The Real Zelig?

Who is the most Zelig-like person in history? Is there a single figure who can be verified as being present at the most number of key historic events, cultural, social and political? Imagine a dilettante who starts off in New York in February 1913, takes in the Armory Show, stops off at the newly opened Woolworth Building, then crossed the North Atlantic on the Olympic, landing in Southampton before travelling to Paris (perhaps meeting Ezra Pound on the way?), where they attend the riotous first performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring on Thursday, May 29. Back in the UK the following month, they attend the Epsom Derby and witness the fatal trampling of Emily Davison. And so on and so on, through events that have only, with hindsight, attained a huge significance.


It would be an interesting exercise in dovetailing key events of the 20th century with the people they involved (or perhaps the people who reported them), ploughing through the ‘events of the year’ pages in Wikipedia (1913, 1914, 1915, etc.). Googling ‘real life Zelig’ throws up a few suggestions, plus the obvious fictional counterpart, Forrest Gump, and even the suggestion that Marc Chagall ticks most of the boxes. We’d speculate that a newspaper correspondent from the early twentieth century is probably our man (and it most likely is a man).


Other things. Everybody’s a Critic, Varnelis on the latest manifestation of Critical Futures (at Storefront and the apparent ‘crisis in criticism’. ‘On the whole, however, the practice of describing a buliding in print is obsolete. Under network culture, everybody’s a critic…
People just aren’t interested in traditional criticism anymore. That’s something that critics will need to get used to, just as historians of architecture have had to get used to the idea that there are precious few positions in that profession left anymore.’


Brownbook is ‘an urban guide to the Middle East / Daily Architecture, galleries /
Video from Toyo Ito’s Mediatheque during earthquake unveiled / Vintage Book Covers, a flickr set / “There was a cubic man and he walked a cubic mile / Save Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh / The Roman Ninth Legion’s mysterious loss / A Word on Statistics, a poem by Wislawa Szymborska.


A slight attack of third dimentia [sic] brought on by excessive study of the much-talked of cubist pictures in the International Exhibition at New York: ‘And he found a cubic sixpence upon a cubic style / He had a cubic cat which caught a cubic mouse / and they all lived together in a little cubic house.’ / What’s so great about marginalia anyway? A good reason: ‘In the margins of this book are written in tiny, neat, yet outraged, late-career auto manager handwriting of exactly why Nader was “wrong”.’ See also Marginalia and other crimes.

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3 Responses to The Real Zelig?

  1. Finn says:

    Your thoughts on the real Zelig remind me of another brilliant (fake) Zelig, in J.G. Ballard’s “The Index” (transcribed here: where the fictional HR Hamilton, we gradually and allusively realize, has been crucially entangled with most every person of importance through the beginning of the Cold War … “Alternatively, the index may be wholly genuine, and the only glimpse we have into a world hidden from us by a gigantic conspiracy, of which Henry Rhodes Hamilton is the greatest victim.”

    My vote for a real (albeit primarily artistic) Zelig would be Bob Brown — see, for instance, — who wrote pulp and cookbooks and Modernist manifestos, lived in a hundred cities, knew “Marcel Duchamp, Eugene O’Neill, H. L. Mencken, Gertrude Stein, James T. Farrell, William Carlos Williams” …

  2. Kosmograd says:

    There is the oft-quoted tidbit that John Peel met both John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald, probably one of very few people to do so. More info here:

  3. Pingback: Whimsy, irony and confusion | things magazine

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