Missing Pieces II: What was left out

Writing about obsolete objects, missing words and anonymous writers by Andrew O’Hagan, Amia Srinivasan, Irina Dumitrescu, Lucia Berlin, Lawrence Rainey and Sheila Fitzpatrick.

With some things the sense of lost desire can be strong. The future is always behind us, or at least it seemed that way in the days of the space shuttle and the BBC Micro: they could memorably explode or freeze in the middle of the day, reminding us of the relation between obsolescence and novelty.

Today, the singular ‘they’ is more popular than ever in colloquial English, and has prompted grammarians, some more grudgingly than others, to conclude that the missing word has been with us all along. Ursula Le Guin – who also experimented with e/es/en in her feminist science fiction – called the prohibition on the singular ‘they’ a ‘fake rule’ enforced by ‘grammar bullies’. 

The Flower and the Bee: Many Anons

Irina Dumitrescu, 22 April 2021

Writing is not now considered a collective exercise. The Romantic myth of the lone genius persists. He is no longer always a white man – only most of the time. The black and white author photo is this myth’s icon, the desk its fetish object (now that cigarettes are out of style). What’s missing in this picture?

My new computer not only points out in red misspelled words it highlights in green ungrammatical sentences. Everything I write is Greened. I’d check it out but I’d find out what it is I do Wrong and I’d stop. So here is the key for your article. I can’t write a proper sentence! Either verbs or nouns or those helping words are missing, or who knows what I do? And all this time I thought it was Style!

What was left out: Eliot’s Missing Letters

Lawrence Rainey, 3 December 2009

The marmoreal lustre of our received image of T.S. Eliot is dimmed by this unrelenting catalogue of blunders. It is as if the waspish elegance and dogmatic certitude of his published prose were being coated with layer after layer of fine dust, the grit of everyday experience, the messiness of the ordinary.

Commotion in Moscow: Paris Syndrome

Sheila Fitzpatrick, 1 August 2019

I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the Soviet propagandists who laboured so hard and so long to make citizens fall in love with Soviet socialism. If only they had done a bit of reading in capitalist marketing theory and grasped the idea of the scarcity principle. What if, instead of making Western culture a scarce commodity – and therefore all the more desirable – they had done the same for Soviet socialism?

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