What Cultural Icons of the 19th & 20th Centuries Would Have Liked About Life in the 21st Century


At the web site, The Fer­tile Fact, you can read lists and lists of things you nev­er knew about your favorite cul­tur­al fig­ures. Or rather, you can read lists and lists of guess­es about what your favorite cul­tur­al fig­ures of the 19th and 20th cen­turies would have enjoyed about life in our 21st cen­tu­ry. From Paul Hen­drick­son, author of Hemingway’s Boat: Every­thing He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934 – 1961, we learn that Papa would have liked e‑mail (“for a man who wrote let­ters to tune him­self up and cool him­self down against the day’s ‘real writ­ing’, email would have been a great out­let for his emo­tion”). But he would have loved Twit­ter:

Email squared. Hem­ing­way was the mas­ter of ‘cable-ese’, a form of slang devel­oped by jour­nal­ists in the 1920s to save space (and, as impor­tant­ly, mon­ey) when send­ing telegraphs, which he learned in his youth as a news­pa­per­man. He would have loved the 140-char­ac­ter lim­it to write small lit­tle nov­els of rage or love or some­thing in between. If he could write an arc of a sto­ry in six words, which went: “For Sale: baby shoes, nev­er worn,” there­by arguably invent­ing flash fic­tion, then just imag­ine the pos­si­bil­i­ties of the kind of War and Peace epics he might have tried via Twit­ter. And the pos­si­ble spats he might have got into, of course.


From Tom Williams, author of A Mys­te­ri­ous Some­thing In The Light: A Life of Ray­mond Chan­dler, we learn that the cre­ator of Philip Mar­lowe, anoth­er poten­tial Twit­ter enthu­si­ast, would take to the works of Quentin Taran­ti­no, since

The thing that frus­trat­ed Chan­dler most about Hol­ly­wood was that his vision as a writer rarely made it onto screen unmedi­at­ed. For Ray, the stu­dio always got in the way of what he was try­ing to do. It was a prob­lem that par­tic­u­lar­ly affect­ed The Blue Dahlia. Though a movie beset by prob­lems (a tight sched­ule meant Chan­dler had to write the end­ing in a state of extreme intox­i­ca­tion) one of the most con­stant laments in his let­ters is the studio’s per­sis­tent med­dling with the pic­ture. He wrote to a friend, short­ly after fin­ish­ing the film, “So here was I a mere writer and a tired one at that scream­ing at the front office to pro­tect the pro­duc­er and actu­al­ly going on the set to direct scenes – I know noth­ing about direct­ing – in order that the whole project be saved from going down the drain.”

Stu­dios were more inter­est­ed in get­ting pun­ters into the the­atre than pro­duc­ing good films as far as Chan­dler was con­cerned (see the bit­ter por­trait of a stu­dio boss in The Lit­tle Sis­ter who talks of car­ing only for the num­ber of the­atres he owns, not the films shown in them, while let­ting his dog uri­nate on his trouser cuff). Though Quentin Taran­ti­no is hard­ly the first direc­tor to work inde­pen­dent­ly of a stu­dio, his deter­mi­na­tion to make the films he wants (prov­ing the val­ue of let­ting a film-mak­er stick to his vision in the process) is some­thing Chan­dler would have admired deeply. Taran­ti­no is also will­ing to embrace all lev­els of cul­ture, and this too is some­thing Ray would have respect­ed; he was nev­er one for lit­er­ary snob­bery.


From Robert Zaret­sky, author of A Life Worth Liv­ing: Albert Camus and the Quest for Mean­ing, we learn that cre­ator of Meur­sault, the affect­less Arab-shoot­ing pro­tag­o­nist of The Stranger, would have approved of The Arab Spring:

The author of The Rebel would find lit­tle rea­son for hope, but none for despair. The instances of non-vio­lent protest in Tunisia and Egypt would serve as illus­tra­tions of Camus’ insis­tence that true rebels nev­er lose sight of the human­i­ty of those who oppress them. Syr­ia? The trag­ic illus­tra­tion of what hap­pens when rebels do lose sight of this imper­a­tive.

The Fer­tile Fact offers not only more things these three men would enjoy about our era, but sim­i­lar lists for such cre­ators as Alfred Hitch­cock, Nan­cy Mit­ford, Ten­nessee Williams, and Agatha Christie. How long before they pro­duce one for Vir­ginia Woolf, the writer who, describ­ing “the cre­ative fact,” “the fact that engen­ders and sug­gests,” coined the phrase that gave the site its name?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

18 (Free) Books Ernest Hem­ing­way Wished He Could Read Again for the First Time

Ray­mond Chan­dler Denounces Strangers on a Train in Sharply-Word­ed Let­ter to Alfred Hitch­cock

Quentin Tarantino’s 10 Favorite Films of 2013

Albert Camus Writes a Friend­ly Let­ter to Jean-Paul Sartre Before Their Per­son­al and Philo­soph­i­cal Rift

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, lit­er­a­ture, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Face­book page.

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