New Yorker calls a Sylvia Plath story "lost," but it is easy to find


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/01/11/new-yorker-calls-a-sylvia-plat.html


#2

It would be more accurate to describe it as a nearly forgotten story rather than as a lost one


#3

Or, I presume, “unpublished,” for which I feel that “lost” has become the marketing term.


#4

Yeah, the New Yorker has seen an uptick in clickbaity headlines, not unlike another website that I go to very frequently…


#5

The road to complete and absolute cognitive dissonance is paved with clickbait. But as long as it produces a steady revenue stream, just relax and enjoy the master-clickbaiting!


#6

You’ll be shocked to know which site. Click to find out!


#7

I have seen Beethoven sonatas described as “lost” because they are performed less than others. Maybe we need a better word for this phenomenon, such as “neglected.”


#8

With this ONE TRICK!!! You too could retrieve the long lost story. Bookstores hate him!


#9

You won’t believe what Sylvia Plath wrote about! Find out what librarians don’t want you to know!


#10

I work in a literary archive. Whenever we see a headline like that, we roll our eyes. It’s rarely ever lost or “undiscovered until now”. An archivist found it first. And usually it wasn’t published for a reason - it’s not that good.


#11

This is a knotty subject that isn’t being discussed with anywhere near the complexity it deserves, neither here nor (shockingly) on Twitter. Archives are every bit as capable of suppressing and obscuring material as are individuals or communities. Granted the New Yorker may have been a bit sensationalistic in using that word, “Lost,” which seems to fit more naturally with a scenario in which a document has been found hidden in the attic of an old house, but making headlines sexier so that distracted people will want to stop and read stories is what periodicals do. And anyway, couldn’t a person who owns a house where a truly “lost” document has been found just as easily say, “It was never lost! I had it here in my attic the whole time! You people never asked!” In this specific case, we have an early and very significant story by a writer with whom vast numbers of people are obsessed. It has NEVER been referenced in the literature on her. Not that I could determine. I looked on Jstor, Project Muse, Google Books. There were not few hits, but zero. It has remained, until now, as unknown as a literary document can be. Did the Lilly Library do its job by preserving it, and entering it into the library finding aid? Yes, that was competent archival work. Is it also, however, quite odd that no one at the Lilly Library ever said to a Plath scholar, 'You know, we have this very early piece of fiction by her that, as far as we can ever tell, no one has ever looked at closely or written about or republished or even MENTIONED." Yes, that is also somewhat bizarre. Archival institutions are expected to be expert on their collections, not just squatting on them. To be clear: I do not accuse the Lilly of squatting. Am perfectly ready to accept that this was a simple case of a document’s having fallen through the cracks. My point is simply that, the New Yorker was not really as off in calling the story “lost” as many would make it appear. Old pieces of paper have lots of ways of becoming lost. Had I been writing the headline, I would have preserved the sexy word, but thrown credit to the Lilly: “News Rocks Literary World: Library in Indiana Has Preserved a Lost Sylvia Plath Story…” Something better than that but in the same vein.


#12

Hello! I am the librarian quoted in this article. I absolutely take your point that some material in archives and libraries could legitimately be considered “lost.” Trust me, librarians live for discoveries within our collections! We have devoted our lives to helping researchers find things that have never been written about, make connections that have never been made, and give voice to the voiceless of history. Our Twitter response was a bit of sass which we didn’t expect to go mildly viral. Twitter is not the place for nuanced conversations, but we hope that our posts will get the conversation going about how the media talks about research, scholarship, and libraries. This certainly is not the first article to make the claim that something is “lost” when it is well-described in a catalog or finding aid. I can also confirm that many scholars have seen and read this story in our library. We cannot, however, give permission for scholars to quote or reproduce this work because the intellectual rights are legally owned by the Plath estate. All this to say… we promise we’re not squatting! The Plath collection is one of the most popular and well-trawled collections in our library, accessed by hundreds of students and researchers ever year.


#13

Not to go too old fart cynical here, but it’s the 21st century. Sometimes lost means lost as in can’t be found, but sometimes it’s a euphemism for Hasn’t been monetized yet.
And in this case, if it’s a matter of a writer at a premier corporate media outlet (or the magazine’s once legendary fact-checkers) failing or choosing not to spend, what? 5, 10 minutes? doing an online search to confirm it was lost, well, that’s kind of sad. Ditto for people who trust the magazine’s reporting.


#14

I only listen to Rescue sonatas.


#15

I only read stray poetry.

ETA for clarity - and none of that feral verse, either.


#16

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