- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Earrrrrrrrrtha

“In an era when manufactured ‘celebrities’ are as common as drab backyard sparrows, Eartha Kitt, who died on Christmas Day of colon cancer at age 81, was the kind of strange, wondrous, exotic bird you lay eyes on once and never forget.

“I first discovered Kitt when I was a young boy watching after-school reruns of ‘Batman’; she was touted in the credits as an ‘Extra Special Guest Villainess’ for her role as ‘The Catwoman,’ and while everything about the show was pure ridiculousness — nothing more so than the way Kitt gleefully rolled her r’s on words like ‘prrrrrrrhaps’ and ‘terrrrrrrrific’ — it was an exercise in futility to try to take my eyes off the giddy woman in the black bodysuit who seemed to turn her every scene into a wild one-woman show. …

“This past summer, however, I got to see Kitt in a cabaret setting … . Sitting maybe 20 feet away from the stage at Cafe Carlyle in New York City, and watching Kitt vamp and shamelessly flirt with male audience members, I was struck by how few octogenarians would still attempt to play the sex kitten, let alone pull it off … . Perhaps even more impressive, though, was Kitt’s understanding that to be seductive, you don’t always have to be so bloody serious. Indeed, she broke out into her trademark cackle several times during old chestnuts like ‘Too Young to Be Meant for Me’ and ‘Champagne Taste.’”

— Michael Slezak, writing on “Remembering Eartha Kitt” on Dec. 27 at the Entertainment Weekly blog PopWatch

Be nice to us

“This concern is not really about China itself. It could be any country. It could be Japan, or Germany. This generation of Americans is so used to your supremacy. Your being treated nicely by everyone. It hurts to think, Okay, now we have to be on equal footing to other people. ‘On equal footing’ would necessarily mean that sometimes you have to stoop to appear to be humble to other people.

“And you can´t think as a soldier. You put yourself at the enemy end of everyone. I grew up during the Cultural Revolution, when people really treated other people like enemies. I grew up in an environment where our friends, our relatives, people I called Uncle or Auntie, could turn around and put a nasty face to me as a small child. One time, Vladimir Lenin told Gorky, after reading Gorky´s autobiography, ‘Oh my god! You could have become a very nasty person!’ Those are exactly the words one of my dear professors told me after hearing what I went through. …

“Americans are not sensitive in that regard. I mean, as a whole. The simple truth today is that your economy is built on the global economy. And it´s built on the support, the gratuitous support, of a lot of countries. So why don´t you come over and … I won´t say kowtow, but at least, be nice to the countries that lend you money.”

— Gao Xiqing, in “Be Nice to the Countries That Lend You Money,” an interview in the December issue of the Atlantic

Why write?

“It’s something expressed by W.H. Auden in a delicate, strange essay entitled ‘Writing’ that he wrote in 1932. ‘Since the underlying reason for writing,’ it argues, ‘is to bridge the gulf between one person and another, as the sense of loneliness increases, more and more books are written by more and more people, most of them with little or no talent. Forests are cut down, rivers of ink absorbed, but the lust to write is still unsatisfied.’

“Auden’s is a bleak vision, yet it also suggests a powerful way of recasting our hope for writing in the world - for acclaim, for audience - into more human terms: as reflections of the universal need to feel understood, and to feel that we are not alone. Competition, in this sense, is not so much a matter of beating others as of becoming better at something very particular: at participating in the shared, flawed, ongoing human project of literature.”

— Tom Chatfield, on “The Art of Prize Fighting” in the January issue of Prospect

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