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New Left Review 2, March-April 2000


What do the obituaries in Manhattan’s leading daily tell us about the nervous system of America’s liberal democracy? The filters and foibles of the success story as a grid for social memory.

FRANCO MORETTI

NEW YORK TIMES OBITUARIES

I

If you go to New York, chances are that you will read the New York Times, that is to say one of the most overrated papers on earth. But don’t miss its truly great page: the Obituaries. It’s the only section I read every day, because I admire the intention that animates it: to remember. And to do so on a large scale, five, six, eight short biographies per day. Compared to Italian newspapers, which devote a very large space to very few people, the Obits have an open, ‘democratic’ feel: lots of people, of many kinds, and most of them not at all famous. Reading their stories, you are reminded that society is made of different worlds and temporalities: where the 36-year-old choreographer who has just put on his first Broadway show appears next to the 101-year-old man who had fought in ‘Palestine’, against the Turks, in the Jewish battalion of the British army.

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