Teju Cole's Open City is one of the most effective examinations of privilege that I have ever read. [...] Open City reminds us of the disturbing fact that one of the features of privilege is that it is not required to recognize itself. To a large degree, privilege consists of things that don't happen to you, choices that never present themselves, facts that don't seep into your awareness. Not only will the privileged be spared the horrors of war, they will not even have to confront their own abdication.
It's a disgusting lesson, so Open City is not always an enjoyable book to read. But in a way it is its own antidote: it sheds light on privilege, stripping from it that character of self-ignorance that is so repugnant.
I think privilege is a good lens to view the book through; I might have said instead that it's about culpability. But of course they are closely related; privilege is so easy to shrug off as "not my fault."
Anyway, there is some very beautiful prose in the book; I found this passage on pg. 192 to be almost Forsteresque:
Whether it expressed some civic pride or solemnized a funeral I could not tell, but so closely did the melody match my memory of those boyhood morning assemblies that I experienced the sudden disorientation and bliss of one who, in a stately old house and at a great distance from its mirrored wall, could clearly see the world doubled in on itself. I could no longer tell where the tangible universe ended and the reflected one began. This point-for-point imitation, of each porcelain vase, of each dull spot of shine on each stained teak chair, extended as far as where my reversed self had, as I had, halted itself in midturn. And this double of mine had, at that precise moment, begun to tussle with the same problem as its equally confused original. To be alive, it seemed to me, as I stood there in all kinds of sorrow, was to be both original and reflection, and to be dead was to be split off, to be reflection alone.
AD Jameson is one of several incredibly smart and nice and interesting poets I have met that are currently studying under Jennifer Ashton at UIC, who, according to her bio page, "is currently at work on a new project that examines the historical formation of the so-called 'lyric subject,' tentatively titled: Sincerity and the Second Person: Lyric and Anti-Lyric in American Poetry." I have it on good authority that a snippet of text I wrote on the old Pshares blog before it died a spammy death has ended up on her syllabus, so I've seen a few references to that snippet on the Internet even though the original post is gone. There's a new post up on HTML Giant by ADJ with some historical background on "the New Sincerity," which I'm not sure I've ever been convinced exists or existed, though I do still think "the New Childishness" (a term I attribute to Ana Bozicevic) is a useful category. I've also never really grasped why some readers think Tao Lin's writing is "sincere." I admit I haven't read his novels in full, but all the poetry and prose by Lin I've read seems to be dripping with irony. If there was something new about his first book, you are a little bit happier than i am, when it came out, it was a new form of irony, not a new form of sincerity. Anyway, I'm looking forward to the next post in this series, addressing what's been happening with TNS since 2008.
In other news, I just managed to unintentionally offend someone I have followed/been followed by for some time on Twitter: story of my life. But what compels a body to go so far as to block someone, rather than just unfollow? This is not the first writer who I've discovered has blocked me. I don't know how to feel about this. I mean, the only "people" I have actually blocked are spambots. I don't expect everyone to like me anymore, but apparent mutual admiration turning suddenly and without explanation into vehement dislike makes me kind of uncomfortable. One of my least favorite things about Twitter, in fact, is that it highlights a fickleness I find distasteful. (I almost wrote "in humans.") Does "following" someone have to entail liking or agreeing with everything they say? To a degree I can be tolerant even of intolerance, which is to say, if someone I already find sympathetic, interesting, etc. says something that seems mean or wrong or dumb or ignorant, I will probably give them the benefit of the doubt. In fact I usually unfollow people when I realize they're no longer following me, if I had followed them mostly as a gesture of good will in the first place, rather than deciding they suck on the basis of a single tweet, which seems to be common practice (among humans).