by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
March 27, 2002
SEATTLE, Wash. -- Keeping a journal, as I do, can be a great comfort, especially when the old memory starts to depend on Post-It notes all over the inside of my skull. It can also be humiliating, infuriating, and baffling. But informative withal.
My bedside reading last night was this same journal as I kept it in London in the late Sixties of the last century (I love the sound of this). It is of course a tad depressing to compare then and now.
Then I was, if you believe my journal, the toast of London, with my new comic strip, "Ollie," in the Spectator being greeted in the rest of the London press, I now realize, not so much as a sign of my artistic genius as a sign that my editor, Nigel Lawson, had finally lost his mind.
Well, now. It was not all that bad. And besides, my damage to his career must have been slight, for Nigel did thereafter go on to become Margaret Thatcher's Chancellor of the Exchequer. He'd been an MP at the time he was my editor, but all I could remember of the political side of his life was his slowing his speedy roadster down to the legal limit when we sped through the district that he represented in Parliament (Eton and Slough) as we were on our way out to the printer's to check some detail of the next issue.
I'd pasted the earliest strips into the journal. They were frankly awful. If only I could withdraw them and then redraw them! My grandson Ben could do better. Hell, my grandson Tom could do better, and he's only a star athlete, not an artist. But then, there was one reader in Switzerland, Vladimir Nabokov, who thought that "Ollie" was not all that bad. He even said so in print, bless his heart. For my own private amusement, I'd invented a Russian character for the strip, and even gave him a few lines in Cyrillic characters. (Try that today.) It must have been the mad Russian that fetched Lolita's dad.
Speaking of Nabokov, and editors, I've just got from Cornell University Press the edited text of an essay that I contributed to a Nabokov conference a few years ago.
After half a century of writing for publication, I am more or less inured to seeing a manuscript of mine with marginal queries and proofreading marks of all kinds liberally sprinkled over it. These marks normally betray a human presence, and a helpful one. I revere editors, who have often saved me from shameful gaffes. But like every red-blooded American author, I also detest them. How dare they sprinkle commas as if they were disinfecting a closet?
But the MS of my essay for the Cornell University Press had been processed by a machine. No evidence of a human hand, intelligence, or taste could be seen. Unthinkable as it may be, my work seemed to have been edited by a machine, one not unlike the spellchecker on this very computer, which endears itself to me occasionally by asking whether my "lowfat" was a mistake for "Lafayette."
The Cornell UP editing robot wished to iron out of my prose all the crinkles that make it mine, which is the envy of columnists everywhere - and I can see you over in the corner who are cheering for the machine - I have your names!
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus ofComparative Literature at Princeton University.