Sunday, October 14, 2007

Outsourced context

It's a marvel how the New York Times can produce historical perspective through automation. Click on a word and Answers.com searches a reference library. Sometimes I just stumble on this feature through errant keystroke and learn that the tuna is a fast swimmer.

This ready-reference search came in handy when the Times reprinted a 15-year-old essay by novelist and now Nobel laureate Doris Lessing. She had made a point about political correctness that Harold ("Closing of the American Mind") Bloom now might appreciate, even as he grouses that in Lessing's case the Nobel committee could be its standard bearer. ( Bloom says since age 73 it's been all downhill for Lessing.)

Lessing saw Marxist roots in fuzzy political and academic speech, and took pains to separate it from literary speech: "Literature, in particular, has always inspired the House committees, the Zhdanovs, the fits of moralizing, but, at worst, persecution."

That's a sentence fraught with context, and while Answers.com did a fair job at a capsule bio of Andrei Zhdanov, Wikipedia gets right to the point on his role as impresario of Socialist Realism. As for the veiled reference to the House Committee on Un-American Activities, nytimes.com cannot read between the lines.

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