“They Usually Come Out Wrong”


In December 1991, I met the historian Massimo Salvadori and his wife. They were hosting a gathering. Their hospitality was luminous; they greeted me with joy and made me welcome.

At some point a journalist struck up a conversation with Professor Salvadori about his experience as a Resistance fighter before and during World War II. In particular, they were discussing the relationship between the Socialists and the Resistance. Professor Salvadori said something that surprised the journalist. I don’t remember  what it was, but the journalist replied that they had to to record this and get it out to the world.

Professor Salvadori said, “No, no, I do not want a recording.”

The journalist said, “But we must! People need to hear this!”

Professor Salvadori looked unperturbed, even joyous.  He shook his head.

The journalist tried again: “What you’re saying is what people don’t know and need to know….”

Professor Salvadori: “The problem with recordings is that they usually come out wrong.” His “wrong” (with a long trill of the “r”) had a triumphant ring; he saw beyond the proposal, beyond the all-too-common warp of words.

I never saw him or his wife after that day. He died eight months later, in August 1992. His wife lived seven more years.

My own mental recording of the conversation came out “wrong”; I forgot many details. But almost a quarter of a century later, something of that dialogue has stayed with me. I am wary of recordings; I know that they can easily come out wrong. I am even warier of the need to grab and market someone’s wisdom, even if the world does need it.

I walk in the park and try not to take pictures. The pictures, when I take them, usually come out wrong. Today’s  (above) is an exception, but only barely. I do not mean that it’s wrong to take pictures. I mean that many pictures make the wrong selections. It takes a lot to do justice to a frame.

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1 Comment

  1. Things thrown out from a center
    Cooling signs of a central fire
    Expiring cinders of life within
    Sent from a star to start again

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  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

    —Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

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    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In February 2022, Deep Vellum will publish her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.


    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.


    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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