Teju Cole

What we see is an apparently uncomplicated scene of urban leisure on a Thursday afternoon, but all of this is happening in a historical context, and in the shadow of economic uncertainty… Some of the people are here because they’re out of work. You could say to yourself: New York City is an astonishingly diverse place, but we see around us all kinds of evidence of segregation: white students from NYU, and black women of a certain age working as nannies for white babies. We are looking at the American reality under an overlay of innocence…

This city, like many others, is a space that has been pre-inhabited, that contains the stories of people who are gone, who are vanished. We look at their inscriptions and we engage with their monuments, and we walk along their paths: every time you walk down Broadway, you’re walking along an ancient cattle path that was put down by Native Americans who then had an appalling encounter with European invaders and were more or less wiped out. But we still walk down their roads. And those roads themselves, and many of those buildings, were built by slave labor in this city, by people not only whose lives have been erased from the record, but whose deaths, in a way, have been erased from the record. Only recently was the burial grounds of the slaves rediscovered. And even then, most of that burial ground is covered with office buildings now. There’s this essential mystery of life in the city: it contains others who are not us in the present time — I’m not you and you’re not me, maybe we don’t live in the same neighborhood — but it also contains others who are not us, in the sense that so much of it was made by those others.

Teju Cole with Chris Lydon in Washington Square Park, New York City, May 12, 2011.



The Portfolio

“This point of being a mature artist (is) where realism replaces fantasy, where hopes never diminish, where the love of art is more passionate than ever. And yet that which we love has brought us a lot of suffering, because the life of an artist is often uncompromising at times. It’s brought us a lot of pain, a lot of angst. And yet no matter what it’s brought, the love of your craft will overpower it all. (Because when) you see life, you see dance. You see feeling. We change the meaning of the words of our vocabulary with age.”

– Ibriham Farrah

Salinger, Recluse

Why I believe literature will not die.  It might not live as widely in print, but the feeling of getting into someone else’s head, feeling their feelings, experiences, and desires.  That’s what good art does – allows us to feel for each other and to practice being something other than oneself.  When else can you really do such a thing?
I went to a Wesleyan alumni talk a few weeks ago where Amy Bloom said that people often mistake her for a compassionate writer when she’s actually an insatiably curious writer.  For me, curiosity is inextricable from empathy and com-passion.  Con-passion.  To suffer with, feel with.  To be interested in something or someone is to step into that subject-position and vantage point.  I feel that I can at least try to see with a thousand eyes, one at a time, to understand the world that much better.  “He can’t be himself to others, and he doesn’t really try in some ways. But you can see that he’s captivated by his own spirit.”  I love this because it is so true.  Though it has to be tempered with openness and generosity, but can’t that be manifested in more ways than can be portrayed by the media?
So many half-finished thoughts today.  I started reading Gao Xingjian’s Soul Mountain the other day, and have found that it doesn’t make me angry anymore.  In fact, I like it.  Go figure.

Letters of JD Salinger open to the public for the first time.

“The lust for Salinger gossip reached a fever pitch when he died in January. Successful authors, like any public figures nowadays, are expected to prostrate themselves in front of our culture and allow their lives to be picked clean. Salinger would not. …These letters confirm a few theories about Salinger, including the fact that he continued to write from his secluded home in Cornish, New Hampshire, and was quietly sitting on several unpublished novels and stories. They also tear down some damning assumptions—that Salinger was a complete misanthrope, that he hated children, and that he was incapable of caring for anybody, paralyzed by his distaste for phonies and literary leeches. In these letters, in fact, he’s a wit, a devoted father, a lonely middle-aged man and at his core, the kind of writer who just wants to write until he can’t put pen to paper anymore, because that’s the only truth he knows.  ‘Some of the letters are very dark, but they also show a kind of witty, jollier side of J.D. Salinger that I never knew existed,’ Kiely says.  ‘He knows himself really, really well. His self-knowledge is what comes through—he can’t be himself to others, and he doesn’t really try in some ways. But you can see that he’s captivated by his own spirit.‘– TONY

Keep dancing, keep running, painting, stretching, creating, till you can’t put pen to paper anymore.


Women’s heels get higher during recessions.

According to writer Elizabeth Semmelhack in her book Heights of Fashion.

Wonder why that is.  The bondage/stripper shoe set is out in force these days.