The “Serious Problem” of Literary Gossip

Sunday, January 6, 2019

I recently learned that “gossip” — as in the phrase “to be a gossip” — was first inserted into the language by William Shakespeare. No doubt he suffered from its aggravating noise while he was alive, perhaps largely due to his felicitous adaptations of other’s writings; his use of “sources” has certainly contributed to the contemporary conversation (aka, “literary criticism”) about his “originality.”

“Literary,” according to Marjorie Garber, was not a word used to describe the causes and effects of authorial endeavors until the mid-18th century. Shakespeare would not have attributed the mendacity of another writer to the jealousy of a marginal literary figure. My commentary on “marginal” appears in HOLDOUTS: The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance 1948-1992 (University of Iowa Press, 2011).

Of course, there are also writers who are at least partially responsible for the circulation of gossip about their lives. Edward Gorey, whose 500 page biography by Mark Dory, BORN TO BE POSTHUMOUS: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey, received a four page lead review in the New York Times Book Review today, made his sexual preferences more than sufficiently alluring to gossips by pitching his tent in an ambiguous binary: “I realize that homosexuality is a serious problem for anyone who is, but then, of course, heterosexuality is a serious problem for anyone who is, too. And being a man is a serious problem and being a woman is, too. Lots of things are problems” (NYTBR, p. 14, January 6, 2019).

An Improvised Dictionary (forthcoming)

gossip — noun.

1) discourse wearing a see-through gown or form-fitting lingerie;
2) a story that reciprocates our personal fears in such a soothing manner that one enjoys hearing it again, and again, as if for the first time;
3) Saturn’s network of hidden microphones to record the conversations of her four moons.


You’d be surprised
at how much
the universe gossips,
but not about us.
Not about us, at all.

In the meantime, one can catch up on the latest “gossip” about the universe at

Listen as Saturn and its moon interact

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