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Art of the Obituary
 

The Art of the Obituary: William Ash

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Screenshot 2014-05-09 at 11.43.11 AM - Edited

William Ash (November 30, 1917 — April 26, 2014)

Mr. Ash graduated with honors from the University of Texas, then wandered as a hobo, bouncing from boxcar to boxcar, job to job. He worked at a bank operating an elevator. (An acquaintance asked if his employer knew about his academic success. “Yes,” he replied, “but they’ve agreed to overlook it.”) In 1934, as a cub reporter for The Dallas Morning News, he gazed on the bullet-riddled corpses of Bonnie and Clyde.

Disappointed to have missed the Spanish Civil War, he decided to join the Royal Canadian Air Force to battle Hitler. (The United States was neutral at the time.) Reaching Detroit in early 1940, he walked across the Ambassador Bridge to Canada to enlist, giving up his American citizenship.

He found he loved to fly, a delight that ended abruptly when six German fighters shot him down near Calais on France’s northern coast.

His first escape attempt as a prisoner of war involved hiding in a shower drain. Two weeks’ solitary confinement followed. He nonetheless found the act of escape exhilarating, despite — or because of — the danger. He loved to take risks.

“If he saw a big red button, he had to push it,” Mr. Foley said.

Excerpted from the New York Times

 

Vaclav Havel, 1936-2011

Where are the great men? Are we beyond the point of elevating the individual over the group, or are there simply no more individuals? Marc Sageman, a former CIA officer, has warned for more than a decade of the emergence of “leaderless jihad” as terrorist movements spawn violent individuals. But lately his idea has been turned on its head, as the movement for freedom attempts to override the putsch for security. It seems there are no more barriers between the secure, the secured, and the guardians of their security; it is all the same anarchy, brutality, violence, and havoc. There is the elite and then there is everyone else. Enter Vaclav Havel.

The words of a Czech man were forwarded to me this afternoon, and they hit me like a cold sheet: “Yep, the last great man.” Every obituary printed today mentions Havel’s achievements: playwright and poet, artist, intellectual, and dissident — but these are titles. More important, he was an inmate who could only forsake the cell-block walls and bars later because he lived long enough to see the cafes and meet the Western intellectuals who idealized him, because he lived in a parallel time and knew moral courage as more than mere words.

In Sageman’s analysis, individuals are inspired by violence done in the name of a collective. In Havel’s world, the antithesis of Sageman’s, individual creative acts spawn a collective, which together can challenge and — inshallah and man willing — destroy an oppressive system. Havel did not create the guidelines of creative defense, nor did he spawn every activist who was tired of a system in which every last piece of bread must be saved because the proverbial rainy day is, in fact, every day.

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The Art of the Obituary (7): Momofuku Ando

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Momofuku Ando, inventor of instant noodles (March 5, 1910 – January 5, 2007)

He ate Chikin Ramen, his original flavour of noodles, almost every day until he died. Though sceptics pointed out that they were loaded with fat, salt and monosodium glutamate, he looked bonny and spry. Seabeds across Asia were littered with plastic noodle cups; but that was not his fault.

Excerpted from The Economist

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Whoever Emerges is a digital and physical art instillation by artist and poet, Michael Brod. Visit Whoever at Gallery 221 in New York.

 

The Art of the Obituary (6): Susan Sontag

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Annie Leibovitz, Susan at the House on Hedges Lane (1988), Brooklyn Museum

Susan Sontag (January 16, 1933 – December 28, 2004)

She was bookish almost from birth. At three, she was reading; at nine, living in Los Angeles, she was browsing Poe, Hugo and “Hamlet” in the Pickwick bookstore on Hollywood Boulevard; at 14, she discovered Thomas Mann. Each book was “a door to a whole kingdom”. In later life, when she had acquired 25,000 of them, ranged along every wall and corridor of her spartan apartment in New York, she would spend time simply pacing in front of them, thinking of all they contained.

Excerpted from The Economist.