Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 18, No. 6, 2019
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Chris Barry
Don Dewey
Howard Richler
Gary Olson
Lynda Renée
Oslavi Linares
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
  Music Editors
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Jerry Prindle
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somerville
Mona Eltahawy
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Navi Pillay
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward





Donald Dewey has written some 40 books of fiction and nonfiction, as well as contributed scores of stories to magazines and other periodicals. He has also had some 30 plays staged in Europe and the United States. Dewey was editor of the ASME-award winning magazine Attenzione and was editorial director of the East-West Network, overseeing a dozen in-flight magazines and the PBS organ Dial. His most recent thriller novel is Red Herrings.

The late actor Hume Cronyn liked telling the story of the time he received a call from the New York Times requesting an interview. Since he was days away from closing in a Broadway play rather than opening in one, he was puzzled by the request but also mindful of his mother's advice never to turn down a chance to have his name in the Times.

Cronyn was disconcerted when the interviewer showed up at the door of his Manhattan apartment --- not a reporter from the daily's Arts section, but a young man who needed to add a few years even to be taken for an intern. The light dawned only after the first few questions, which had the common preface of, "Of all the plays (films, TV shows) you've done, which do you think of as your most important?" What the actor was being interviewed for, he realized, was his obituary. Or as he put it, "I was already dead, just didn't know it!"

Millions of newspaper readers become aware every day about the new dead. The most impatient review the names of the departed online while the print-addicted insist on ink in their breakfast muffins. A necrology in such broadsheets as the New York Times, Washington Post, or Los Angeles Times can run into a coffee refill if the life described has been fascinating enough. Contract killers who have written Civil War novels and won the Nobel Prize for molecular biology are always worth postponing a return to the front page for more squalid lies from Washington. Some people have had enthralling lives and we are richer for knowing about them, if a little late.

Still, there are those shadows over the obit reading habit, and the now- and-then readership survey isn't reassuring. What it usually comes down to is that the reader who skips over the ball scores and the latest betrayal of the Kurds to get to the details on the death of a GM vice-president is advanced in years and has invited thoughts of his own mortality into his mind too generously. Simply the identification of the lethal disease that did in the subject, according to studies of the kind, provides another throw pillow for the couch for some readers to curl upon despondently.

Which is the glass half-empty outlook. But being attracted to the obituary pages isn't some contemporary quest for having one's own self-
diagnosed neurosis for ruminant cocktail party chat. As long ago as the Roman Empire, a daily scroll translated as Daily Acts circulated with news of the latest senator who gorged himself on one grape too many and didn't get to the vomitorium on time. The format of name, cause, and official regret stayed more or less the same throughout Europe for centuries and was picked up in America under such headings as Bill of Mortality. Necrolatry has never been a nationalist threat. My own scientific study shows that more obituary readers have learned things -- about people, historical events, secret lovers -- than start driving by cemeteries after midnight.

These readers also have a lot more clues than they might suspect to what is trending out there in other sections of their paper. Just the
headlined ages of the deceased make it clear that 90 may soon become the new 25, supporting the TV commercial wisdom to eat Cheerios and run across your favorite trestle bridge whenever possible. And look more closely at who is providing all that steady work for morticians. It wasn't very long ago that every other notice was about a newspaperman from Arkansas awarded a Pulitzer for a series of articles on a salmon's right to swim downstream. But no more newspapermen because there are no more newspapers. Instead, we have obituaries for so many rock drummers from the 1970s that the vinyl in our closet reappreciates with every arrival of the newspaper delivery boy.

After so many centuries, death notices have gone beyond the name, the cause, and too bad. Sometimes they approach literature,
other times literature's noted trope of irony. The form's equivalent of War and Peace was arguably a 13,000-word farewell in the Times
to Pope John Paul, unofficially the paper's longest ever and lacking only hard covers for a book biography. On the other hand, there was
the case of Mel Gussow, assigned to get down the fundamentals for an obituary for Elizabeth Taylor in 1989. Year by year, he updated
his copy until he himself died in 2008, three years before Taylor. It is hardly a longshot bet that every obituary section in the country
presently has a computer file on millions of people who may have been as famous as John Paul and Elizabeth Taylor or as unknown
as the first spokesman for Japanese steak knives but who are united in not yet supplying the RIP year. And don't think there aren't a lot
of so-called ‘content providers’ who haven't heard of Mel Gussow.

Down to it, though, our relationship with obituary notices is driven by a curiosity indistinguishable from a judgment and being
applied to ourselves as well as to the person we are reading about; to wit, has he (she) led a good life?



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Also by Donald Dewey:
Passive Resistance
Not Playing It Safe
The Expectation Medium
Crisis in Critics
Words Not to Live By
Knowing the Killer
Racism to the Rescue
Punk Times
Not Playing It Safe
Meeting the Author
The Overwriting Syndrome
Writers As Ideas
Let Them Entertain Us
It's a Kindergarten Life
Being and Disconnectedness
History of Humour in the Cinema
Cartoon Power

Red Herrings by DON DEWEY

For years Charley Sylvester has buried himself as the Obituaries Editor of a major New York daily.When he decides to take a vacation in one of his old hunting grounds as a correspondent in Italy, the bodies resist complacent editing. Surrounded by suicides and murders, he finds himself in the middle of political intrigues involving three countries andold friends who are no longer the friends he remembered.

Trade Paperback - 6 x 9 x 9
360 Pages
FICTION / Mystery & Detective / Private Investigators











Arts & Opinion, a bi-monthly, is archived in the Library and Archives Canada.
ISSN 1718-2034


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