Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
I now lack the juice to fuel the bluster to conceal that I am a simpleton (lithub.com)
381 points by Jun8 30 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 174 comments

This is a fantastic interview with Padgett Powell (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Padgett_Powell), a writer of the Southern tradition. IMO, the two things that make it great ar how candid and fluid Powell's answers are and the hilariously Newspeak of the interviewer's questions.

Powell was Don Barthelme's student, his analysis of Barthelme's main thrust here is worth the read alone. If you want to dig deeper on this point, here's another interview with him: https://www.vice.com/en/article/vdxyd8/padgett-powell-is-ame...

Flann O'Brian, mentioned briefly by Powell is an interesting character, too: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flann_O'Brien.

It all kind of reaches an apotheosis when the interviewer makes the second big red pull quote one from their questions, instead of one from the author's answers. I couldn't believe it, I had to double check!

Wow that’s incredible. What a sentence too. Slides right through your brain without any meaning getting caught on it.

It's not really "Newspeak" at all; if anything, it's the opposite. Newspeak had limited vocabulary. The interviewer is using a bunch of ten-dollar words. Still, interesting interview! I might read some Padgett Powell at some point because of this.

It's an interesting contrast, because Ah-Sen is an experimental formalist, and his questions progress from that point of view, whereas Powell is (hilariously) ... not. (As this feels like a Q&A-by-email with all the questions submitted en bloc, Ah-Sen probably didn't get a chance to adapt his questions, and their theoretical foundation, to Powell's responses, lending to the surrealistic air.)

It also might be worth noting that both pull quotes are things that Ah-Sen said in the questions, instead of things that Powell said in response.

Some interviewers aim to help to tell their subjects’ stories, but others are looking for a reason to hear themselves speak. This feels like the latter case.

> It also might be worth noting that both pull quotes are things that Ah-Sen said in the questions, instead of things that Powell said in response.

One is from Powell, the other from Ah-Sen.

>> The attractive characteristic of a young narrator is the absurdity of it and the license of it. - Powell

>> The destiny of all books is to become unmoored from the time which birthed them. - Ah-Sen

Mea culpa; I should know better than to comment when half asleep. Thanks for the correction.

Also, shouldn't it be "berthed" not birthed?

Er why would that be the case. To be unmoored is to be detached from something. So the quote is saying that the destiny of every book is to be detached and read outside the context in which it was written (birthed).

To be berthed is to be attached to your home, as a boat. It makes way more sense to keep the nautical analogy going than to switch it over to biology. This was likely a transcription error and/or pun.

It's just a mixed metaphor. They are very common in bad writing, which isn't to say they themselves are always bad. The surrounding words make it clear it's not a typo. "which _____ them" does not make sense and would be very rare usage for "berthed".

We are born into a time and moored to it. Books are not. Books are distinct from people in this way. That's the point.

Since part of the interview is making fun of the way the questions are worded, it also fits in that respect.

"which berthed them" makes perfect sense, and fits just as well as any other past participle would in that context. Just because a usage of a word is rare does not mean an experienced author cannot choose to invoke it. In fact, the opposite. Again though, I think the author knew damn well what they were doing and intended for it to be a pun (which would still be arguably berthed-forward).

To be clear, the usage you're describing is so rare as to be practically nonexistent. You would never use it this way if you were familiar with the word and its usage, only if you knew the word from dictionaries. Look at the rarity even for saying something like "the crew berthed the ship." You just don't say it like that.

Yes, someone "could" do it and we'd understand what they meant. But there's no reason to believe that's what happened here. Maybe "moored" did trigger an association with "birth"/"berth", but "birth" is not a mistake.

"Berthing" is also not a singular, one-time event, any ship has a multitude of berthings over time, in this context it makes no sense for there to be a "time that berthed it" as if it was some singular meaningful event, and it changes "time" into something that "berths" books...what would that mean in this metaphor that a time "berths" a book? Wouldn't other times also berth books in their ports? A time does not "berth" a book, it births a book.

I really don't care to discuss this further, but all your points are addressed somewhere in this thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=40150716

Good day.

The fact that "berthed" in that context may be grammatical but is not used that way is not.

Tweet the author. I am very confident in this.

That is indeed the entire point of the thread. I fear your reading comprehension is not up to this task.

Anyways, I don’t have a twitter but you can feel free.

Unless you’re going for some meta-joke, no.

Why not? If we’re starting with this nautical analogy (unmoored), immediately flipping to a biological one is odd. I strongly suspect this was a transcription error and/or intentional pun - the two are pronounced identically.

It almost works, but "berthed" doesn't imply "created", since it means something more like "parked".

So that doesn't read right with:

"The destiny of all books is to become unmoored from the time which birthed them. - Ah-Sen"

It could have used both maybe? "...and then berthed in the present"

You’re reading “created” into it to justify that interpretation. If you assume he meant created then sure go with birthed, but that doesn’t prove anything beyond your initial assumption.

A “berthed”-friendly interpretation would be “all books start off tied to a particular point in time, it is their destiny to become free of their temporal bounds, to drift through eternity”

You're assigning some notion that berthed means berthed in a home port. Ships are berthed in many different places and times. So the "time which berthed them" just doesn't work.

It does. They were tied to a point in time. They are destined not to be. It’s really very simple. I’m sorry you can’t understand it.

Mixing metaphors and claiming a now-unmoored vessel is more likely to be contrasted with one in a state of being “born” than “berthed” is what “doesn’t work”.

Especially considering “unmoored” is a nearly exact antonym of “berthed”, whereas a ship is never described as being “born”. Christened, perhaps. But certainly not born.

It's an action though, "the time that XXX'ed them". Birthed fits there well, berthed does not. Had it said "the time they were berthed to" I would understand your point better.

Perhaps you're right and it was remembered or quoted wrong, and the word really is "berthed", but it wouldn't have been just the one word remembered incorrectly.

There is no categorical semantic difference between "berthed" and "birthed". They are both past participle tense verbs and fit equally well with no changes needed to the rest of the sentence. Perhaps you simply have more experience hearing birthed in that context and perceive it to fit better? But in reality they really are grammatically identical.

It's very hard to not see creation in the quote when time is the actor at the moment of a book's "b*rthing".

If the arrow of time isn't berthing a book at its creation, when else would it?

The ambiguity is delightful.

If it were birthed it might be smarter to say orphaned or alienated or something that follows the parentage metaphor instead of unmoored.

If it were berthed it would make more sense to be something like "The destiny of all books is to become unmoored from the time where they were originally berthed".

But it is more common in English to use birthed as created than this kind of extended nautical metaphor.

And it is more common for people to mix their metaphors, especially when they are trying to sound clever.

Therefore I think they mixed their metaphors a bit.

> But it is more common in English to use birthed as created than this kind of extended nautical metaphor.

The question isn't whether birthed is more common than extended nautical metaphors in general, the question is given that a nautical metaphor is already in place, what is the likelihood that metaphor is being extended, versus trampled and replaced with another?

> If it were berthed it would make more sense to be something like "The destiny of all books is to become unmoored from the time where they were originally berthed".

Only if the author is assuming the ship has been berthed many times. It might just as easily have been berthed once and adrift ever since. Being berthed in no way implies repetition.

I guess your assumption about repetition is due to originally, because otherwise I don't see anything that could lead to that assumption, but that assumption is also rather tenuous, because originally berthed would still be a relevant phrasing to use if the boat becomes unmoored.

That is to say originally berthed also works for having been berthed once and adrift ever since, at least in English which tends to be forgiving about this kind of thing.

Slow clap

In the TV series Julia there's a character who's an academic in literature and hosts a public access TV show interviewing authors; I thought it was a bit of a caricature, but it may as well be accurately modelled on Ah-Sen, underplaying it even.

> Ah-Sen is an experimental formalist, and his questions progress from that point of view

What does "experimental formalist" mean in this case and what is the associated point of view you're referring to?

Well, there is the bit where the interviewee responds to a question that utilizes SAT words by saying he does not recognize one of them. That tends to imply it's real-time, unless the interviewee is too lazy to look up the meaning before responding to an email or wants to underscore the pretentious use of language by the interviewer, who nevertheless keeps at it.

The interviewee near the end also says "I confess to feeling loose reading this question." So I'm thinking it's not real time.

The little info box about the interviewer at the end of the article tells you all you need to know.

"The little info box about the interviewer at the end of the article tells you all you need to know."

That is a very round-about way of saying something negative about this article. Why not say straight out what you think is wrong with it? Why not? Maybe because it is easier for some people to agree with you when you don't present any actual facts.

What does that little info-box say? And why do you think that is ALL we need to know?

I think the implication is that this interview is more about the interviewer than about the interviewee. Not sure I agree. Infoboxes about the author of an article are a common practice. I see them even on recipe websites

Hmm, what is it that I needed to know? And what does the info box tell me? As another simpleton in this world, I did not understand this comment.

> Jean Marc Ah-Sen is the author of Grand Menteur, In the Beggarly Style of Imitation, and Kilworthy Tanner. He lives in Toronto.

You got something against Canadians?

No one has more issues with Toronto writers who claim to be part of the "Canadian literary underground" than other Canadians.

Your comment tells me all I need to know about you.

Obtuse commentary is worthless for discussion.

I found this interview almost unreadable, but I'm also quite sure I'm not the target audience for it despite being a pretty avid reader.

I find the author almost unlikeable!

He acts like an actual author - under-acknowledged, cloyingly clever, desperate for attention

instead of an author fantasy - cool, knowledgeable, enmeshed in the subject to the point of unselfconsciousness

I found the interviewer comes across as incredibly pretentious. I can’t stand this style of writing, he is trying way too hard.

I think they're both trying to show how smart they are - the interviewer in a big-brain intellectual fashion, and the author in an arch way to show what a rebel he is.

Despite Powell's almost cringe worthy rage against "liberal racism", at least his responses had force of personality behind them. The interviewer's questions show a distinct lack of awareness. An interview only works if you're setting the stage for the interviewee, not for yourself.

I think the questions were scripted and intentionally specific. What do you think they were unaware of? It seems like the interviewer had a deep understanding of the works. Nothing wrong with asking a deep and detailed question,to which Powell can engage or glide past.

As an aside, I think a huge number of people think the liberal racism bit is spot on. As translated elsewhere in this thread, "erasing representation to avoid the discomfort of confronting racism" is a real phenomenon.

>>An interview only works if you're setting the stage for the interviewee, not for yourself.

Yeah, unless the interviewer is a big name in their own right (so not in this case), your aim is to let the subject shine and fade into the background. The quality of your questions is only judged by what answers they elicit.

Unless it's investigative in nature, even the best interviewers still don't take the spotlight.

Larry King, on his interview technique, said "The key of interviewing is listening. I hate interviewers who come with a long list of prepared questions, because they're going to depend on going from the fourth question to the fifth question without listening to the answer"

Though I can't say I blame the interviewer. If I spent that much time flipping through a thesaurus crafting my questions, I wouldn't want to divert from them either.

Yeah, but I assumed that the interview was done via email. I could be wrong.

Very true. The medium changes a lot with email interviews (interviewer sends all / many questions at once, rather than a back & forth), and would explain a lot of the behavior. Doesn't excuse a lack of understanding of the person he's interviewing and the types of questions that would give him something to stand on.

I saw some instances of there being responses / references to previous answers inside the interviewer's questions, though, which led me to believe otherwise.

Flann O'Brian's novel about a novel "At swim two birds" has been one of my favorite yearly re-reads, I must take it down off the shelf again this weekend!

For me it's the third policeman, which is wonderfully dreamlike.

Teeth, it's all about the teeth, you'd be surprised

mar ná beidh ár leithéidí arís ann


Tell me this, do you ever open a book at all?

I absolutely love this! As you have noted, both the ability and the courage to speak plainly have made it a lost art.

Since it's a central to the interview and not well explained, here's a link to Barthelme's short story "Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby":


It's very short, and very worth reading.

I really like the short story Typical. It is one of my favorite short stories.

So do I! In fact I searched for Powell this morning, after lazily taking down my 1990 Best American Short Stories collection, which was where I first encountered “Typical” and his unique voice.

> I received an email from a colleague who wanted me to talk to the Dean that opened, “Is it time for us to have a chat with the dean? Are we remembering what was promised us, last spring, at lunch? Are we going to let history repeat itself?” I suffered pique at this and wrote back, “Are your emotions pure? Are your nerves adjustable? How do you stand in relation to the potato? Should it still be Constantinople?”

Lord, this paragraph gave me life. This is why we need Academia - somewhere needs be a shelter for the people with both the wit to write this response and the job security to actually send it, if only to provide the rest of us with the solace of knowing it exists.

Should I read anything into this other than the response making fun of the tone of the original message?

The context isn't fully spelled out, but Powell is describing the inspiration for "The Interrogative Mood: A Novel?" Those lines are the beginning of his novel and the novel itself is entirely in the form of questions.

The article’s worth a read, but no, I was just experiencing vicarious catharsis from the response.

So he's just mocking the melodramatic message of his colleague? As someone who's not that well read, I find his response nonsensical, so I imagine I'm missing a reference or two.

I may be reading too far into it, but I think he _is_ mocking his colleague by responding to questions with similar questions.

> Are your emotions pure?

Are you thinking through this with clear thought and emotion?

> Are your nerves adjustable?

Do you feel so strongly about this that it has affected you this whole time, since spring?

> How do you stand in relation to the potato?

Can you not support yourself? Are you as wellrounded or less so than a potato?

> Should it still be Constantinople?

Can the outcome not change even when history repeats itself?

The last one to me seems like the indicator that these questions are not nonsensical. As it is is direct reference to the colleague's question about history repeating itself and refers to a location which changed back and forth numerous times.

Nice reading!

> Donald Barthelme in particular praised you for writing about things readers had never heard before between Black and white characters.

It's bizarre to me that in certain circles some Colors are capitalized, while other colors are not.

It may be bizarre for you, but it is often a reasoned and thoughtful use of the word, meaningful in the context of a complex and consistent consideration of the general meaning and usage of words.

I encourage you to consider and understand the perspectives of those who do capitalize the word.

This serves as an introduction to some people's thinking:


Note, the standard practice to capitalize ethnic groups: For example jewish would be considered incorrect. There are those who consider Black to be an ethnic group, hence, capitalizing it encompasses a way to "describe the people, culture, art and communities" that make up the ethnic group. In which case, it's not a color, exactly, which I think is what you may be missing, when you consider why some capitalize the word.

Case in point: We already capitalize many other groups that are often associated with "color." Color, of course, being a construct we often see as "real," when in fact it is a cultural interpretation.

> After all, she pointed out, “We already capitalize Asian, Hispanic, African American and Native American.”

You and your link make reasonable arguments for capitalizing black, but I don't see any justification (other than to be contrary to supremacist groups) for not doing the same for white, which leaves it inconsistent with the naming of all other racial/ethnic groups.

It's a complicated matter and I'm not the right person to make any statements about it, but on the one side, we have white sub-groups like Irish or Italian. On the other, grouping all Black sub-groups under one moniker seems overly abstract as well. That said, it works for the debate of racism etc in the US, which affects people of color, not so much the various white groups.

> have white sub-groups like Irish or Italian

Right, but are those sub-groups still all that relevant in the context of race in America?

It's been a long time since Irish-Americans have been treated differently than British-Americans, for example.

I would say grouping all white sub-groups together makes as much sense as grouping all black or Asian sub-groups together because generally racial dynamics today are viewed as occurring between White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American groups. Further granularity is rarely considered in informal language.

It's also due to the unique conditions under which the Black identity was formed - that is forced colocation, separation from history, and systemic coidentification. Anyone who traces their history back to slavery, which many Black Americans can, basically has to stop there creating one pretty large "sub-group".

There's a case to be made - and some theorists do - that black and Black are different identities in America, the second directly corresponding to that shared loss of history.

There's no unified group of white people who want to be called White as opposed to white. Though, maybe I'm wrong? Is there such a group?

There is such a group, but they usually pair "White" with some other word that implies superiority.

Ha -- I think in that case capitalization makes sense -- especially when the words are paired -- as this at least does some work to make the group identifiably separate from those who do not at all identify with them.

You're right, they kind of assume the reader knows what they are thinking. My guess is that it is because white isn't used for comradery except if you are extreme, whereas it is normal to do so for non-white groups, so they are trying to delegitimize the extreme group. Whether it is the effective course of action given the goal is an interesting question.

Leftist activists circles have grievances with white people and this is a small token of revenge. Depersonifying white people. Asians don't get internally consistent treatment because of intersectionality.

Are we really pretending it's a coincidence all the time?

This naivety is rightfully never applied to right wing bigotry.

I'm not white myself but I'm genuinely confused as to why this kind of blatant ethnic antagonization is so normalized in western elites and extremely taboo to point out.

The actual critique - which is articulated in many places - is that "white" isn't an ethnic group with an actual cultural or racial lineage. Instead, "white" was created and exists as the dual to "colored" - a shifting category encompassing many ethnicities that describes their position in a set of power structures, historically colonialism. Consider that "whiteness" has changed considerably over the usage of the term, with many ethnicities (irish, italian) shifting into it as their position in American society (the cultural superpower of the time) changed.

To consider this further, shift the power structures and see how whiteness changes. Who is considered "white" in the historic USSR and contemporary ex-bloc states is radically different than the usage in America at the same time. This is even more complicated in places like Central or South America, India, and parts of Asia. I guarantee that - if you weren't versed with local power dynamics and colorism history - you wouldn't be able to classify who on the street is generally considered "white" in Buenos Aires.

The shift in labels and categories applies to all ethnicities, not just whites, even in the US.


All of the definitions are contested and subject to localities, not just whiteness.


>is that "white" isn't an ethnic group with an actual cultural or racial lineage.

None of them are. There's more genetic diversity in sub Saharan Africa than in any other place on earth. People from Asia and people from Africa don't identify as black or asian as a consistent racial lineage.They're also a western ad hoc hodge podge just as much as whiteness is.


None of your explanations single out white people as an especially fake identity inconsistent with asian or black.

I'm confused - it seems like every example you give here supports the theoretical conclusion above.

"Black" as used in the editorial above is a very specific usage - replacing "African American" for the critical reasons outlined. The reason this group is unique as an ethnicity w.r.t. recategorization is because the structure and violence of slavery isolated them from historic ethnicities and forcefully regrouped them under a new one. This is why in that Habecker paper, peoples with dark skin and african heritage who were not part of that system try to separate themselves from that identity - that's why it exists!

I'd also argue that "Asian" probably _shouldn't_ be capitalized, and there are some theorists who agree. Really, asian only really exists as an ethnic category because Americans historically (and even now) couldn't really be assed to learn the basic geography of Asia and grouped it all.

It's easy to be confused when you keep changing your definitions when they're not consistent!

"is that "white" isn't an ethnic group with an actual cultural or racial lineage".

"The reason this group is unique as an ethnicity w.r.t. recategorization is because the structure and violence of slavery isolated them from historic ethnicities and forcefully regrouped them under a new one."

Conflicting statements.

According to you white people don't have historic ethnicities but black people also don't because of slavery and that is why they deserve capitalization?

Black isn't an ethnic group either. There are black people from Africa, Pacific islands, Australia, South America, and India. It's a descriptor, not an immutable category that defines you, and it's uniquely used here in America.

In America, captital-B Black is usually used to refer to people who were forcefully disconnected from their ancestry by the imposition of slavery. In many theoretical frameworks, it is an entirely new ethnic group by virtue of their original ethnicity being severed and the forced co-reculturalization through slavery and the subsequent (and continuing) power structures that forcefully and implicitly group them together.

What if I am writing capital-B Black out of respect, though, for that unique ethnic group? Like, even if I recognize that I was part of the problem, or that is somehow still not ideal, but I am trying to make the situation a little bit better?

Except that it also contains recent Ugandan immigrants who moved here by choice and work as surgeons. Just like white, it's a big umbrella and rough category.

I agree that there's complexity there, but it's worth noting that it is a point of moderate contention whether those immigrants share the Black identity or just the black identity. More knowledgeable theorists than myself (and notably those actually party to these identities) have discussed this at more depth, and I recommend digging into it if you're interested.

I'm not digging into racial pseudoscience, nor do I have any interest in such. Are these the same types of people who say that being on time and respectful are "white" values? Those people are stupid and/or malicious.

This isn't psuedoscience because it's not trying to be science. It's theoretical analysis - entirely different tradition.

"White" is almost always a proxy for the british and their former empire, now represented by america's elites.


Capitalizing one and not the others is racist. There is no monolithic white, black, or brown experience, and to pretend otherwise is racist. It's a stupid microaggression

This kind of anti-white racism is everywhere in western media. It's in advertising. It's in the news reporting. It's in the hiring practices.

Ironically, all this will end up doing is make more people racist again.

"You're the real racists" is a fallacy; it's ultimately not about appearance but oppression.

It's not "you're the real racists", but rather "this is racist". Which it is.

from your link, first paragraph:

"For many people, Black reflects a shared sense of identity and community. White carries a different set of meanings; capitalizing the word in this context risks following the lead of white supremacists."

I don't find that thoughtful.

The argument further erodes when they also capitalize "Asian", which is described as "groups that include myriad ethnic identities united by shared race and geography and, to some degree, culture" - How does that not apply equally to "white" also?

I, a Turkish migrant living in Europe, think of a specific culture when I read "Black", and skin color when I read "black" (in the context of talking about people of course), and White doesn't tell me anything. Many people from West Turkey also consider themselves as "white" but this is only in comparison to the average skin color of people from East Turkey.

It's a mistake to internationalize it, the terms are usually used in the American context.

Black usually means the descendant of slaves. When Obama was starting his political career there was some debate in the Black community about if he really counted as Black, since he didn't really have much contact with the Black community until his 20s and his history is quite different.

White typically means descendants of various waves of settlers with limited ties to any specific European country. Generally they can trace their lineage to a mix of early and later arrivals. With a strong bias towards northern Europe.

Hispanic generally meant Mexican, Cuban, or Puerto Rican. Which were fairly geographically distinct communities in the 90s so one word for all three didn't cause much confusion.

> Hispanic generally meant Mexican, Cuban, or Puerto Rican.

Hispanic is a newer term, minted during my lifetime. I know older people who used to be white until they were relabeled as Hispanic.



It seems to me that this practice is just another example of putting white people on a pedestal. If all other racial groups have "a shared sense of identity and community", then it implies that being white is the default; that the world is split into white and not-white.

Independent of the stated rationale, I think the primary function is as an ideological test and signal:

Does one hold that all the diverse peoples of Africa can be considered with a shared group identity, which deserves acknowledgement and respect, and do you simultaneously hold that white people of Europe can be grouped together, but that grouping is undeserving of the same validity and respect.

If someone is willing to engage in this Act of cognitive dissonance, they can be considered part of the political in-group or at least sufficiently compliant to be trusted.

It is absolutely an example of the liberal racism that Powell is talking about and straight out of 1984.

>Does one hold that all the diverse peoples of Africa can be considered with a shared group identity, which deserves acknowledgement and respect, and do you simultaneously hold that white people of Europe can be grouped together, but that grouping is undeserving of the same validity and respect.

We have words for those people.

African. European.

I'm not sure what you're talking about here? It's confusing.

Maybe the problem here seems to be that "white" is implied to be the umbrella term for "European." It's not, nor do I believe very many people think it should be. We don't want to go back to the Pre-WW2 eugenics thinking. That pretty much tore the continent apart.

Shared Black identity across nationalities and ethnicities, and even moreso shared American Black identity as a product of active erasure of nationalities and ethnicities, are products of shared experience within the context of White supremacy.

So is shared White identity across nationalities and ethnicities. But identifying with the shared White experience of White supremacy has a substantially different character than identifying with the shared Black experience of White supremacy.

You should read the CJR link. The "shared sense of identity and community" is being descendants of the victims of the slave trade and not the color of their skin.

That's a strange definition, because it excludes the majority of the world's dark skinned population. If only the descendants of slaves brought to the Americas can claim to be Black, then there are no Black people in Africa. Hell, even Barack Obama can't claim to be Black, since he is a child of immigrants, not slaves.

Can you explain how that works for each other grouping that is capitalized, but is not also true for white people?

> descendants of the victims of the slave trade

The Irish were white.

Black and White is such a revolutionary PC game, I can agree to that!

It's blatantly racist. Just imagine the opposite and the resulting uproar

It is certainly hateful. A conscious choice that most publishing houses made in the summer of 2020, with a wide verity of delusional explanations.

“JMA: Does the prose voice that you adopt develop in parallel to the thematic concerns that you will tackle in a given work, or does it emerge as a result of other considerations?

PP: It emerges with no consideration for anything but the next correct word.”


Generative Padgett Tranformer

Not a lit major, never seen the term Mupdeemut before, but now excited to use it. Plenty of opportunity in personal and work conversation.

edit: back to recommend against using Mupdeemut. People thought i was saying something derogatory and i had to spend significant time explaining myself.

Padgett coins the word in the interview:

  [m]ade-[u]p [p]eople [d]oing [m]ade-[u]p [t]hings. Let’s call that MUPDMUT. With some liberty, Mupdeemut

Honestly sounds like something straight out of a Pogo comic strip

This is as funny as the interview.

Interesting, neither Google, nor GPT-4 know anything about that term, outside of TFA.

He clearly made it up during the interview.

I admit I spent more time right clicking -> 'search the web' for some of the words he used. Incredible vocabulary.. I have to use 'intellection' soon, I've needed to use a word like that before but couldn't find it.

I obviously need to pay more attention. Thank you very much.


well you could use understanding

'intellection' has a more playful connotation, especially as the author interviewed used it, because it's needlessly academic and sounds made up

I went looking for more Padget Powell; in particular I wanted to hear his voice. This one is pretty good.


In the interview he also uses "made-up people doing made-up things", so this was not an nonce invention. Perhaps he uses the phrase when teaching literature. Also I would not judge him for this, every person who is frequently interviewed learns to deploy a few stories and phrases that have a reliable effect.

I took me some reflection and some education from the comments here to see this, but it seems like Powell had the same pique to the interviewer's questions as he did to his colleague's. So he answers the questions, but at the same time he critiques the interviewer:

- "I now lack the juice to fuel the bluster to conceal that I am a simpleton," suggesting that the interviewer still has said juice. This also allows some subtle critiques like "I'm ignorant of 'malapert'", which on the surface is a sort of back-handed compliment to the questioner on their ability to coin a phrase like "malapert urbanity" that a "simpleton" like they are interviewing does not understand. But it also suggests that if the "legend" they are interviewing does not know the word, perhaps this is excessive juice.

- "It emerges with no consideration for anything but the next correct word." Questioner, stop overthinking things.

- Then when the interviewer asks Powell to agree with his assertion-as-a-question that there is no wrong way to read a book, Powell responds with a story about how he wants to focus on making writing better but people like the interviewer that say there are no wrong ways to read a book are actually teaching that there are wrong ways to say things. Furthermore, people like the interviewer eviscerated a recent book in the style that people like the interviewer celebrated, on the grounds of racism, despite the fact that the content of his books is from actual black people who said those things. So the implied answer the question is that no, a book does not get unmoored from its time period, because he cannot actually publish those books today, and that there may or may not be a wrong way to read a book, but there certainly is a wrong way to write one, namely his (celebrated) way.

But then it all goes completely over the interviewer's head (no doubt as expected). I wasn't impressed with Powell on the first read, but wow, that is some finesse!

> I learned to write the English I have written by taking three years of Latin, in the putatively desolate educational backwater of Jacksonville, Florida, ending in the tenth grade translating The Aeneid. I was in homeroom sitting with Allen Collins of Lynyrd Skynyrd. We was gettin’ it. We did not know we was gettin’ it.

This is great.

Very interesting interview, but aside from that – what a true joy to read an article with so many words I'd never even seen before!


I'm finally going to beat someone at scrabble!

A group of people just asked me what verisimilitude was, now I'm excited to come back and tell them about verisimilitudinously.

> verisimilitudinously

I might say to them that verisimilitudinous is not the usual word (despite the OP). It's the more elegant verisimilar, and thus verisimilarly.

More elegant, but far less fun.

> A group of people just asked me what verisimilitude was

This happens all the time! Glad it’s not just me.

Next up is probably vicissitudes, then

Voila! In view humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the “vox populi” now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a bygone vexation stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin, van guarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it’s my very good honour to meet you and you may call me V.

Nope, heteroscedasticity.

I picked my username so I'd remember that very word...

missed opportunity to put the definition in your bio

Last time I learnt that many new words was from the monologue in 'V for Vendetta'.

Vichyssoise! Sounds like a French sauce.

In Popper's philosophy of science, the concept of verisimilitude plays an important role, or is a technical term.

True! Really?

It's not just similitude. It's veri. Similitude.

I know you're joking but it may confuse people: It's veri (the truth, e.g. verily, verify) + similitude: something that seems like truth, but is not truth - otherwise we'd just call it truth.

>something that seems like truth, but is not truth - otherwise we'd just call it truth.

Not really. Something is verisimilar when it has the appearance of truth, or is likely to be true, regardless of whether it is in fact true. In Spanish, verosímil ('verisimilar') is rather frequently used in contexts in which one hypothesizes about the trueness of claims or statements, especially when it cannot be verified at that very moment, or ever.

Very interesting about Spanish; thanks.

> Something is verisimilar when it has the appearance of truth, or is likely to be true, regardless of whether it is in fact true.

Hmmm ... in English I've never seen the usage "likely to be true". There are many other words for that - probable, likely, etc.

Great interview. If you liked it then here is another with the same author that is also worth your time: https://lithub.com/in-which-padgett-powell-employs-an-extend...

I've never felt as seen as when I read that title

This I did not expect:

> I learned to write the English I have written by taking three years of Latin, in the putatively desolate educational backwater of Jacksonville, Florida, ending in the tenth grade translating The Aeneid. I was in homeroom sitting with Allen Collins of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

I'd like that on my tombstone....

200 years from now someone wonders who you were simping for.

i know a good engraver.

Quote in the title is a near-perfect description of where I am in the job search process.

(meta) the site is a dream. It can be browsed without css/js.

Although, on the topic of site design, the Tweets on the sidebar do take up 2/3 of the page. Is it really necessary to see posts all the way back from April 2020?

this will be the subject line of my next resignation email!

I am a singleton

That was a nice read. Thanks for posting!

In a long true account of a dust-up at a restaurant in old Austin, not new Austin, a Black man on my roofing crew came to my defense and knocked out a white restaurant manager, who was at the moment presuming to assault me. Willie had noticed that the manager had Black back-up and felt I should too. “Old Padge need him some brothers too,” he would explain later.

The piece was essentially a portrait of a hero, Willie Ebert Brown, in a terrain of racial relations that had hope in it. The sentence that announced the Black back-up for the manager was this: “A sturdy-looking Black guy came out of the kitchen.” This is choice low fruit for a sensitivity editor. “Objectifying description,” she wrote, “that may invoke associations with slavery.”

I should have desisted publishing the book, but I am a chicken-shit person and I really wanted a book with a beautiful photo of an indigo snake on its cover. My celebration of Willie was thrown out; my invocation of slavery (to which who objects, its absurdity aside?) was one of a hundred other crimes in the piece. Liberal racism had its way: remove racism by removing race.

There is not a person of color in my book except a very positive small tribute to Barack Obama as a tool by which we might argue the French can slow their roll about how racist we are and they aren’t. How that was not deemed racist is a wonder, because it somewhat is. It’s not a wonder: liberal racism is a photo-negative argument. I apologize for this rant. Chicken-shit and now tired too.

Snark is a signal of cheap argument: They have nothing more serious to say; they are signaling that there is a bandwagon and you can join in, rather than a serious argument that you can engage and reason with - just grab a drink and hop aboard! Don't spoil the party!

Chicken-shit indeed: It's very easy these days to preach to the choir, white people jumping on the anti-antiracism bandwagon, because they can deny and ignore racism's effects without personal consequence (including that it's not socially acceptable and even encouraged), and tiring of dealing with race (if white people tire of it, just imagine black people who can't avoid or ignore it).

Instead of cutting the story, how about a description of the kitchen-worker as more than "Black" (though we don't get to see the original; maybe that's already there). Instead of snark, how about an examination of what the editor meant, what aspects were racism to what degree? So sorry for tiring you.

> Snark is a signal of cheap argument: They have nothing more serious to say;

and the traditional riposte as shown here is smarm: https://web.archive.org/web/20131207011820/https://gawker.co...

What is this defining feature of our times? What is snark reacting to?

It is reacting to smarm.

What is smarm, exactly? Smarm is a kind of performance—an assumption of the forms of seriousness, of virtue, of constructiveness, without the substance. Smarm is concerned with appropriateness and with tone. Smarm disapproves.

Smarm would rather talk about anything other than smarm. Why, smarm asks, can't everyone just be nicer?

The existence of a “sensitivity editor” more or less defines smarm, so the reaction is fairly natural.

>Snark is a signal of cheap argument: They have nothing more serious to say

They may well have something more serious to say, and it doesn't imply a weak argument in itself. I think it's fair to say the author does have something more serious to say; the question, really, is do you. All you've done is reduced the OP to the same tired discourse, and proclaimed which side you're on, but you know, there really is more to the linked essay than that.

> I think it's fair to say the author does have something more serious to say

Based on what?

> All you've done is reduced the OP to the same tired discourse

The OP did that. What else have they offered?

What’s the word for snark in response to snark? Like your post.

Snark is also fun and is often a welcome reprieve from serious argument.

>Black and white

Tell us what you really think, loxist

This is amazing. I wonder, is one allowed to speak like this in the Bay Area, or would this mark you as a deplorable to the kind of people who erase racism by erasing race.

I understand why he chose to say it this way, and I'll probably be stealing "liberal racism" (what a phrase: that's going in my pocketbook alongside "white guilt" and "racialise"), but this is the wrong way to say it to a Bay Area audience. You'd want to say something like "erasing representation to avoid confronting racism".

Yup, those downvotes speak loud and clear. One doesn't speak plainly around these folks but rather has to whisper.

Or, maybe people truly don’t know what you are talking about when you’re excessively vague and coy, to the point where it adds nothing to the conversation.

When someone’s post amounts to: “you know what I’m talking about, I just can’t say it,” well, you might as well just not say it. You’re dogwhistling, but there are no dogs.

It's not how you said it -- it's that for no apparent reason you're making a political jab at a large group. Plus it seems to seems to have no bearing on the article.

Yes, you can speak like this. People are just going to think you're pretentious. This is the sort of language you use with specific audiences. The interviewer and the interviewee are simply using language for mutually exclusive audiences.

It's a domain-specific language, but it's about prose instead of e.g. legal, medicine, or IT tech.

People are going to know you're pretentious.

Somehow a particular audience in the Bay Area decided that they must be the only ones with a voice.

Perhaps you're getting downvoted for being weirdly coy. It sounds like you want to paint a bunch of people with one brush, why don't you just go ahead and do it?

I'll never understand this smirking form of reactionary elbow-nudging.

What is ‘in the bay area’ code for

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact