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An Indefatigable Man July 19, 2008

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Ruth Misheloff, New York, NY

I met Ira in the early ‘80s, I think. His book, Dialectical Materialism, which he’d been working on for over a quarter-century at that point, was still in manuscript, but the end was in sight and he needed a copy editor to help prepare it for publication. He was a very good writer, fluent, strong, precise, supple, yet even the best manuscript needs an outside eye to vet clarity and continuity, catch inconsistencies and typos, query possible citation errors, and mark up headings for the designer. I took on the job happily, figuring not only to make some money but to learn a lot in the process. So I started on what became at least a two-year gig, reading line by line, making marginal notes or attaching post-its, and providing additional sheets of queries. When he returned the first batch of manuscript so I could check the changes, I discovered that while responding to my queries, he’d had fresh thoughts, incarnated as new sentences, new paragraphs, and whole new pages.

And that’s what happened with every batch of manuscript I returned to him. It came back to me not only with fixes for the things I’d marked but with elaborations, augmentations, amplifications. I’d comment or query about the new material, of course rereading the old in the process — and then the revised sheets would come back to me amplified yet again!

Ira’s partner in producing these endless new versions was his heroic daughter Ruth, who typed every blessed page, over and over. (Remember typing? On a typewriter? And carbons? White-out? Manual cutting and pasting? It’s sobering to recall what it took to produce a good and careful book in those days, even with a Selectric! If Ira had had access to a computer, the book might have turned out twice as long, if indeed he would have ever been able to stop….)

Even while realizing how painful it probably was for Ira to separate from a project in which he’d invested so much, eventually I couldn’t help chaffing him that he needed a 12-step program to kick his book addiction, and once I may have even conjured up the image of myself and his daughter Ruth as Chaplins on a Modern Times assembly line! He responded goodnaturedly, of course, but was undaunted, and the iterations continued. I began to wonder (silently) if he would experience the authorial version of post-partum depression when he finally turned the manuscript over to the printer.

Ira was an amazing, indefatigable, stalwart, intense, bright-spirited, and dedicated man, and a multi-tasker before the term was invented. One example that has stuck in my mind: when he used to go out running — yes, he did that, too, possibly till he was in his late 80s — he carried index cards with passages of poetry to memorize. Once he “had” the lines, they were his forever. No senior moments for him, at least to my knowledge. He used every second of his time in this world. I can hardly imagine him gone.


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