Sociology-in-pop-culture-reference alert: Philip Roth has written Wikipedia an open letter in the New Yorker asking Wiki to fix the entry about his novel The Human Stain. (The entry has now been changed.) I love the idea of famous authors reading and correcting Wikipedia pages, albeit via an “interlocutor” as Roth tells it in the New Yorker. The longer article raises several problematic issues about race, history and power, and the impact of fiction on real lives. Roth discusses the protagonist in the Human Stain as well as the two men who have been linked to his novel, all whom “hide” their African-American descent in order to “pass” as White. Read on and click through to the longer article.
A mistake on a Wikipedia entry for one of his novels leads an author to set the record straight:
My novel ‘The Human Stain’ was described in the entry as ‘allegedly inspired by the life of the writer Anatole Broyard.’ (The precise language has since been altered by Wikipedia’s collaborative editing, but this falsity still stands.)
This alleged allegation is in no way substantiated by fact. ‘The Human Stain’ was inspired, rather, by an unhappy event in the life of my late friend Melvin Tumin, professor of sociology at Princeton for some thirty years. One day in the fall of 1985, while Mel, who was meticulous in all things large and small, was meticulously taking the roll in a sociology class, he noted that two of his students had as yet not attended a single class session or attempted to meet with him to explain their failure to appear, though it was by then the middle of the semester.
Having finished taking the roll, Mel queried the class about these two students whom he had never met. ‘Does anyone know these people? Do they exist or are they spooks?’—unfortunately, the very words that Coleman Silk, the protagonist of ‘The Human Stain,’ asks of his classics class at Athena College in Massachusetts.
- Reblogged from longreads