Dead People Rule
For better or worse, dead people do rule
Every magazine with an editorial philosophy abides by its own peculiar norms, which manifest in ways both visible to the reader and not. The New Yorker puts a diaeresis over the second O in coöperate; the New York Review of Books avoids use of the word framework as a metaphor; a certain weekly tabloid does not print Mariah Carey’s age; and n+1 has the Dead People Rule.
The Dead People Rule, also known as No Dead People, was set by the n+1 founders to redirect the public’s attention to the underread work of the living. Plenty of magazines published posthumous writing by famous authors or reviews of reissued classics, so why should we? Did Lionel Trilling really need the press? Over time, “no dead people” began to signify differently, expanding the reach of the principle. An essay by a living writer about a deceased thinker might also be met with the criticism “too dead,” for example, inspiring disagreement and debate. Like most rules, the Dead People Rule was variously bent or broken to suit our needs; In Memoriam pieces began to find a regular home on our website. But the rule never ceased to guide our editorial choices for print, often for the better.
Then, at some point in the recent past, we noticed something. As more and more people whose work touched us were dying — writers, artists, intellectuals, theorists, filmmakers — their deaths were giving occasion to some of our contributors’ best work. The In Memoriam web column became a repository of writing that was often beautiful, complex, and written from a place of great familiarity and investment. It struck us as increasingly arbitrary that this writing should exist only online. Slowly we began to sneak it into the magazine: a symposium on the feminist Shulamith Firestone, Pankaj Mishra and Nikil Saval’s correspondence about V. S. Naipaul, Omari Weekes and Elias Rodriques’s reflections on Toni Morrison, and Marco Roth’s remembrance of Harold Bloom, to name just a few.
This past fall we lost a number of people whose life and work made an impression on n+1, and once again a handful of our contributors wrote about them beautifully. Instead of hiding these pieces in essays or reviews in meek obeisance to our own rule, we’ve decided to give them the spotlight. For better or worse, dead people do rule. They rule because we love them, and they rule because, like many people over 65 today, they were late to retire and reluctant to surrender their reign. Recently deceased giants loom large in our cultural consciousness, and it’s hard not to feel that such people cannot exist now, at least not in the way they did. Maybe they owe their greatness to a world that has disappeared — a world of mobility, freedom, economic opportunity, and a belief in the future of planetary stability. Maybe that’s a projection, and everyone feels this way about their forebears. Who can say? Either way, the writers who remember them deserve to be memorialized in print, and so we give them space here.
More figures died while this issue was in production, including Bruno Latour and Mike Davis, both of whom have been remembered on our website. We wish we could include them here, too. But that’s the thing with print: at some point, you hit your deadline, and you can’t take everything with you.