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Post Dining with Borges
Created by John Eipper on 05/30/15 9:54 AM

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Dining with Borges (Paul Preston, -UK, 05/30/15 9:54 am)

I was once privileged to have dinner with Borges in Oxford. Our conversation centred on his amusement at the interpretations of his work by literary critics. He said, as he no doubt did often, that they explained things in his stories about which he had previously had no idea.

JE comments:  Paul Preston has met the King (Juan Carlos) and the king of twentieth-century Latin American letters (Borges).  I am impressed.  I presume, Paul, that in the UK Borges always preferred to use English?  One of my favorite Borges anecdotes is that he first read Don Quixote in English translation.

Regarding Borges's comment on critics, this is one reason I have never written about a living author.

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  • Interpreting Borges (John Heelan, -UK 05/31/15 4:33 AM)
    Borges's comment to Paul Preston (30 May) that literary critics "explained things in his stories about which he had previously had no idea," is one of the fascinating things about literary criticism.

    Does not Barthes's claimed "Death of the Author" move interpretation of an author's work from the author to the critic, resulting in two different interpretations--the intended and the received? Each interpretation then depends on the psyche, background and previous experiences of the interpreter, with the critic imputing elements that might or might not have been in the author's mind and might reflect those solely in the critic's mind.  (In translation studies, if the 6 words of the simple statement "The cat sat on the mat" can yield some 32 interpretations, how many can a book of 100,000 words yield?)

    JE comments:  And times change.  Just in Borges's case, his stories can now be read from the lens of Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science concepts that didn't exist in the 1940s--or even the 1980s.

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    • Interpreting the Bible; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 06/01/15 3:24 AM)
      Ric Mauricio sends this comment:

      Borges's remark that literary critics "explained things in his stories about which he had previously had no idea (Paul Preston, 30 May) belongs in the Hall of Fame along with Mark Twain's and Will Rogers's comments.

      But if six words can yield 32 interpretations, how many could be had for a book of 783,137 words, which was in itself translated from Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin? I am, of course, referring to the Bible.

      Now the Bible most in use and which eliminated the Gnostic gospels is the result of church experts being locked in a room until they agreed, so that the king could unite his empire. Who's to say that they were correct?

      What I find disconcerting about the Bible are the contradictions, between the teachings of the Old Testament and the New; between the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul.

      How to reconcile my beliefs? I keep it simple, Jesus taught, "To enter the Kingdom of heaven, one should love thy neighbor as thyself." That's it. One need not embellish it with religion and rules. Two-thirds of the New Testament are the teachings of the Apostle Paul. Why is that? Because Paul was a Pharisee and like the Pharisees, the Church believed in controlling people by imposing rules upon them. That's why the Church included so much of the Apostle Paul's teachings.

      Do you realize that there are only four books in the Bible that support each other in telling the story from four very different individuals, and thus four very different points of views. Those are gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. All other stories depend on the unsubstantiated recalling of events from one author. For example, there are no corroborated witness accounts that Paul fell off his horse and spoke to Jesus. There are no corroborated witness accounts that the Apostle John met an angel on the island of Patmos leading to the writings of Revelations and the end of the world. Don't even get me started that there are research reports that say that hallucinogenic mushrooms grew on the island of Patmos.

      Was the universe really created in seven days? Or as scientists would point out, over billions of years?

      But I digress. There can be many interpretations, but which interpretation is correct? How does one decide? Like the glass that is half full, is it half full or half empty? Based on one's point of view, it could be either. So does that make one's interpretation more correct than another's interpretation?

      One question I ask when interviewing accounting candidates was "is accounting an art or a science?" Some say it is an art (hmm, this candidate would be very good at doing the books for Enron). Some say it is a pure science; gotta follow the rules to a T (oh, this candidate would be a micromanager in accounting). You wouldn't believe how the answer to this question has eliminated many a candidate. So again, it is based on interpretation of the rules. Who decides who is right? The CPA firm? The IRS? How many times have I had to teach CPAs basic accounting? How many times have I overturned an IRS initial ruling?

      I would imagine that Borges and other writers would be very happy that people would read their writings and interpret it in ways that they would not imagine. One time a lady in our church disagreed with the pastor's sermon and started arguing with him. Wow, caused quite a stir. I wrote to the young pastor that what was good in that was it was evidence that people were listening to him ... that they weren't just sitting there and napping.

      I admire writers and wish I myself could write a book. Maybe one day. But please promise me that you will interpret my writings any which way you wish.

      JE comments:  I've been teaching translation courses for over twenty years, and I always begin with the premise that translation is the juncture of science and art.  Ric Mauricio reminds us that you can apply the same rubric to accounting--or, I presume, to economics in general.  The more we look at it, couldn't we say the same about any field?  Law?  History?  Fixing your vintage Corvair?

      Great to hear from you, Ric.

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    • A Book Signing with Borges (Enrique Torner, USA 06/03/15 4:13 AM)
      John Heelan's reaction (31 May) to Paul Preston's post on Borges reminded of a memorable college anecdote. When I was an undergraduate student of Spanish philology at the University of Barcelona (it must have been in the late 1970s or early eighties), the Spanish department invited several members of the Latin-American "Boom" movement to give a lecture at the university. The honored guests I remember were Gabriel García Márquez, Juan Carlos Onetti, Julio Cortázar, Mario Benedetti, and, though not belonging to this movement, but their contemporary, Jorge Luis Borges.

      They all spoke in the "Paraninfo" (the main, most luxurious, and biggest event room) of the university, and all the lectures were crowded beyond belief! There must have been thousands of people attending, sitting and standing, in and out of the room. It was incredible! Anyway, I remember vividly Borges's lecture, even after 30 years. At the end of it, people quickly started a line to have their books signed. My best friends and I joined in, but not as fast as most, so we ended up beyond the middle of the line. I remember waiting a long time, advancing slowly, so slowly that I wasn't able to stay to have my book signed, because I had an appointment, or something was going on. So I asked my best friend if he could have Borges sign my book for me, and he agreed. When a couple of days later he handed me back my book, I eagerly opened it, and, lo and behold, there, on the title page of El Aleph (the book I had loaned my friend), there were two signatures by Borges! When I asked him how that happened, this is the story he told me (I'm "quoting" his words, more or less):

      "After you left, we still waited in line for quite some time. We were still in line, when somebody announced that Borges would not be able to keep signing books, so everybody had to leave. We were so disappointed and sad! We were mumbling in frustration on our way out when Dr. Marco (our Spanish-American literature professor) saw us. He came up to us, and asked us what was going on. We told him we were very sad that we didn't get our books signed, to which he replied that he was going to pick Borges up at his hotel to take him out for lunch, and that, if we went with him, he could introduce us to him and have our books signed. Oh, my goodness! We were ecstatic and speechless! We quickly agreed. We went with him to the hotel, walked onto the lobby, and sat down there to wait for him. After a few minutes, Borges showed up, coincidentally at the same time as Onetti. They both had not talked to each other for years, because they had been angry at each for some strange reason. Onetti looked at him intently, and declared: 'Borges, ¿Cómo pudo vos matar a Acevedo?' Those were his first words. Then they both started arguing about each other's stories, characters, etc. After a few minutes of this exchange, Dr. Marco got up, greeted them both, introduced us as some of his best and most enthusiastic students, and invited them to sit with us. After some brief, polite conversation, Dr. Marco asked Borges and Onetti if they would be so kind to sign our books, to which they agreed. After that, the three of them had to go out for lunch, so we said goodbye. Then, we eagerly opened our books to stare at their signatures. It was then that I realized that your book had two signatures. It turns out that, as we were handing him our books, we must have handed him yours twice, and, since he is blind..."

      This is how I remember, more or less, my best friend telling me the memorable story. I have always wondered how many books by Borges have been signed twice by him! Now that I am teaching Spanish literature, I have been enjoying showing my students the unique copy of El Aleph I have, signed twice by the "maestro" of short story telling, and retelling them this memorable experience. Now, WAIS has the honor of having it published for the first time! I doubt it has been published before.

      JE comments:  This is a pearl of a story, and I'm grateful to Enrique Torner for the exclusive.  Poor Borges!  With his blindness he wouldn't know what he was signing. 

      What I wouldn't give to go back in time to see that assembly of literary titans.

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  • Dining with Borges: English or Spanish? (Paul Preston, -UK 05/31/15 4:50 AM)

    To answer John E's question about my dinner with Borges (30 May), we spoke in Spanish. As I do with those monarchs that I know.

    JE comments:  Certainly Paul Preston's Spanish is flawless, but I am still surprised.  I thought Borges was such an Anglophile that he would never miss the chance to speak in English, with his inflection that reminds this American of a Great War-era British artillery officer.

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  • Borges, Faulkner, and Language; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 05/31/15 2:00 PM)

    Gary Moore responds to Paul Preston (30 May):

    Regarding John Eipper's note that Borges first read Don Quixote in English (May 30)
    and Paul Preston's conversation with Borges in Spanish (bypassing the Old Boy Anglophile
    accent, May 31), once in the Spanish immersion program at Middlebury in Vermont
    an instructor from Spain told me she loved to read William Faulkner, but did so only
    in Spanish. When I wondered how Faulkner's nuanced regionalism could possibly be translated, she replied that, no, she felt sure Faulkner was much better in Spanish
    (since this was immersion, I had no way to gauge her English). At the time I thought the
    statement was crazy, but since, I've seen that words sometimes drop from my mouth in
    Spanish that seem more eloquent than anything I'd say in English. I don't know whether
    the sonority of the language may work some spell on both Faulkner and me, or whether
    my vocabulary walls simply force me toward purple prose.

    JE comments:  I'm with Gary; Faulkner would be extremely hard to translate into Spanish.  However, the great Gabriel García Márquez always cited Faulkner as one of his biggest influences, and I imagine he read in translation.

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    • Middlebury (Randy Black, USA 06/01/15 5:32 AM)

      In his response to Paul Preston (31 May), Gary Moore mentioned that he had attended a Spanish immersion program at Middlebury in Vermont.

      I could not believe my eyes as I read and reread that post. Middlebury. What is the heck is Middlebury I might have asked, as I suppose a few among WAIS may have. Or not, considering the high level of academic types in our WAIS.

      Our 14-year-old daughter Natasha, who many in WAIS remember from the Torquay conference as an 11-year-old, will attend that Middlebury language institute for one month in June-July in such a total immersion high school program. Who would have thought that our Natasha would have such a connection to WAIS? Or as we say in Russian, "nasha Natasha."

      Prior to January this year, I had not heard of the place. Never even been to Vermont for that matter.

      Then in early January, Natasha came to me and asked if she could go to "summer camp" in Vermont. "Why?" was my instance response. "Why not go to a Girl Scouts or YWCA summer camp in Texas?" That was my cheap-side answering.

      The practical side of me saw the travel expenses and $1,500 per week tuition in a place named Vermont. I had by then considered that she wanted to go to a nationally famous and very expensive language academy on a college campus near Burlington.

      When I analyzed the costs, I nearly went into infarction. This would be her first departure from our home for more than 6 days ever. Plus, it involves her flying from here to Vermont unaccompanied to a place that features the only place in America that sends an avowed Socialist to the United States Senate. What's a Libertarian/Conservative father to do?

      On the other hand, hers was an academic "summer camp" at a famous, century-old institute that trains American diplomats in more than a dozen languages.

      Just so you'll know, her choice is French. She will sign a promise upon arrival at Middlebury that she will not speak anything other than her immersion language for 28 days, from wake-up to lights out, 7 days a week for four weeks. No cell phones, no laptops, no English language TV or movies or girl talk with her companions, only immersion language classroom time daily and out-of-class activities on the soccer field, in the cafeteria, on field trips, at the pool or lake, you name it, they speak their target language for one month. In four weeks, she'll be exposed to more classroom time that one entire school year in Texas. To my pleasant surprise, Natasha chose French one year ago for her entire high school years as her state-mandated foreign language requirement. I'm a Francophile, if that was not already evident.

      This week, Natasha is completing her first year of pre-AP French I with a B grade and has set her goal of testing out of French II and jumping directly to AP French III upon returning from Vermont. I've already ordered the exams from Texas Tech University High School for the CBE test (credit by exam). It will be administered by one of our principals upon her return from Middlebury. Say a prayer for us. After all, she's 14.

      While she will be a 9th grader at our Freshman Center in Allen, TX, her only French III classes are offered a half mile away at our 4,600 student high school (grades 10, 11, 12) where I am incidentally the primary substitute for the two French teachers who teach French III, IV and V. Yes, my friends. I have the prospect of seeing my little angel in a classroom that I will, from time to time, control in the fall. Imagine that. The power or the fear may face me in the fall.

      Finally, I never cared for William Faulkner.

      JE comments:  Middlebury has an outstanding reputation among those of us in the language business.  I've known of it for 30+ years, although I've never been on campus.  Bon courage to Natasha Black!  Vermont is the most beautiful spot in the nation--especially in the summer.

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      • Middlebury College; Cost of Higher Ed (Robert Whealey, USA 06/01/15 5:37 PM)
        Middlebury College with a $1500 per week tuition (Randy Black, 1 June) is hard to believe! I went to Bates College in Lewiston, Maine in 1948, which was in the same football league as Middlebury. Bates' scholarly reputation was probably a peg below that of Middlebury. Tuition at Bates in 1948 was $500 per year. Somebody should look at Middlebury's tuition in the college catalog of 1948. I would be surprised, if it were more than $550-$600 per year.

        The inflation of college tuition is now runaway throughout the United States.

        Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont is campaigning for the President, and if elected he would encourage Congress to pass a bill for free college education throughout the United States. My guess is that that bill, if passed, would only apply to the state university systems.

        Small private colleges like Middlebury and Bates are in a different league, in 1948 and today, but probably not too far from the tuition charged at Adrian College in Michigan.

        JE comments: I once heard that only around 10% of students pay "list price" at Adrian, and that's probably representative of many universities. WAISer Henry Levin has sent a number of very informative comments on list vs net pricing of higher ed.  See this post from March:


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        • Middlebury-Monterey Language Academy (Randy Black, USA 06/03/15 12:56 PM)

          From Robert Whealey's comments (1 June) about my daughter's pending expensive month at the Middlebury-Monterey Language Academy near Burlington, Vermont, I perhaps did not explain the matter sufficiently. It's not as bad [expensive?  JE] as it sounded and yet, it is.

          First, while Middlebury College seems to be the umbrella school, the language school seems to operate on its own financially. While the listed prices for one month of immersion is $6,000, room and board is included. Travel and incidentals are additional.

          When you take into account that it's a sunrise to lights-out program, 7-days a week plus supervision, the teenage students are faced with nearly round-the-clock exposure. This versus a daily routine on the average college campus that might see a student in a classroom only perhaps 4-6 hours per day, 5 days a week.

          Finally, because this cost schedule was beyond my resources, we applied and were granted a 50% scholarship grant based on my income and Natasha's excellent, hand-written essay as to why she wanted to attend the summer program, what she expected out of it and where it might lead her. She may be an excellent student of the sciences but she's also a pretty talented writer, having also earned a high mark on the essay portion of the full-blown SAT exam last January a month after she'd turned 14. I'm still budgeted north of $4,000 when travel and tee-shirts, toothpaste and suntan oil are folded in.

          This school is a true total immersion school or program named the Middlebury-Monterey Language Academy (MMLA). Near as I can tell, it operates as a sort of private language school within the Middlebury College's summer programs and its year ‘round graduate school. The MMLA apparently operates on three campuses near Burlington and has done so since 1915 when their first German program was offered.

          It also operates international programs in Québec, Canada, Beijing, China and Granada, Spain and says that it hosts students from 38 countries per its overseas programs. The campuses in Vermont include St. Michael's College Campus in Colshester, VT (French and Chinese) and Green Mountain College in nearby Poultney, VT, which teaches Arabic, German and Spanish. I do not know how these additional languages are divvied up, but they include: Chinese, Hebrew, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Korean and Japanese. The programs vary in length from 4-8 weeks.

          From the MMLA's handbook for students and parents: "This year marks the 100th anniversary of the world-renowned Middlebury College Language Schools' 'No English Spoken Here' immersion programs, which have taught academics, artists, diplomats and those who simply have a love for language, proficiency in the language of their choice. MMLA brings together the expertise of Middlebury College's Language Schools and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey using innovative learning methodologies of Middlebury Interactive Languages, the leader in K-12 world language education."

          Having explained the above, and per Robert's comments, Middlebury is fantastically expensive as a top regional Liberal Arts destination. From their Website:

          Annual tuition: $47,418 ($1,566 per credit hour based on 30 hours per two semesters). Holy cow! Room and Board: $13,628, Activity fee: $410, Books: $1,000, Travel, personal and health insurance: Pick a number.

          To sum it up: Tuition, room and board, books, fees and other expenses: approximately $63,500 annually for Middlebury.

          Here's the Bates College that Robert attended in 1948 for $500 per year. Today, drum roll please. Wait for it: $62,504!

          Thus, it's a wash.

          Source: http://www.bates.edu/financial-services/

          From the Website: Middlebury College meets 100% of the demonstrated need of admitted students through financial aid and 44% of the student body receives financial aid. http://www.middlebury.edu/admissions/tuition

          Additional: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middlebury_College_Language_Schools

          JE comments:  Anyway you slice it, this is a wonderful learning opportunity for young Natasha Black.  I wish her bon courage and much success!

          (Note how the Middlebury program began during the Great War...teaching German.  Granted, 1915 was two years before the US declared war.  Are there any WAISer alumni of the Middlebury language programs?)

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      • Middlebury and Language Immersion Programs; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 06/02/15 3:45 AM)

        Gary Moore sends this response to Randy Black (1 June):

        Randy's gratifying explanation of Middlebury College in Vermont (June 1)
        hopefully exonerates me for the cryptic prior mention. On the one hand, its immersion
        program points up many questions about language study (such a quizzical topic in
        post-fortress America)--and on the other, there is the simple power of John Eipper's
        postscript: I was blown away, when I got there, by the sheer beauty of Vermont in summer.
        I didn't know that places like that existed.

        I think Randy's daughter will have a great time there--though I've got to say, I found the program very hard, and found I didn't know Spanish nearly as well
        as I thought. As an example of the atmosphere: Cocktail party, student-faculty-guests (this was
        in college, not a high school program), I stand awkwardly near the potted palm and find that
        a distinguished older gentleman is doing likewise, as he suddenly turns and fixes a baleful eye
        on me, then poses a riddle. I discover later that he is one of the Menéndez y Pelayos, of
        academic fame. The Riddle of the Sphinx he poses: "Joven, ¿sabe usted las cinco palabras
        en español que terminan en la letra jota?" (Then he told me the answer, but swore me to silence
        --though of course obviously one is worn on the wrist.)

        So the Faulkner rebuttal will have to wait...

        JE comments:  I've also been thinking about a rebuttal to Randy's Faulkner "dissing."

        As for the five words ending in J, three immediately come to mind:  boj (boxwood), carcaj (quiver for arrows), and of course reloj (watch or clock).  The other two?  I am stumped.

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        • Five Spanish Words that End in J; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 06/04/15 4:58 AM)

          Gary Moore follows up on his post of 2 June:

          Of the five Spanish j-words in the Middlebury riddle, John Eipper has gotten
          more of them off the top of his head than any human to whom the riddle has
          ever been posed, including State Department translators. One such luminary
          in Washington became so frustrated by the riddle that she burrowed through the
          big dictionary, starting at A--and thus luckily stumbled onto boj (boxwood)
          early on, before fatigue set in. And for John to also know carcaj--this deserves
          some sort of prize. If not for the Middlebury Sphinx at the potted palm, I certainly
          wouldn't have known carcaj (in some tellings he becomes a one-eyed gypsy
          in the caves above Granada, but I swear, the potted-palm incarnation really existed).

          So, to John Eipper: the Middlebury-Potted-Palm-Sphinx Award.

          And, of course, the Cueva del Sacromonte hint:
          Number Four has to do with marine interface,
          and the never-land between earth and sea.

          JE comments:  I am flattered!  And also stumped:  the final two words escape me.  But I cheated and came up with this list of twenty-four.  My favorite:  "sij" (Sikh).


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      • Are Libertarian-Conservatives Really Libertarian? (Jordi Molins, -Spain 06/03/15 3:44 AM)
        When discussing Middlebury College (1 June), Randy Black posed this question: "What's a Libertarian/Conservative father to do?"

        Political, social and economic "positioning" requires two dimensions: on the one hand, freedom-love/freedom-hatred in relation to economics. On the other hand, freedom-love/freedom-hatred vis-à-vis civic rights.

        The Economist published the most controversial words in Wikipedia, in several languages: http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2013/08/daily-chart-1?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/ed/editwars&utm_content=buffer4dbc6&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

        For English, "Anarchism" ranks second, only after "George W. Bush." But how can a Libertarian (or an Anarchist, which looks to me the same) be a Conservative? Of course, a Libertarian may have Conservative values for him or herself, but trying to impose by law Conservative values onto others seems at odds with the idea of Libertarianism.

        A similar, but specular, duality exists in Europe, with the so-called Anarcho-Communism: how on Earth can an Anarchist be willing to have a top-down political structure such as Communism?

        A third duality is happening now in Spain: Extreme left-wing politicians support the "right to decide on everything." Of course, any reasonable Libertarian/Anarchist would support that. However, it seems unreasonable to expect that extreme left-wingers will support the "right to decide," for example, of citizens who want to create their own municipality, because in their current one, taxes are too high, and spending goes elsewhere.

        It is fascinating how our societies are structured in a way to justify imposing the will of some people onto others, without the second group noticing they are becoming, in effective terms, slaves of the first group. Emotional engineering is the mechanism that allows this Matrix-esque outcome.

        JE comments:  We could do an interesting cross-cultural study of political categories.  In Catalunya and Spain going back to the close of the 19th century, "libertario" was synonymous with the anarchists who often came out of the trade unions.  In the US today, Libertarians are associated with the Right (think Ron Paul), while anarchists are seen as heavily pierced teenagers painting graffiti.  

        The Economist piece on Wikipedia's "most contested" topics by language also gives a fascinating glimpse at different cultures.  In English, global warming is a top-five controversial topic (together with the World Wrestling Entertainment), whereas the French include Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Germans Scientology.  Soccer ranks high on the controversy list for Spanish.

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      • A Faulkner Anecdote; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 06/05/15 6:00 AM)

        Gary Moore stands up for Faulkner:

        After consulting the William Faulkner scholars, I'm at last prepared
        to reply to Randy Black (June 1) when he said Faulkner never much
        appealed to him. I asked the scholars: "What would Faulkner himself
        have said to this?" They replied--inscrutably--with the Fishing Tale.

        Though Robert Frost reminded Willie Morris of what was the worst
        state in the Union, the place apparently still had some famous fishing holes,
        teeming enough to attract big-time sportsmen in the age of
        Gone With the Wind. Thus, actor Clark Gable got snared into a celebrity
        fishing trip. Upon getting into the boat, introductions were made.
        The host said: "Mr. Gable, I'd like you to meet William Faulkner."
        Gable replied blankly, "Well, hello, Mr. Faulkner. What do you do for a living?"
        The laconic presence in the boat looked up and said:
        "I'm a writer, Mr. Gable. What do you do for a living?"

        JE comments:  A classic.  I've found several variants of this story on the 'Net.  Most attribute this to a hunting trip organized by Howard Hawks.  See below:


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