By Anjuli Kolb

Last week, science writer Jonah Lehrer was all over the news after reporters found a number of substantial repetitions between his previously published writings and his new work for the Frontal Cortex blog he brought with him from Wired to the New Yorker. (And now there's this.) A year-old piece from the Observer quoted Lehrer describing some aspects of his high-paid lecture circuit as “existentially sad,” particularly his surplus of electronic hotel keys. Daisy Buchanan and Søren Kierkegaard know what he means.  


“You end up getting existentially sad, where you look through your wallet and you realize you’ve got like seven hotel keys…It happened last week in San Francisco, where I was convinced this key wasn’t working. I went down to the front desk, and they pointed out that I was using the wrong key. It was from a month ago.”

—Jonah Lehrer, quoted in the Observer, 2011.


“And yet it could be that the little I have to say contained some particular remark which, if it met with favour and indulgence, might be found to contain some truth even if it concealed itself under a shabby coat.”

—Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, 1843.


“He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one, before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel, which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray. While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher—shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange, and monograms of Indian blue. Suddenly, with a strained sound, Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily. 'They're such beautiful shirts,' she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. 'It makes me sad because I've never seen such—such beautiful shirts before.'”

—F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 1925. 

Let Me Recite What History Teaches (LMRWHT) is a weekly column that flashes the gaslight, candlelight, torch, or starlight of the past on something that is happening now. The citational constellations work to recover what might be best about the “wide-eyed presentation of mere facts.” They are offered with astonishment and largely without comment. The title is taken from the last line of Stein’s poem “If I Told Him (A Completed Portrait of Picasso)."