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The Contested Terrain of Language

Historian Shelby Foote, who says "I put in long hours because I'm such a slow writer," is seen in his book-lined study at home. He's back at work on a novel that was delayed for about 20 years while he wrote his thre... Historian Shelby Foote, who says "I put in long hours because I'm such a slow writer," is seen in his book-lined study at home. He's back at work on a novel that was delayed for about 20 years while he wrote his three volumes on the Civil War. MORE LESS
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April 27, 2021 11:38 a.m.

I started the day thinking about two very disparate topics that intersect at a point that has been on my mind a lot recently. If you can indulge me for a moment I’ll try to explain how they connect and the larger point.

Remember Shelby Foote?

I was reminded of him recently because I was reading a couple things about the novelist Walker Percy. And it turns out the two of them had a lifelong literary friendship going all the way back to middle school. Foote, a Mississippian, wrote a bunch of novels and histories about the Civil War. I only know about him because he was a central figure in Ken Burns pathbreaking documentary The Civil War, which came out about 30 years ago and created the model for all the other documentaries he’s done since. Many of Burns’ core techniques seem obvious now. The visual idioms seem like they’re part of the cinematic argot of our culture. But they were actually quite new. It was remarkable at the time how he managed to bring to life a period which had only a limited photographic record, no video and no audio.

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In any case, back to Shelby Foote, who died in 2005 at the age of 88.

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