Dead or alive

When talking about luminaries in his field, my archaeology professor used to add verbal footnotes to their names as he said them: “That one’s dead” or “He’s still alive.” Sometimes he’d say, “He’s an asshole,” but most of the commentary was about the person’s life status.

As an academic I adopted a version of this practice myself, mentally noting whether a renowned scholar was still alive (and what his or her current academic affiliation was, if I knew it) whenever I encountered that name. Over the years it’s been interesting (for lack of a better word) to see so many famous names slide over into the “dead” column.

Every once in a while, though, I’m pleasantly surprised to discover that someone I’d thought no longer among the living is still very much alive (and often kicking). Today’s surprise: George Steiner.

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