The Paris Review

Foul Matter

Edwaert Collier, Vanitas, 1663.

I nearly deleted it.  The email’s subject line was “FoulMatter”—an obvious Internet phishing scheme, I thought. A Russian heiress was embroiled in some “foul matter” and needed my Social Security number so she could deposit money into my account for safekeeping? A Nigerian prince requesting initial investment in “a guinea foul farm”?

No. That wasn’t it. The email was from my publisher, from the heart of my publisher—the editorial department. Now I really didn’t want to open it. Maybe I’d missed a deadline.  Maybe they’d changed their mind about my contract. Or found an error so grievous they were recalling my books. Or found a new and more appropriate term for my writing.

“Dear John,” the editorial assistant had written, “would you like to keep your foul matter from American Philosophy: A Love Story?”

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