administrator Tony Webster, who looks back on his seemingly insignificant life – the book reveals Webster’s complicity in the tragic life of an old school friend.

In his acceptance speech Barnes said: “Those of you who have seen my book, whatever you think of its contents, will probably agree it is a beautiful object. And if the physical book, as we’ve come to call it, is to resist the challenge of the e-book, it has to look like something worth buying, worth keeping.”

He also still believes that it’s “posh bingo”, but admitted he didn’t want to die and get a “Beryl”, in reference to Beryl Bainbridge who was nominated five times, never won and received a posthumous Best of Beryl Booker Prize.

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Albert Camus killed by the KGB?

An article published in The Guardian over the weekend claims that the death of French writer and philosopher Albert Camus in a car accident in 1960 was no accident. Following recent revelations about the extent to which the FBI hounded Ernest Hemingway towards the end of his life, it now seems that sometimes writers make it onto the radars of the authorities and covert operatives who do more than burn their books. They have ways of making you stop talking, writing and breathing. (more…)

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