“Arbitrary systems of difference.” Helen DeWitt in Bomb

Helen DeWitt, of much-loved The Last Samurai and Lightning Rods, interviewed in Mieke Chew in Bomb Magazine, leaving all of these words strewn about so that I could hang on each and every one like a sloth:


Another possibility is simply to ask more of texts. The Last Samurai enabled people to envision possible selves they had not previously imagined. I’m interested in the difference between texts that do that and texts that appear to somehow acknowledge the reader as a cultivated person while in fact keeping them at a distance from anything that might change. For example, this anthology of Arabic poetry is alongside the French translation: all you can do is look at the script on the page. This is the kind of thing Tufte complains about. They’ve used muddy colors. There’re huge swaths of space that are just ornamentation. Page after page after page. If you don’t know the Arabic script, fine, you can read this in translation, and say: Oh well, that’s what it looks like. It’s a children’s series, which I suppose well-meaning parents are meant to buy for their children. You just kind of leaf through it and think: What? As an object, this book is insane. The rhetoric of the object is that if you don’t already know Arabic, we are not going to tell you, and we’re not going to disturb the decorum of our beautiful décor by actually condescending to share an alphabet with you. At the Frankfurt book fair in 2004, the Arab world was “guest of honor.” They brought tens of thousands of books from the Arab world to display. Anybody who did not already know that script was just going to look at that wall, those books, and say: Oh, that’s nice. I mean, there was nothing to help people cross the barrier.


Here’s all of it.  One day, Whiskey Tit’s milk will be sweet enough for the likes of DeWitt.

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